Thursday, 28 April 2011

William Ellis - The Movie

Who's been a naughty boy, then?
We'd better confiscate your
Travel Pass...
Please humour me for a minute or so. Later you'll see why. Stand in front of your mirror, imagine you're a policeman and say, in the most menacing tone you can manage, "I'll confiscate your Travel Pass." Give it some real film noir, hard copper/villain darkness and depth. Think John Thaw in The Sweeney, Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock or Arnold Schwarzenneger in Terminator. It doesn't work, does it? "I'll confiscate your Travel Pass..." is simply not an utterance likely to awaken any serious level of respect in the miscreant to whom it is addressed. No doubt John, Vinnie or Arnie could make a much better job of it than you or me, but the end result would probably be comical. I've kicked off on a cinematic note because fur and feathers are flying as a result of a report in the Ham & High and on London24 about my intention to film the bad behaviour of secondary school pupils at William Ellis, Parliament Hill and La Sainte Union schools (see last week's blog post in my Diary). Starting this term, I propose to film instances of littering, swearing, drunkeness, intimidation and violence by local pupils. When the footage is in the can, I intend to post it on the internet in a bid to highlight and thereby, eventually, eliminate the problem. My hope is that others throughout the UK will follow my example, since anti-social bahaviour in secondary schools is a nationwide problem and one which, it seems, is very nearly beyond the power of the appropriate authorities to address, albeit through no fault of their own. My "Film-a-Thug" project may or may not take off. Let's see. Send your footage to
In the meantime Fiona Millar, Chair of Governors at William Ellis School and wife of spin-guru Alastair Campbell, was less than pleased by my proposal to film her unruly pupils. She said (Ham & High, 28/4/2011): "It is completely inappropriate for any member of the public to film pupils under the age of 16 without their or their parents' consent We believe most of our parents would be very concerned by this type of behaviour."

My behaviour?!

What about the behaviour of her pupils? And what about the fact that many local residents, among them the elderly and vulnerable, are, to borrow her words, "very concerned" and, in some cases, downright terrified by it? And what are school governors, teachers, parents - and now the police - going to do about it?

Well, there's not a lot that can be done. I have received a pleasant letter from Sgt Jeff Williams of the Metropolitan Police who is on the Highgate Safer Neighbourhoods Panel. In my view, Jeff and his colleagues have a near-impossible job, given the extent to which the fashion for political correctness, committee work and community liason impedes or prevents any truly effective attempts to restore law and order. He pointed out that while I am free to film in a public place, it might upset the children and provoke a "negative reaction". He also said that there were a number of initiatives in place to combat anti-social behaviour. For example, pupils on buses who terrorise their fellow passengers run the risk of having their Free Travel Passes confiscated. As to the litter, the wasteland of beer bottles and pizza cartons, I heard from Richard Gentry of the Hampstead Heath Constabulary, another outfit burdened, in my view, with a near-impossible job. Richard acknowledged the problem, reminding me that prominent, bright-yellow bins have been introduced in an attempt to minimise littering.

So that's it. In a heroic and endearingly British attempt at compromise and fair play, we punish hooligans by confiscating their bus passes. We pander to the brain-dead morons who litter our parks and open spaces by supplying them with strident eyesores in the form of bright-yellow dustbins. We set up committees, we draft policies, we continually strive to appease and protect the very people who are making our lives a living hell. And now a seasoned and normally ultra-tolerant old Leftie like me, who should be able to enjoy a nice middle-aged stroll on a peaceful Hampstead Heath, is reduced to dusting off the Super 8 and making grainy cinéma vérité in a bid to curb the antics of gangs of naughty children. These children - in a just world - should be disciplined by their teachers and parents, not allowed to become yet another drain on an already overburdened and underesourced police force. Jill Hislop, head teacher of William Ellis, and Fiona Millar, the Chair of Governors have both criticised me and my partner Vicki Carpenter for making "unsubstantiated" and "general" claims to the press. General? Unsubstantiated? There is nothing more specific and verifiable than the behaviour of these children on and around the Heath after school. Go and see for yourself how unsubstantiated my claims are.


  1. Well the school is now headed by Sam White from the London Oratory School, Under New Management. The Oratory School in Fulham has a great reputation and hopefully the pupils of William Ellis can be made to improve. I certainly hope so. I think part of the problem is the fact that headteachers up to now have not been prominent, working from their offices and creating a corporate environment rather than being out there leading their schools as a Head should... Over to you, Mr White!

  2. Jill Hislop is an arse anyway. Hope things got better.

  3. Hello Mr. Saikia ,

    I want to be fair so do forgive my long comment. There is a big part of me that supports you on this initiative, but I am also a bit reluctant.

    My son goes to William Ellis. And in all honesty, this year the school has improved considerably on a many levels and I, as a mother, have felt the difference. Some setbacks occasionally but they are gradually moving ahead if they keep it up. Teachers are more engaged and are communicating more frequently with parents; detentions are given out at a merciless pace that does not tolerate disruptive behavior, and there are many workshops given about bullying and good conduct. And yet while this year my son finds himself more comfortable and engaged at school on many levels, he has suffered and will continue, I fear, to suffer rough times!
    You mostly talked about what some - and not all- of WE students do to people and spaces of the community … I fully agree with you. But my main concern is what some WE students do to other venerable fellow students; be it in school, Hampstead Heath, or on buses. I have never found myself as a parent forced to silence because my son is begging me to not make a complaint in fear of being punished for snitching.

    At times, I would like nothing more then to blame the school, the heads of year and the headmaster… And here I am not excusing them completely. But, I must remember that just like you spoke in defence of the police; how they are burdened by the behavior of pupils and how their hands are tied with all the legislations that protect young people, the case is just the same for many heads of years and headmasters in public schools. Furthermore, unlike private schools who have an easier job due to their selective admission processes and financial resources, schools like William Ellis , Parliament Hill do their best to serve kids of this community equally despite their backgrounds - some even coming from venerable and broken homes. And I feel that it is important to stress this so that we understand that the standards of success and achievement are far more difficult for teachers in public schools.

    You might think after all this that I am over sympathizing with my son’s school. Believe me not today! The reason I fell upon your blog is because my son was bullied some days ago on the bus by another WE student. But here is the wider problem, non of the adults on the bus attempted to even stop that 12 year old from bullying my son nor ask the bus driver to stop the bus and ask this boy to get off. Imagine we do not dare to reprimand a 12 year old for bad behavior when he in turn feels carefree on a bus to publicly bully whomever he likes!
    Hence, this isn’t just about schools - although they play an important role- its about youth culture in this society as a whole.

    As for your suggestion of filming these pupils, may be it is indeed a solution. I feel no sympathy for offenders. However, a lot must be considered here. I told my son about your idea, he was all for it at first, but then he told me that he as a victim would not want to be filmed and further humiliated online. He also said that at one point on the bus when he was being bullied he wished that he could just punch the boy in the face and fight back. What if that did indeed happen - though my son is told to tip toe and stay out of trouble- would the victim have been filmed as the aggressor? I do not mean to hinder you, rather I just want to say your idea needs to be thoroughly planned and considered. Furthermore, it would be wrong to unfair to point fingers at teachers and school staff and ignore for the behavior of pupils in the wider society. We need to remember that public schools like many other sectors are under a lot of strain as well.

    Best Regards,

    P.S. I must say that I hope they confiscate this boys bus pass for a year to teach him and future offenders a lesson.

  4. As a victim of William Ellis students I can say a lot needs to be said for the teachers dealing with them, it's just not acceptable for one student to spread so many bad rumours about a disabled adult and get all the younger years to join on the bandwagon- should be arrested and giving an asbo.

  5. The school is overcrowded, used to have 600 boys and now crams in over a thousand. Pressure cooker of teenage emotions, when they get out they let off steam. filming them is not the solution, they will only play up, the mentality is not what it was and there is no use pretending. The staff probably are grateful for them to be out of the building and don't feel responsible for them or they would go out and see what is going on for themselves.