Thursday, 28 April 2011

William Ellis - The Movie

Who's been a bad lad, then? I think we'd better confiscate
his 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 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 below). 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.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

William Ellis - one of the worst schools in London?

The litter-strewn wasteland to your right is a section of Hampstead Heath in London that is repeatedly abused by pupils of William Ellis, a comic-book comprehensive school notorious as much for its lack of discipline as for the bright and ludicrously unrealistic picture it paints of itself on its website. Below is a letter of complaint, very moderate in my view, written to the head teacher Jill Hislop by my partner Vicki Carpenter. I am the friend to whom Vicki refers and the world-weary seven-year-old is one of my sons. It is certainly true that the unlovely Ellis louts routinely terrorize each other and the residents of Hampstead and Highgate. My children and those of many others in the area are frightened of these yobs. Elderly people, too, are at risk, not to mention the shopkeepers and restaurateurs to whom Vicki refers. It's about time something was done about this and that the head teacher and governors stop fobbing people off with anodyne excuses. And if Jill Hislop proves incapable of controlling her louts, it might be time for her to give up teaching. If her upbeat introductory letter on the Ellis website is anything to go by, she could always get a job writing spin for Alastair Campbell, whose partner Fiona Millar is Chair of Governors.

Letter to Jill Hislop from Vicki Carpenter

Dear Jill Hislop,

Your introductory letter on the William Ellis website paints an inspiring picture of the ethos of the school and the conduct of your pupils. Sadly this is far from reflected in the behaviour of William Ellis pupils on and around Hampstead Heath.

Recently I accompanied a friend and his two young children on a walk across Hampstead Heath. Unfortunately our outing coincided with the letting out time of your pupils and any hopes of a peaceful stroll were completely squashed. The large grassy area near the tennis courts had been monopolized by your pupils, who were shouting obscenities and behaving in an intimidating manner to each other and to passers-by. The open area near the tennis courts resembled a rubbish dump, littered with beer bottles (many of the pupils were clearly drunk) and pizza cartons. When I remarked on this, my friend’s youngest child (aged 7) shook his head wearily and told me that the Ellis pupils left it like it this every day. Over the road, near Café Mozart and the other restaurants and shops, your pupils were clustered on the pavement shouting and swearing. People trying to relax and enjoy a drink in the sunshine were visibly wincing and shrinking in fear. A local shopkeeper told me that he dreads it when your pupils are on the loose – in the mornings, at lunchtime and at home time – and is seriously considering closing his shop for good. Later, from the window of the C11 bus, I caught sight of an Ellis boy swinging a bicycle chain, surrounded by a gang of admiring younger children.

I suggest that you, as head teacher, are responsible for the behaviour of your charges and that you should put your house in order without further delay. Until you do, the bright and upbeat text on your website will continue to be greeted with skepticism and derision by long-suffering Hampstead and Highgate residents.

Yours sincerely

Vicki Carpenter