Schools in the riot zone: beacons of hope in the darkness

Gladesmore Academy is a community school situated right in the heart of the area where the riots in Tottenham took place this week. As the leader of Haringey Council pointed out on Radio 4’s Today programme it’s a brilliant school which gives an outstanding education to its pupils. An Ofsted reportsays:

“Gladesmore Community School is an outstanding school. It encourages students to ‘reach to be a star’, and the acronym REACH (which stands for respect, enthusiasm, achievement, cooperation and hard work) is prominently displayed throughout the school and permeates all that it does. There is a real sense of a community working excitedly and successfully together to improve academically and personally. One student summed this up saying, ‘When I came to Gladesmore, I expected it to be exciting. It’s much better than that. It is exciting, but I also learnt to be helpful and more confident, and the importance of honesty and trust.’ Students from different backgrounds mix and work extremely well together. Relationships between students and with staff are excellent; all members of Gladesmore treat each other with respect. Students’ personal development and well-being are outstanding. Students enjoy school immensely and exude enthusiasm for learning, the excellent curriculum and the outstanding range of extra-curricular activities that they keenly take part in.”

Clearly, this kind of school is a place of safety and learning for many pupils who attend it and is doing a great job: the wider society could learn a great deal from it about how to maintain order and motivate our young people.

But schools can’t solve every social problem. The Radio 4 debate was a good one because it did show that the reasons that lie behind the riots are complex. Social deprivation, poor parenting, an inadequate police response, envy, inequality and even the good weather may have played a part.

Schools have become very adept at dealing with difficult teenagers, but just because our young people are better educated doesn’t mean that they’re suddenly going to become “nice people”. Indeed some of the most intelligent pupils I’ve taught from socially deprived backgrounds have been quite disaffected; they see all too clearly the glaring inequalities in our society; they are aware of how the “other half live”; they’re aware that they’ve been stuck at home all summer while the leaders of the country have been jetting all around the world. They know that if they go to university now they’ll be saddled with huge debts and, without the support ‘networks’ that many richer children have, they’ll really struggle to get good jobs.

Our schools are delivering the goods, but is the rest of society?




Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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