There has been an underlying question being asked about last week’s tragic events at Cults Academy. Before I discuss it, I want to be clear that this is not about the individuals involved and that I have nothing but the utmost respect and sympathy for Bailey Gwynne’s family and for the others involved. I don’t intend to attack them, rather I am focusing on a question that nearly everyone I have spoken to about the issue has raised: If it had happened in one of Aberdeen’s poorer schools would it have received the same coverage?
We just need to look at the coverage and the much used phrases like “affluent area”, “high achieving”, “one of the safest cities in Scotland” and statements like this one from the Telegraph. “In 2008, Cults Academy won the Sunday Times Scottish State Secondary School of the Year award”. Had this happened at one of the other Academies – and I won’t mention names because it defeats the purpose of writing this blog – would we have seen the same reactions from Prime Minister, First Minister, the authorities in general and indeed the parents of the school? Many people don’t believe so.
For them this is an issue about class or at the very least money. For me that is generated by the way the story has been reported and how media discusses schools all the time. We look at the socio-economic info, statistics rather than at the individuals that go to the schools. Having worked in a variety of schools there are “haves” and “have nots” in all schools. To believe that all children who attend the top performing schools are rich, privileged or above bad behaviour is laughable.
The disbelief of the statements in the first place – that this school and ones like it don’t have the same problems as other Academies – is where the concerns come from. Sex, Drugs and Bacon Rolls are part of schools across the country. I’ve spoken already about the knifes and weapons that don’t see class as a barrier for being found in school – but drugs and teen pregnancy are just as likely to appear in the top performing schools as those at the other end of the league tables. You will find obese and unhealthy kids in all walks of life too so we can’t handily bracket kids into such media friendly stereotypes either. In fact there is the argument that those who live in these “high achieving” areas there are possibly more issues with drugs as there is more money around.
The fact we wonder if this is a class issue tells us so much about a city like Aberdeen. The “Oil capital of Europe” is projected to be a recession-proof, affluent, high achieving, low unemployment city – the truth is that there are areas of poverty and food banks here just as there are in other Scottish & UK cities. We can’t be saying that a child from a poor background who carries a weapon is understandable, but in an “affluent area” it is a shock.
We can’t make those kinds of assumptions because they become self-fulfilling prophecies and then when the next attack with a weapon happens in a “poor” school we will all shrug our shoulders and say that it is expected. By reporting this with the background of money, privilege or academic ability actually takes away from what actually happened. Thankfully fatalities are very rare, so they don’t need to be made salacious or enhanced to shock us. For a young person to die in this way is story enough.
The media’s coverage and stereotypes are out of step with reality. Not all media, but many included quotes talking about the shock because it happened in Cults. How does that make it any more or less tragic? The horrible situation that the Academy found itself in last week should not be defined by these lazy labels and class questions.
The fact is one teenager killed another. Regardless where that happens it is a tragedy.