Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Turning Things Around


The UK must not listen to declinists and defeatists. It is amazing how fast things can be turned around, and I've seen it in education, where the material we work with is often difficult.

In the late Seventies I taught in an inner-city multiracial secondary school neighbouring Handsworth, where the first riots were to come three years later. The building was Sixties brutalist and across the street was a vista of derelict, burnt-out houses. The area was transitional: anybody with initiative was planning to move on. However the lowest stratum in the school was a proportion of its whites who didn't have that aspiration; their behaviour wasn't challenging but they were inert and would simply mature, remain and reproduce.

The middle group were sparky and disorderly as puppies in the younger forms, tending to negative and surly as they grew older. Yet even then the latter responded well to an old-fashioned teacher who governed them with iron rule (in pin-drop silence) but spoke and listened to them with respect; and another sweet old man nearing the end of his 42-year career. A young and inspirational Head of English had pupils running to get into her class; so there was quite a bit of good teaching and learning going on. It had a small but thriving sixth form.

Nevertheless generally the corridors were like a social club. As some youngsters entered class others would slide out and chat with peers; it could take fifteen or twenty minutes to start.

For the children knew the school was not in overall control; the management had given up on a firm lead. The Head was closeted in his office, ignoring the old wisdom that 'the best fertiliser is the farmer's foot.' Two of the deputies had colonised a stock cupboard, installed a kettle and when a child brought a message the door would open just enough for a hand to emerge and take the paper, then shut again, like one of those mechanical money-boxes shaped like coffins.

The site was also entered occasionally by toughs; one dreadlocked character said a word I couldn't catch but it cleared the aisle like magic - there's discipline for you. In relation to this, it wasn't just the school that abdicated responsibility: an Authority legal adviser was called in to hear the staff's concerns about these incursions; he said the site was public property so was open to the community. When a teacher responded that Council House was too but was guarded by security people at the door, the lawyer looked down at his papers, circling a forefinger on them, and said 'That is… a point of view.'

About a year later, in came a new boss, definitely not 'same as the old boss.' He'd been part of the senior management team in an outstanding comprehensive and grasped the nettle firmly from the outset. All that larking about stopped and lessons started on time. School diaries, book inspections, assemblies to remind everyone what the program was. When a couple of community dolittles entered the place with a camera he invited them to take pictures of him in his lair and then saw them off. The institution started to earn its corn, even in this challenging and economically deprived environment; without caning or mass expulsions.

Should our politicians receive training like prospective school leaders in how to run things, instead of 'going with the flow' and dreaming up PR stunts to make it look as though they have some idea what they are doing? Can you think of public issues of today that could be solved by a systematic and resolute approach?

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Director : Robert Oulds
Tel: 020 7287 4414
Chairman: Barry Legg
The Bruges Group
246 Linen Hall, 162-168 Regent Street
London W1B 5TB
United Kingdom
Founder President :
The Rt Hon. the Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven LG, OM, FRS 
Vice-President : The Rt Hon. the Lord Lamont of Lerwick,
Chairman: Barry Legg
Director : Robert Oulds MA, FRSA
Washington D.C. Representative : John O'Sullivan CBE
Founder Chairman : Lord Harris of High Cross
Head of Media: Jack Soames