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Book Review: Cut Short by Ciaran Thapar

After reading the stellar recommendations and the glowing Education Uncovered recommendation, I was excited to read Ciaran Thapar's recently released paperback edition of Cut Short. Hailed as the answer to the broken education system and the tantalisingly familiar descriptions of the schools included, surely this guy had some answers to the questions I've been trying to answer for most of my 20 year career. Although the school hunch turned out to be all too real, the promised solutions were not, and though there is a nod towards the fact that women may have something to do with all this right at the end, their role was restricted to supporting survivors and communities in the aftermath of tragedy and to being the keeper of the kitchens from which many young men source their knives.

Putting my anger at the unrealised opportunity that Cut Short could have been aside for a second, there is a humanity in Thapar's writing that connects with my experience of young men in the circumstances described. The characterisation of the boys featured in the book seemed to present them as they are, rather than through the lens that the media and Government often employ. They are real, complex, brave, intelligent, resilient and tragic, and facing down a pretty horrific reality that people who have not lived that life can't even imagine. Unfortunately, Thapar fell squarely into the other pitfall that those who write from the the perspective of a different worldview often throw themselves into. Ciaran, I hate to tell you, but you are not the messiah. You do have some valid ideas - if young people were more connected to adults who can support and guide them, they often do find a better path. But you overlook, and openly dismiss the role of teachers and schools. Yes, teachers are overworked and often can't be as available to meet the pastoral needs of their students. But experienced teachers are often the best placed and appropriately trained people to meet those unmet needs, so the solution is more to do with expanding their capacity rather than the ranks of unqualified extra people in schools. I have to admit a bias here. I know that school, and that trust better than most. We may even have been in the 'Willow' and 'William Shakespeare' buildings at the same time, such is the crazily small world of our education system. I'm also pretty familiar with the work of Teach First. I agree that some of the current 'marketisation' of education isn't helping, but this is a system that needs nurturing to ensure all pupils' needs are met, not dismissed and swollen with youth workers.

You're on to something with the development of more appropriate pastoral care though. I think you go a bit far with the extensive employment of the lads' language, but you're right about closing the gap between young people and those employed to support, protect and teach them. You're also right about the fallacy of trying to smarten kids up and create a pipeline of well-qualified young people flowing towards a university education; teenage style is just not worth fighting over and university isn't for everyone, especially when there are lots of other options.

So overall, there are some good points in here, and you've shone a light on a world that many who shape policy are blind to, but the solutions are a bit limited and a bit male. If the system catches this as it looks like it might, please dig a little deeper - have a look at how we can support teachers to connect to the lived experience of their pupils, and include women as more than the owner of a kitchen or as the providers of emotional support - go upstream and you'll probably find there is much more to do to improve these young lives.

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