Another example of lazy journalism failing the public – Burwood School

What is the point of journalists?  Increasingly in this country we see reporters publishing stories they have not written, and to which they add virtually nothing.

A story doing the rounds today is a glaring example of this churnalism.  Picked up from the newswires by the BBC, national papers and a raft of regional titles, is the story of a 10-year-old boy who has been arrested for allegedly attacking two of his female teachers at his school in Orpington.  One has facial injuries, but the other has a broken leg and dislocated kneecap.

All the reports and headlines are virtually identical, as you can see from the Press Association (the likely origin of the story), the BBC, the Independent, in The Sun, the Metro and more besides.

But all of these outlets miss the opportunity to put the story into all-important context.  For while they content themselves to repeat a police spokesman’s words saying that police attended a school in Avalon Road, Orpington, and detailing the injuries sustained, none of them name the school and therefore help the audience to understand more about what happened.

The only school on Avalon Road is Burwood School, which describes itself thus:

So the incident has not taken place in a run of the mill mainstream school, but in a boys only establishment made up of around 44 youngsters with various problems who are not suitable to be in maintstream education.  Not only that, but an establishment placed into special measures by Ofsted for two years in 2007 and was subsequently forced to reduce the designated age range of its pupils so it could no longer accept youngsters aged between 7-10-years-old.

While this information does not detract from the seriousness of the incident and the apparent extreme violence meted out by a mere 10-year-old, it is clear the school runs a higher risk of violent incidents taking place due to the troubled nature of its pupils.  Although it came out of special measures in 2009, the 2011 Ofsted inspection‘s key findings clearly show standards at the school have a lot of improvement to make:

The Ofsted report goes on to mention that concerns have been raised by a minority of parents and carers about safety in the school, something which appears to have been dismissed by the inspectors who state:

‘Burwood is a safe school’

and go on to add that:

‘students are unanimous in confirming that they feel safe in school’

The students? Since when does their opinion trump that of responsible parents and carers?  It is interesting therefore that this information is shared in the report given Ofsted confirmed in their introduction that their inspection was somewhat devalued (my description) by the fact that:

There were limited opportunities for lesson observations because Year 11 students were out of school on study leave throughout the inspection, and two of the five remaining classes went on an educational visit for the whole of the second day.

Given the incident that has taken place, that assessment finding should surely come in for substantial scrutiny – something any half decent media would be focusing attention on.  As should the feeling running through the report that pupils determine too much of what goes on in the school at the expense of formally planned and disciplined educational activity.  There are clear issues here that are of public interest, but will likely go unexplored because the media has failed to provide all the information.  The media is leaving the public in possession of only part of the story,  resulting in a very misleading impression of the circumstances.

The question is, why did none of the journalists who published this story take a few minutes to uncover and report these important details before making the story live?

We already know the answer.  This is yet another example of our media being lazy, derivative and unfit for purpose , therefore ill-serving the public audience.  No doubt it will fall to blogs to tell the story the media is incapable or unwilling to research and publish, and serve the public interest.

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23 Responses to “Another example of lazy journalism failing the public – Burwood School”


  1. 1 witteringwitney 07/01/2012 at 1:36 pm

    Good post AM – have linked to for another reason.

  2. 2 Richard North 07/01/2012 at 1:48 pm

    “The safety of everyone is very important and an extensive CCTV system operates throughout the site”.

    http://www.cylex-uk.co.uk/company/burwood-school-13230231.html

    So, presumably, the authorities know what happened.

  3. 3 Autonomous Mind 07/01/2012 at 1:55 pm

    So it would seem, Richard. It seems only the media isn’t interested in knowing what happened and telling people about it, including the all important background that puts the story into context.

  4. 5 Autonomous Mind 07/01/2012 at 2:07 pm

    Thanks for that, Richard. What a telling comment…

    ‘There has never been a mass market for good journalism in this country. What there used to be was a mass market for print ads, coupled with a mass market for a physical bundle of entertainment, opinion, and information; these were tied to an institutional agreement to subsidize a modicum of real journalism.’

    It is as true in the UK as it is in the States.

  5. 6 Richard North 07/01/2012 at 2:08 pm

    Great minds … ! That’s exactly the piece I picked out as being most noteworthy!

  6. 7 Dave H 07/01/2012 at 2:15 pm

    It would be interesting to know when the ‘study leave’ and ‘educational visits’ were arranged in relation to the date on which the school knew that Ofsted was coming to visit.

  7. 8 Katabasis 07/01/2012 at 2:41 pm

    I’ve run it through the churnalism engine and saved it.

    Whilst it is fully expected that media outlets will cut and paste most of the content from a wire agency, the fact that it is actually a 99-100% C&P in the top three cases shows that – as you point out – our journalists are not interested in actually adding anything useful to it. At best they are just a repeater service for the wire agencies, selecting stories on our behalf. Why should be bother with them at all and not go straight to the wire agencies themselves?

    http://churnalism.com/j8ety/

  8. 9 Delphius 07/01/2012 at 5:23 pm

    Its not unexpected that such things happen in schools for children with special needs, especially if the staff aren’t trained correctly in dealing with such children, or fail to understand the children’s needs and triggers.

    My autistic son was refused a special needs placement by Oxford Council and was placed in mainstream school. He was expelled from school for assaulting teachers and the headmaster. However, it turned out that the teachers assaulted my son in the first place. What happened is that he hadn’t turned up for medication at lunchtime and no-one had actively gone to get him to take it. Therefore in the afternoon he was already in an agitated state and refused to leave a classroom because he’d been bullied, so the teachers took it upon themselves to physically pick him up and carry him from the room, whereupon he lashed out more in fear than in anger. The teachers decided they couldn’t restrain him in his agitated state, so they called the Police to restrain him, thereby ramping up my son’s anxiety even more. Eventually he was in such a poor mental state an ambulance was called to take him to hospital.

    So it quite easy to understand how untrained or unqualified staff could get themselves and their pupils into a situation where physical injuries could be sustained through no fault of the pupil’s.

    But of course without background information its hard to say if this is the case in the report you mention.

  9. 10 cyber F 07/01/2012 at 5:42 pm

    Good post! I researched this myself and came to exactly the same conclusion as you did. I live in Orpington so was keen to find out which school was being referred to. Surely the fact that the school is a ‘special’ school is a material fact and very relevant to the story. I was particularly disappointed to see the BBC joining the bandwagon.

  10. 11 -noricus- 07/01/2012 at 6:25 pm

    Thank you for this article. your mentioning of the fact that virtually all reports wer identical is absolutely correct! Same here in Austria.
    Cheers,

    -noricus-

  11. 12 Pavlov's Cat 07/01/2012 at 8:16 pm

    As Dave H points out it’s interesting that it shows these extra curricular activities occurring on the day of the OFSTED visits.

    When only a couple of days ago the TES produced a report stating the very same thing as well as bribing disruptive pupils to stay away.
    An accusation roundly denied by all and sundry

  12. 13 SUPPORTSENKIDS 07/01/2012 at 9:55 pm

    I agree that the standard of journalism regarding this incident appears to be pitifully lacking in both imagination and integrity. I was able to determine which school was involved within approx 2 minutes of internet research. This made me wonder whether the information had been withheld at the request of the police, in order to somehow protect pupils/parents, at least in the short term? But, is this the only information that has not been reported?

    As has already been pointed out, this is not a mainstream school, but one offering special provision for pupils who’s previous educational placements have broken down, reportedly due to ‘their’ unmanageable or disruptive behaviour. Behaviour which the Ofsted report (or more likely the Local Authority) attributes to the emotional and behavioural difficulties of the pupils.

    If you take the information regarding the kind of provision that the school offers, and add this to the reported incident and injuries to teachers, then you may well assume that one of these ‘disruptive/aggressive pupils’ attacked the staff. Only to be expected – end of story. However, this too I fear is equally lazy journalism!

    The parent that has described their own child’s unfortunate (and only too familiar – ask any SEN Parent) incident, is highlighting the path that any self respecting investigative journalist should be following regarding this story. In addition, would it be a step too far to ask (particularly given the Ofsted report, which however lacking, also describes the school as not meeting the pupils needs) why pupils with Special Educational Needs are reacting in this way?

    If YOU already had emotional/behavioural issues (for whatever reasons), and -reading between the lines of the Ofsted report- were also likely affected by learning difficulties (Dyslexia/Dyspraxia/Processing/Memory/Attention Difficulties?) and almost certainly drugged on a daily basis with mood altering pharmaceuticals, HOW WOULD YOU FEEL??! These children are required to attend an institution that isn’t meeting their needs, and that offers them little opportunity to attain/achieve any educational or future goals, and in addition is an unsafe environment.

    This is standard practice for this -and probably most- Local Authorities (I speak from experience). The lack of funding for SEN pupils and poor teaching, and indeed poor provision for children with any disability within the education system, amounts to at best ‘warehousing’ – and at worst, targeted and intentional abuse.

    Whilst this is a terrible incident, and my sympathy goes out to BOTH the teachers AND the pupil involved, we do need to use appropriate investigating skills to see beyond the ‘shock headlines’. There is something far more sinister going on here. The future of our children (and our teaching staff) is at stake – if Local Authorities/Education Departments or Central Government etc. choose to dismiss any segment of our society -particularly because they are vulnerable and therefore an ‘easy target’- then there will be repercussions!

    Surely any good investigative journalist with integrity would want to offer reporting that ‘makes a difference’ in our society, rather than just regurgitating ‘facts’ or offering ‘shock horror’ stories for ‘entertainment’ value? Or maybe not?

  13. 14 Alfred the Ordinary (@AlfredtheO) 07/01/2012 at 10:49 pm

    A minor point compared to some raised in the comments, but having worked in a government organisation for many years, that had annual inspections, we made sure that those in weak areas were away on such days; the equivalent of study leave and educational visits. as in:

    There were limited opportunities for lesson observations because Year 11 students were out of school on study leave throughout the inspection, and two of the five remaining classes went on an educational visit for the whole of the second day.

  14. 15 Bruce 07/01/2012 at 11:38 pm

    As someone who was a reporter for 32 years, can I say a word in support of (some) journalists. In three decades the job changed dramatically. Well-staffed papers once allowed reporters to spend some time on a story. As profits dropped staff numbers were slashed, slashed and slashed again. We were forced to rattle through stories as quickly as we could so that we could get cracking with the next one in the queue.

    Much of the time the problems you highlight aren’t the result of lazy journalism but of over-demanding bosses who have no appreciation of the fact that good writing is a creative process and not something that can be reduced to a time and motion study.

    Yes, there are lazy journalists but the vast majority have to work hard under time restraints that will be alien to most of those working within the relatively relaxed world of the blogosphere.

    With regard to the subject of this post, I think it’s probably true that the name of the school was withheld in an over-cautious attempt to ensure the culprit involved wasn’t identified. Papers and news agencies often work together on issues like this and that can be a reason why their reports sometimes appear similar. The default legal position is that people under the age of 16 shouldn’t be ID’d in stories of this nature.

  15. 16 DaveyC 08/01/2012 at 12:39 am

    As has been said elsewhere, perhaps we should just cut out the “cut and paste” middle man and get the news from the wires? It is stretching things to say the agencies and papers are working together when the agency report and headline is not just similar but re-published word for word. Journalists today are doing nothing that a trained chimp can’t do. If people want the story the place to go is increasingly the blogs, like this one.

  16. 17 Bruce 08/01/2012 at 1:04 am

    Davey,

    You’ll need to introduce me to your chimp trainer: sounds like there could be a good story there. 😄

    I agree that blogs are becoming increasingly important for news. Since packing in my job a year ago I’ve stopped buying papers. And I’d advise anyone thinking of a career in print journalism to go and do something useful with their life instead. It was once a good profession but, as we all know, its days are numbered.

  17. 18 don wreford 08/01/2012 at 5:57 am

    Teacher, teacher another brick in the wall? all very well for the P.F. to suggest such inadequacies of schools and its teachers, I am sure not only have we the best in our hearts for our adolescent training of the boys to become normal upright useful citizens.
    The parents also not to blame for the indiscretions for these little outbursts we see from the fruits of their loins. The press under pressure to get it right and the bosses under the pump competing with the internet. We need some account from the teachers with regard to this incident. Britain recovering from riots, we must ask ourselves are these training centers future problems of impending dissension and attack upon our morality and cohesive unity? The question is, has liberation gone to far? I am not suggesting the school have at its disposal a arsenal of tazers and pepper sprays to quell any upheaval and disruption in the classroom, nevertheless we must keep our options open. So many having sacrificed their lives for the British way of life. So many youth today are appreciating and take for granted our motorways and the ability at the drop of a hat, to party anywhere in Europe, for the weekend. Burwood School is a golden opportunity for our serious intellectuals to probe the deeper aspects of the underlying currents of our Society and its Discontent.

  18. 19 JuliaM 09/01/2012 at 1:56 pm

    The BBC has now named the school. I suspect as a result of all the other outlets doing the same.

  19. 20 JuliaM (@AmbushPredator) 22/06/2012 at 4:56 am

    And we now know the result – 12 months youth referral, and a curious phrase from the judge:

    “District Judge Robert Ede said to the boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons: “In this country from the age of 10, young people have to face up to the consequences of what they have done in a criminal court.”

  20. 21 Furor Teutonicus 23/06/2012 at 10:02 pm

    XX Delphius 07/01/2012 at 5:23 pm
    However, it turned out that the teachers assaulted my son in the first place…… so the teachers took it upon themselves to physically pick him up and carry him from the room, XX

    Some bad news for you sunshine.

    “Picking up and carrying” is NOT a bloody ASSAULT.

    If the wee arse had been kicked in the teeth, and had it’s nose splattered all over its face, THAT is an assault,…… and would probably do the little bastards behaviour the world of good. Maybe you should try it instead of the “medication”.


  1. 1 London: Zehnjähriger prügelte Lehrerinnen krankenhausreif « -noricus- Trackback on 07/01/2012 at 6:19 pm
  2. 2 BBC takes advantage of Burwood School incident to push economic downturn meme « Autonomous Mind Trackback on 08/01/2012 at 2:12 am
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