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.
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.