Within the modern political lexicon the term 'guidelines' is a particular favourite. These aren't orders,
but if they aren't obeyed ... well ... there's the door. Guidelines are the distillation of the government's infinite wisdom, the hand gently (but firmly) steering the unenlightened in the right direction.
Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, is a huge fan of guidelines. His department issues guidelines as if no one had ever raised a child before. Yesterdays guidelines dealt with tackling extremism in schools, an important issue worthy of serious consideration.
But of course the guidelines aren't the product of serious consideration. They reflect all the contradictions and debilitating political correctness which cripples our state school system. Teachers are instructed not to consider these guidelines as orders to spy and monitor on children, but rather a helpful reminder that they should be aware of what their children are saying and doing and report any suspicious activity. How this differs from spying elludes me.
There is also a dangerous over-emphasis in the guidelines on the Muslim terrorist threat, marginalising the arguably more important issues of bullying on lines of ethnicity, sexual orientation and weight. But don't worry, there are guidelines for dealing with them too.
Perhaps most distressingly, the guidelines are aimed at children of all ages, from primary up. Discussing the causes and consequences of terrorism is entirely right, but only when the children are at an age to actually understand the causes and consequences. Young children are liable only to be frightened by such discussion, and - ironically - made aware of 'differences' to which they had been previously ignorant.
Schools have long been viewed as the front-line, the only really viable tool with which to build the society government envisages. But in recent years this desire has begun to overshadow the primary purpose of schools, which is to teach. The best way to build a prosperous society, free from discrimination and secure from terrorism is not to force teachers to play spy, or confuse children with contradictory messages ("we are all different, but the same"), but rather by educating all children brilliantly, enabling them (and encouraging them) to read everything, and convincing them that they can be anything. As long as the state continues to control schools, it will continue to pervert their purpose away from teaching. Schools need to be aware of issues like extremism, but their job is to concentrate on providing children with the thorough education with which to undermine extremism and prejudice. They are not there to be ordered around by central government.