Britain’s most expensive state school is being built without a playground because those running it believe that pupils should be treated like company employees and do not need unstructured play time.
The authorities at the £46.4m Thomas Deacon city academy in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, due to open this autumn, also believe that the absence of a playground will avoid the risk of “uncontrollable” numbers of children running around in breaks at the 2,200-pupil school.
It’s got absolutely everything we’ve come to know and love over the last ten years: architectural supremacy; authoritarian rationales; surveillance culture; procrustean indifference to the human – all melding into a kind of counter-insurgency approach to government.
The academy’s timetable will be tightly structured and exercise for pupils will take place in PE classes and organised games on adjacent playing fields. There will be a 30-minute lunch period when pupils will be taken to the dining room by their teacher, ensuring they do not sneak away to run around.
It’s quadrillage, ie the division of a general population into smaller units under constant supervision. It’s the same principle behind all those walls going up between neighbourhoods in Baghdad. The overall aim is to deny space to the enemy and secure the population. The unspoken assumption is that an unsecured population is the enemy, at least potentially.
In which connection, this David Kilcullen paper on chaotic insurgency is worth reading:
In modern counterinsurgency, the security force must control a complex “conflict ecosystem” — rather than defeating a single specific insurgent adversary.
This isn’t really an argument about classic bureaucratic taylorisation. That’s a one size fits all philosophy. This is a school specifically designed – by Lord Foster, no less – as a controllable conflict ecosystem. And in managing the wider conflict ecosystem of society in general, the initial target will naturally be that portion of the population to which you have specific legal obligations in loco parentis, namely children. There’s also a distinct whiff of strategic hamleting about this. Three schools are being closed to cram Peterborough’s youth into the educational panopticon.
When the Iraq war took place it occurred to me that my political views on it would have zero predictive value, aside from the general principle that speculative warfare is an incredibly stupid idea. So in response to that, I tried to read up a bit more about things like counter-insurgency theory. It never occurred to me at the time that counter-insurgency would be such a relevant term for the New Labour practice of government. This, perhaps, is the Blair legacy.
UPDATE: Alex says - I strongly object to a society where suggesting that schools should have playgrounds makes me feel like a deranged idealist.
Absolutely. Way back when, the Tories did things. I didn't like the things they did. We knew where we stood and so did they - and the battle took place on common ground. There's been a consistently disorienting quality to government over the past ten years.