So the lab rat has been chucked out of the cage. Smug aficionados
of the so-called underclass, ie anyone in a lower income bracket
than themselves, will now sit back and say “I told you so”.
More fool them.
Eighteen months ago, Ryan Bell, aged 16, was chosen by Pepper
Productions, run by Trevor Phillips, now chairperson of the
Commission for Racial Equality, to star in a social experiment
later shown on television by Channel 4.
Ryan had played up at primary school and been asked to leave his
secondary school. He is also very bright.
Eighteen months ago, he arrived at Downside, a Roman Catholic
boarding school run by monks, the fees of £15,000 a year paid
by Pepper Productions (it would be good to see monks and the rest
of the Establishment applying themselves to the thousands of
African-Caribbean youth, who according to the 2001 national census
published last week have no way out of deprivation). In return,
Ryan agreed that his progress would be charted in a documentary,
for which Trevor Phillips’ company would have been paid
Ryan became a brilliant classicist and an excellent rugby player.
He was due to take 10 GCSEs. He also became involved in the theft
of a mobile; spraying graffiti and a vodka binge. Ryan’s behaviour
is utterly predictable on a playing field which was far from level.
Presumably, at Downside, three strikes and you’re out, is the
general rule. Fine for boys who have spent years in the boarding
school system; supported by family, and presumably, retaining a
modicum of self-confidence. But for Ryan?
It’s not difficult to imagine the conflicts that he must have
faced. Any new boy encounters difficulties. Ryan also had a camera
on his back; his working class difference was hugely signalled; and
he was one of only five black pupils in the school. Allegedly
letting people down would have the charm of being familiar
territory to Ryan.
Downside, in this horrible experiment, should have tried and tried
again, then tried one more time – while giving Ryan mentoring and
strong support from outside by young black men who had similarly
been uprooted and learned how to make the grade.
Middle class boys often get expelled and placed in other equally
expensive educational institutions. For Ryan next time, if there is
a next time, he should try a school run by Quakers. At least, they
are forgiving. But who will lend a hand to others of his