50 Years since Kestral for a Knave was published: what has changed?

This is an extract from a very impressive speech by the incoming President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Rachel Dickinson:

“It’s also 50 years this year since penguin books first published Barry Hines’ novel A Kestrel for a Knave. Barry was born and bred in a small village on the outskirts of Barnsley. His novel crackles with local colour, beauty and some choice northern working-class phrases. At the time, and possibly even still now, the North was thought of as a place filled with dark satanic mills, mines, pits and factories. Hines’ novel describes Barnsley surrounded by beautiful Pennine countryside, but it also depicts the less than bucolic life of a young working-class lad, Billy Casper. I’ve recently re-acquainted myself with this novel and it made me wonder just how different are things today for working-class youngsters than they were for Billy 50 years ago, not just in Barnsley but all over the country? Billy lived in poverty, despite coming from a working household. No carpets or central heating in Billy’s home.

Billy sometimes attended a secondary modern school. That would be a comprehensive Academy school now although the founding principles of a ‘comprehensive’ education have not seriously been pursued by any government over the intervening decades. For a youngster like Billy, who could not be described as ‘academic’, school is a disenfranchising experience. He does have aspiration and ambition though – to train a young kestrel which requires him to master technical language and the skills of falconry. Today the curriculum in school is narrowing and focussed on academic attainment, no GCSE in nature studies for modern-day Billy Caspers.”

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