Lochend Community High School Head Teacher Personal Statement

Summary

On Monday 15th - Tuesday 16th June, 2015, Character Scotland welcomed almost 300 delegates to the University of Glasgow to discuss ‘Character, Culture and Values’, the first event of its kind in Scotland, designed to explore and build on the continuing global shift towards character and values-based education.

 

Day 1 saw a packed Bute Hall witness the inspirational Dr Avis Glaze deliver her keynote ‘Character Education: Education at its Best’. Avis is one of Canada’s outstanding educators and a recognized international leader in education. It was also a special visit personally for Avis, whose ties with Scotland remained strong after receiving the Robert Owen Award - the first of its kind offered in Scotland - from Mike Russel MSP in 2013.


A few key topics covered in Avis’s keynote were the educational needs of the ‘Net Generation’, what character education looks like in schools, the workplace and in communities and how to develop a ‘community of character’. We would encourage you to view Avis’s keynote presentation in the video section of the conference page – you won’t be disappointed!


Breakout seminars on Day 1 included ‘Education (re)Design’ which discussed the purposes of education and included a short visit from Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning Angela Constance MSP; ‘Learning to be Human’ which explored John MacMurray’s philosophical and educational ideas and ‘Skills, Work & Enterprise’ which discussed the role of attributes and attitudes in aiding young peoples’ transitions into employment and enterprise. These sessions were only a snippet of what was on offer at the conference on Day 1 with 15 sessions taking place in 5 different breakout rooms throughout the day.


The second keynote on Day 1 was delivered by the Bishopbriggs Community Ambassadors and Professor Kay Livingston - Professor in Educational Research, Policy and Practice in the University of Glasgow. The Bishopbriggs Community Ambassadors formed their group to help benefit their local community and get other young people involved in volunteering. They shared with delegates their journey as Community Ambassadors - which has seen them receive a Diana Award and be nominated as #iwill ambassadors for the Step Up To Serve campaign - in their keynote ‘Character, Values and Youth’.


The first day of the conference concluded with a dinner in the Kelvin Gallery which started off in high spirits as delegates were ‘piped’ from the Hunter Hall by a Royal Conservatoire of Scotland piper. The conference Poet-In-Residence, Caren Gilbert, recited her reflective poem from Day 1 before author and former youth worker, Kerry Young delivered the after dinner speech, including passages from her book ‘Pao’.


The second day of the conference welcomed Professor Marvin Berkowitz - S.N.McDonnell Professor of Character Education at the University of Missouri – St.Louis - to the Bute Hall to deliver his keynote ‘A Comprehensive Approach to Effective Character Education’. Marvin covered the ‘PRIME’ model of character education during his keynote:


Prioritizing character education
Relationships
Intrinsic motivation
Modeling
Empowerment


Marvin’s PowerPoint presentation and recorded keynote can be found in the relative tabs on the conference page.


A further 9 breakout seminars took place on Day 2. Character Scotland Executive Officer, Gary Walsh facilitated the session ‘Character Education in Scotland: Why, How and So What?’ which addressed the questions: why focus explicitly on character education, how do we do it and ‘so what’ if we do? Conference sponsors SQA delivered their session ‘Assessment of Character? Why Not!’ on Day 2 which opened discussion surrounding how we might assess and acknowledge character, and why this might be important.


The final keynote of the conference, ‘Social Buisnesses: Where Business and Enterprise Meet Character and Values’, was delivered by one of Scotland’s leading young Social Entrepreneurs, Josh Littlejohn. Josh founded the social enterprise ‘Social Bite’ and ‘The Scottish Business Awards’ which has raised circa £1 Million for charity in three years. Josh shared with delegates the motivation behind his start-ups and tips on how to get the likes of President Bill Clinton and Sir Richard Branson to speak at your event!


The conference concluded with an Open Space session which gave delegates the opportunity to explore their own chosen topics by creating and managing their own agenda.


The team at Character Scotland would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to all of the delegates, contributors, keynote speakers, volunteers and the CVSO team at the University of Glasgow who helped ensure the success of the Character, Culture and Values conference. We were very fortunate to have a strong contingent of young people involved in the conference; thank you to all who helped allow this to happen. There are of course too many individuals to list in this short article so a BIG thank you to ALL involved!


A special note of thanks must also go out to the John Templeton Foundation whose generous grant helped make this event possible and our sponsors the Scottish Qualifications Authority. We also acknowledge our conference partners for their advice and support; CBI Scotland, Education Scotland, the General Teaching Council for Scotland, the Improvement Service, Investors in People, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, Keep Scotland Beautiful, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the Scottish Youth Parliament and the University of Glasgow.


We encourage you to view the keynote videos, presentations, and photos from the event. We would also really appreciate it if you were able to complete the conference evaluation located in the feedback tab on the conference page. Please stay in touch! You can follow us on twitter, like us on Facebook or contact the team via email.

 

Abstract

Below is a brief summary of the historical and academic underpinnings of character and values education in Scotland.


Marvin Berkowitz, Professor of Character Education and Co-Director of the Centre for Character and Citizenship at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, defines character as "the set of psychological characteristics that motivate and enable the individual to function as a competent moral agent, that is, to do 'good' in the world." (Berkowitz, 2011) Character Education can be thought of as "the deliberate effort to help people understand, care about, and act upon core ethical values" (Lickona, 1991). There are many other definitions, but what does it mean for Scotland?

 

Scotland has a long and intertwined history with character and values. In the midst of his radical approaches to social reform, Robert Owen founded the Institute for the Formation of Character at New Lanark in 1816. The country's history in education is much tied to its culture and underpinning values. Scotland's traditional aspirations relate to social reform, justice and a shared determination to address broad and general questions relating to philosophy, ethics, economics, technology, humanistic approaches to pedagogy and democracy. Notable Scottish thinkers in these areas include Adam Smith, David Hume, Robert Owen, John MacMurray, Alasdair MacIntyre and many others.

 

Character and values education are not new ideas, and their renewed focus is a natural extension of Scotland's educational history. The influential 1947 report of the Advisory Council on Education in Scotland states the following:

 

"Our real wealth is in the character and skill of our people."

 

"The secondary school... should provide a rich social environment where the adolescent grows in character and understanding through the interplay of personalities rather than by the imparting of knowledge."

 

"The breaking of new ground rather than the treading of safe ground has become the task of all in education."

 

In the book entitled Pioneering Moral Education, Dr William Gatherer provides what Professor David Carr described as "a very objective no-nonsense critical assessment" of 20th Century approaches to moral education led by the Scottish philanthropist Victor Cook, leading to the establishment of the Gordon Cook Foundation. This book, possibly the only publication in existence that details a specifically Scottish approach to moral education, delivers an honest portrayal of the difficulties and failures experienced by Victor Cook in his mission to establish a place for moral education, while at the same time describing how his work represented "...the establishment of moral education in schools throughout the world."

 

Today, with the continuing development of initiatives such as Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) and the enthusiasm for which professionals in Scotland have embraced programmes such as Rights Respecting Schools and Eco Schools, Scotland is being recognised internationally as a global leader in citizenship education. Character and values-based approaches are integral to these policies. The purpose of CfE is to develop young people's attributes and capacities. Scotland's professional teaching standards are underpinned by the values of social justice, integrity, trust, respect and professional commitment. Similarly, other policy agendas such as the Wood Commission report, Global Citizenship, Enterprise in Education and the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) provide an ideal context for approaches aimed at developing and empowering young people's values, skills and attributes.

 

Recent developments in science, technology, psychology and philosophy have resulted in a global resurgence and the emergence of new and robust frameworks for character and values development. A plethora of new programmes have been made available around the world, the research and evidence base is continually growing and initial findings suggest that there are strong correlations between skills, character qualities and positive outcomes for children and young people (OECD, 2015). In the UK, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues in University of Birmingham is contributing to the research base for character, as are Scottish institutions including University of Glasgow and University of Aberdeen.

 

This is a rapidly expanding area of practice and research. This conference aims to provide an introduction to the key issues to help practitioners, policy makers and researchers to understand and inform the relevance of this work for children and young people in Scotland. For more information please consult the Key Reading tab above.

 

Presentations

Professor Marvin Berkowitz
A Comprehensive Approach to Effective Character Education 

 

 

Bishopbriggs Community Ambassadors
Character, Values and Youth 

 

Gary Walsh - Character Scotland
Character Education in Scotland:  "Why, How and So What"?

 

James O'Shaughnessy - International Positive Education Network
Education (re) design

 

Rob Loe - Relational Schools
Education (re) design 

 

Scottish Youth Parliament
Young People and Character 

 

Service Cadets
Young People and Character

 

Videos

 

Opening Address Day 1: Prof James Conroy

Opening Address Day 2: Rachael McCully MSYP

Ministerial Address: Angela Constance MSP

Keynote 1: Dr Avis Glaze

Young Reporters Interview: Dr Avis Glaze

Keynote 2: Bishopbriggs Ambassadors & Prof Kay Livingston

Keynote 3: Prof Marvin Berkowitz

Young Reporters Interview: Professor Marvin Berkowitz

Keynote 4: Josh Littlejohn

Seminar 1.1: Education (re)Design

Seminar 2.1: Young People and Character

Seminar 2.5: Learning to be Human

Seminar 3.5: Skills, Work and Enterprise

Seminar 4.1: Character Education in Scotland: Why, How & So What?

Opening Address Day 1: Prof James Conroy

 

Professor James Conroy, University of Glasgow

 

Opening Address Day 2: Rachael McCully MSYP

 

Rachael McCully MSYP, East Kilbride

 

Ministerial Address: Angela Constance MSP

 

Angela Constance MSP

  

Keynote 1: Dr Avis Glaze

 
Dr Avis Glaze
"Character Development: Education at its Best" 

 

Young Reporters Interview: Dr Avis Glaze

 

Interviewers

Oscar Swire

Will Wormell-McGill

(Young Reporters, Keep Scotland Beautiful)

 

 

Keynote 2: Bishopbriggs Ambassadors & Prof Kay Livingston

 
Bishopbriggs Community Ambassadors & Professor Kay Livingston
"Character Values and Youth" 

 

 

Keynote 3: Prof Marvin Berkowitz

 
Professor Marvin Berkowitz:
"A Comprehensive Approach to Effective Character Education" 

 

Young Reporters Interview: Professor Marvin Berkowitz

 

Interviewers

Oscar Swire

Will Wormell-McGill

(Young Reporters, Keep Scotland Beautiful)

 

 

Keynote 4: Josh Littlejohn


Josh Littlejohn
"Where Business and Enterprise Meet Character and Values" 

 

 

Seminar 1.1: Education (re)Design

Chair

Colin Mair, Chief Executive, Improvement Service

Presentations

Gillian Hamilton, Chief Executive, Scottish College for Education Leadership

Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education, RSA

James O'Shaughnessy, Chair, International Positive Education Network

Rob Loe, Director, Relational Schools

 

Seminar 2.1: Young People and Character

Scottish Community Cadets
Scottish Youth Parliament

 

Seminar 2.5: Learning to be Human

Chair

Malcolm Payton, Consultant and former Director of Education

Panel

Dr James MacAllister, University of Stirling

Professor Nicki Hedge, University of Glasgow

Dr Esther McIntosh, York St John University

Martin Robinson, teacher and author

 

Seminar 3.5: Skills, Work and Enterprise

Chair

Hugh Aitken CBE, CBI Scotland

Presentations

Jason Dick, student at West College Scotland

Amanda Allan, student at West College Scotland

Kim Hamilton, student at West College Scotland

Panel

Dr John Allan, Policy Manager, SQA

Joe Wilson, Chief Executive, College Development Network

Peter Russian, Chief Executive, Investors in People

Aileen Ponton, Chief Executive, SCQF

 

 

Seminar 4.1: Character Education in Scotland: Why, How & So What?

Gillian Hunt, Workforce Learning and Development Manager, City of Edinburgh Council

Julie Wilson, Education & Learning Manager, Keep Scotland Beautiful

 

 

Photos

Below is a selection of photographs from both days of the conference. A huge thank you to Steven Brown Photography for providing these and for your efforts during the event. 

 

 

Day 1 - Monday 15th June, 2015

The Rev Malcolm Cuthbertson arrives, weary after cremating a 46-year-old father of five who died because he drank too much. A funeral programme contains poems of love and grief written by his daughters, and is illustrated with pictures of a smooth-faced young man surrounded by very small, smiling children.

Since the beginning of the year, Cuthbertson has presided over 20 funerals at his church in Easterhouse, in the east end of Glasgow: five of them drug-related deaths, the others triggered by lung cancers, heart failure and alcohol abuse. Most had died long before their time; the mean age of the people Cuthbertson cremates stands somewhere between 45 and 55, he thinks.

His estimate echoes the findings of health inequality researchers who found that the average life expectancy in Easterhouse was 66 (14 years lower than richer regions such as Eastbourne in East Sussex). In a nearby patch of Glasgow's east end, residents could expect to die at 54, a lower life expectancy than in Gambia. Among the mourners, there was no rage, just sadness, but Cuthbertson voices tired anger at the injustice of the situation – venting it at politicians, "the people who are in a position to make a change" but who have failed.

"Dying at 46 is normal for that community. They might say it's young, but they can point to a dozen others who've died at a similar age," he says. "For me, dying at 46 is a direct result of living in poverty. The multiplicity of these deaths is a problem."

For half a century, Easterhouse has been a byword for deprivation, for housing planning gone disastrously wrong – a sink estate sunk to unrivalled lows of bleakness. Commentators have described conditions here as worse than in the developing world and over the decades, it has become a popular destination for politicians and celebrities on poverty tours. Tony Blair, Sarah Brown, Princess Diana, Prince Charles, President Chirac have all been here for fleeting stints of hand-wringing poorism – but, most significantly, it was the 2002 visit of former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith that promoted Easterhouse to national heritage status as a showcase example of broken Britain.

It was his tour of damp, rundown, grey concrete housing blocks scattered across acres of needle and litter-strewn, job-free wasteland that fired in Duncan Smith a new-found zeal to tackle societal breakdown. When his short-lived tenure as party leader was over, he channelled his energies into setting up a thinktank designed to analyse the ways in which Britain is broken, and to propose solutions. That epiphany led to the creation of "Easterhouse modernisers" within the party, a strain of "compassionate Conservatism". If the Conservatives win the impending election, David Cameron has promised Duncan Smith a role as the person "responsible in government for bringing together all our work to help mend the broken society".

This notion of broken Britain has become a dominant theme of the pre-election campaigning. It is an accordion-like concept, stretching and squeezing to fit different definitions depending on what the major worry of the hour is – youth crime, teenage pregnancy or anti-social behaviour. In Cameron's interpretation, it embraces a sense that community-spirit has withered, that family relationships have fractured, that a sense of individual responsibility has been eroded, that crime is rising. A shorthand, in other words, for everything alarming that appears to be going wrong in society.

It feeds off popular anxieties about welfare dependency, the proliferation of young unmarried mothers, the isolation of the elderly – what Cameron terms "social recession", a sense of moral decay linked periodically with the latest disturbing front-page crime. Cases such as Fiona Pilkington, the mother who killed herself and her disabled daughter because she was unable to tolerate constant bullying from neighbours – a case that represented a "breakdown of community", Cameron said, a "breakdown of morality".

Government ministers reject the phrase as glib jargon, but in his speeches Gordon Brown also acknowledges fears of growing family breakdown, parents who let their children run wild, binge-drinking, problem estates, town centres that have become no-go areas, and the unease felt by the "decent, hard-working majority" who "feel the odds are stacked in favour of a minority who will talk about their rights but never accept their responsibilities".

Because the concept of broken Britain is so closely associated with the Conservatives, it is not an expression that Labour politicians allow themselves to use, but this popular, ill-defined sense that somehow things are going wrong in society is too potent a campaigning territory to cede to the opposition. In the Labour debate on this theme, there is no focus on morality, but the government readily acknowledges there are pockets of society that are not functioning, and stresses that, if given another term in power, this will be tackled.

The peculiar thing is that many of these fears, while useful to whip voters out on to the streets, are not tremendously rooted in reality. Although crime figures are open to some degree of interpretation, the British Crime Survey statistics show that the murder rate fell by 14% last year and is lower than it has been for a decade; that gun crime is down; and that all violent crime has dropped since 1995, as have domestic burglaries. The mantra of broken Britain works as a campaigning tool because people's fear of crime has not fallen nearly as fast as crime rates are falling. Although the government is not going to meet its 1998 promise to halve pregnancy rates among girls under 18 by later this year, the number of teenage parents has fallen dramatically since the 1970s.

In Easterhouse, the question of whether Britain is broken or not is a volatile one. Many of the residents want to say that life is slowly improving. Many say there is nowhere else they would rather live. Everywhere, naturally, there is real hostility to being tarred as a broken society.

As an outsider, it is hard to weigh up the conflicting signals. Should you focus on the vast quantity of new houses built over the last decade to replace the damp tenement blocks, each with front doors and back gardens for the families inside, or on the shattered glass bottles in the playgrounds and smashed-up furniture that still decorate some of the common areas? Should you focus on the skilfully run, graffiti-free secondary school full of well-behaved teenagers, or on the field of scorched and smoking burnt grass wasteland behind, recently doused by the fire brigade after local children set it alight? How do you balance the opening of an award-winning arts centre in the area, the Bridge, with the announcement that the local Macmillan cancer support centre has decided to extend its hours due to intense demand?

After a while, what feels very clear is that this is not an example of broken Britain, with all the moralising baggage that comes with that term, but of a Britain that is still profoundly unfair. The debate over whether this community is "broken" is too much of a shorthand to be meaningful, but it triggers another question: how much, in its 13 years in office, has the Labour government helped the residents of Easterhouse and places like it?

Pouring resources into neglected communities was one of Labour's core priorities. When the government's Social Exclusion Unit was opened in 1997, Easterhouse was listed as a priority area to be targeted in the drive to bring the country's most marginalised people back into the mainstream. Peter Mandelson described the unit as "the most important innovation in government we have made", with responsibility for tackling "the greatest social crisis of our time". Tony Blair said it was "one of the most important and defining things" New Labour would do.

People look rather blank if you ask them about the impact this programme has had on Easterhouse. It's fair to say it is not a project that has stamped itself on the community's consciousness. In any case, the renamed Social Exclusion Task Force has gone very quiet in recent months.

At the Lochend community high school, the main secondary school to serve Easterhouse, the principal Gordon Shaw thinks much has got better – but he is still battling to raise the confidence of pupils who sense that their life chances are rather restricted. Shaw started his career as a teacher in Easterhouse in the 1970s, and returned a few years ago as principal. On the surface there has been real change, he says, but beneath the improved building works, the social problems remain. The construction nearby of a huge, shimmering silver shopping centre, the Fort, has created more jobs for school leavers. Money has been spent on a new school building and, since it has opened, there has been no vandalism. "In the old school you could turn up on a Monday morning and it would be quicker to count the number of windows that were left unbroken," he says. "There has been a significant change – better housing, better local employment, better provision for health – but there is a lot more work to do. It's not about throwing money at the area; it's about changing hearts and minds."

Low self-esteem among pupils is a huge barrier. One girl went to study astrophysics at Edinburgh last year: "A girl with real ambition," Shaw says, but she was the exception. "The big challenge for us is to ensure that children have ambition; telling them not to see their future as working in a commercial outlet, but aspiring to manage that commercial outlet."

Shaw has tried to address the dearth of self-confidence by installing a row of plasma screens in the hall, which display optimistic messages about pupils' successes, and by broadcasting morale-boosting Tannoy messages daily about pupils' achievements. He is encouraging students to raise money for a school trip to Malawi in the summer, where pupils will work in an orphanage. It is an ambitious project for a school where around 50% of the pupils receive free school meals, but for Shaw it is an important part of broadening horizons. Other students are travelling to visit New York, Paris and Auschwitz.

Although the gang warfare that has historically riven the housing estates has declined in scale, territorial divides remain; fighting is less with knives these days, more with sticks and the occasional golf club. "A lot of our children have very difficult lives. They have seen more in their 11 years, than most teachers have throughout their lives."

Challenging is the word Shaw keeps using to describe his job. It is clear that the government, despite its good intentions, has not flattened access to universities, and that the effects of poverty in childhood linger on throughout life. Research suggests that children living in poverty are only a third as likely to get five good GCSEs as peers from richer backgrounds, and are five times less likely to go to university. Only 75 boys on free school meals, nationwide, got three As at A-level last year, while at Eton, 175 boys received three A grades. This is nothing to do with the brokenness of society, just the consequence of widening inequalities. Optimism-enhancing pep talks can only go so far to counter that.

Mothers at a nearby drop-in nursery agree that housing has improved radically, but say Easterhouse is still struggling with a bad, unfair reputation. "You notice it in the look people give you when you say you live in Easterhouse. You feel you have to explain yourself," one mother says. "I'm not sure it will ever be a place where people want to move to."

In the streets outside, women queue to buy food out of the back of ice-cream vans that crawl through the streets, trilling out melancholy nursery rhymes. Planners forgot to add shops when the estate was originally built, and families still rely on the provision vans for food. One woman describes the estate succinctly as "minging".

The 20 participants in an afternoon support session for residents battling drug and alcohol problems, hosted by a charity called Geaap (the Greater Easterhouse Alcohol Awareness Project), vent anger about the absurdity of the postwar decision to rehouse inner-city slum residents in a remote suburb of the city, without attention to the availability of jobs, transport, shops or anything to do to pass the time.

"To say something is broken implies that it was working in the first place," one man says. "People living here today are still suffering from the decision to move them here in the 1950s. They pulled people out of the cities and placed them in an artificial situation. This is a huge population that is still very excluded."

Some of the people here link their own addictions to the absence of jobs or anything else to focus on. "There are certain areas where deprivation is going to increase the chances of young people getting involved in drinking and drug use," a counsellor says.

A grandmother in her 70s, who attends the sessions to help with her own alcohol use, says in passing that she would like to get her third son sectioned because he is drinking so much, and she has already lost both her youngest boy and daughter-in-law to liver failure. "There was no work for them, nothing for them to do up here, except fighting and drugs. That was the life for them," she says.

After dark, children aged between eight and 25 come to an evening girls-only youth club run by the local housing association, Wellhouse, where they can use computers, play snooker or thread beads into necklaces, depending on their age. Volunteers have just created a mini-cinema in a back room, with benches and beanbags, and subsidised soup is being served at a tiny cafe. It costs 50p to come in, but staff let girls who can't pay in for free, and distribute the leftover snacks to those who don't have any money.

'The big ones drink and fight'

Kirsty and Sarah, 10-year-old friends, break off from playing with the karaoke machine to list what they like and dislike about the area.

"We don't like the big ones who drink and fight on Friday nights."

"The good stuff is that there are two parks."

"I don't like the rubbish everywhere."

"I go to a good school. We go on school trips."

"We don't like it because there are lots of needles. It is the big ones who drink a lot who use them."

"There are lots of burned-out flats. I don't like that. People set fire to their flats when they're drunk. When they get put out, they go black."

"My mum wants to leave.They don't like the broken glass everywhere."

"But there are good clubs."

They laugh and go back to the karaoke.

Joe Williamson, director of Wellhouse, sees a real problem with fatalism among residents. "They describe themselves as scum, and that abdicates responsibility for the need to achieve anything in life," he says, sitting at his desk under a picture of Tony Blair touring the area a few years earlier. Williamson has been trying to implement optimism courses for local residents, classes where people are advised to sit down every evening and write down the things that went well that day, the things they feel grateful for – friends, health, family.

"We are almost at the end of the physical regeneration, but it is the social regeneration that is neverending," he says. "I wouldn't call it broken Britain. It's more neglected. People here need to be listened to, not lectured at."

Nobody here wants to describe their own community as broken. They might complain about the high price of a bus fare to get anywhere useful, the drug addicts who cluster at the doors of the old shopping centre, the lack of jobs, or the original flawed decision to create a housing estate of this kind, but they won't condemn the place they live in by classifying it as an example of brokenness.

For Duncan Smith, the issue is simpler, perhaps refined by the distance of 400 miles. He has a stately but rather gloomy room in Westminster, covered in heavy wood-panelling and maroon Pugin wallpaper; any light reflected up from the Thames is obscured by the greying blast-proof net curtains he is obliged to hang across the windows.

He has spent most of the last eight years reflecting on the concept of social breakdown and how it should be tackled, concluding that the solution does not lie in the injection of more money into pockets of deprivation such as Easterhouse, but in addressing the five areas he identifies as poverty triggers: educational failures, worklessness, debt, drug and alcohol abuse, and family breakdown.

Duncan Smith has, in the process, won himself respect from numerous charities and campaign groups not naturally inclined towards the Conservatives, and even a few politicians on the left, and has channelled a lot of money into commissioning research into solutions. Yet somewhere along the way, the thread of his argument takes an uncomfortable turn, and somehow seems to mix up being poor and being broken. His belief that there is a growing underclass of people increasingly incapable of rearing their own children, appears to conflate poverty and bad parenting.

"We have the fourth largest economy in the world," he says, "but within that economy, reasonably close to areas of affluence, you have areas with concentrated levels of deprivation. These include a growing number of dysfunctional families who are progressively cut off from what you and I might consider to be the norms of society – the normal processes of education, aspiration, work, and of balanced families that are themselves generally productive and positive." Earnest and heartfelt, Duncan Smith speaks with an impeccable, patrician politeness. But gently, almost imperceptibly, with his "what you and I might consider to be the norms of society", he has drawn out a clear boundary between "us" – upstanding members of normal society – and "them", the people whose lives he has dedicated himself to observing, almost as if they are an alien species.

He has visited Easterhouse on several occasions and, when pushed, agrees there are families who live there that are not dysfunctional – but describes them as a "falling minority". The rest, the more dysfunctional family units, are growing in number, he says, "by nature of the fact they have high numbers of children, and their children go on to have high numbers of children, and early. So you get a natural growth compared to the rest of society, which has on average fewer children."

Having leaped already from families that are poor to families that are dysfunctional, Duncan Smith jumps further to suggest that levels of abuse within these families are so high that brain development of the children is retarded. It is a huge and disturbing leap, and one that Easterhouse residents would not relish.

"There is a physical effect taking place in children growing up in abusive households, in places where they witness a lot of abuse, perhaps their mum having different, multiple partners. These children's brains will develop physically at a rate which is quite different from those who are growing up in a normal, balanced environment in which there is attunement and empathy, reading and conversation; in which somebody has aspirations for that child and has a set of values that they pass down to that child," he says. "In those very abused families, you will find that the child's brains simply doesn't develop."

Sometimes, Duncan Smith illustrates his point by bringing out a pair of grainy cross-section images of the brains of two three-year-olds. On the left, headed "normal", there is a plump, fleshy organ, swirling with complex mazes. On the right is something that looks like a shrivelled walnut, beneath the words "extreme neglect". "It's all about this ability to empathise," he adds. "Without that, it isn't possible to forge relationships."

Of course, there are families in Easterhouse that struggle to look after their children, but, despite what Duncan Smith suggests, they don't represent the majority. There is also persuasive research coming from the US about the impact of neglect on children's brains, notably from the Centre on the Developing Child, at Harvard University.

But what's unsettling about Duncan Smith's presentation is the rapid suggestion that poverty goes hand-in-hand both with bad parenting and with profound neglect of children, and that this is what is causing all this brokenness.

His thinktank, the Centre for Social Justice, is pushing the party leadership to introduce some form of tax breaks for married couples – the suggestion being that children of married couples are immunised against some of these problems. Absent from the argument is any real consideration that examples of lousy parenting can be found anywhere up the income scale.

Duncan Smith is respected by some in Easterhouse for the attention he has attracted to the area, but this suggestion that somehow poverty has had an impact on their ability to look after their children, and that this is the source of brokenness, is not welcomed.

Surviving on the bread line

As I talk to Duncan Smith, I'm thinking about a family I met in Easterhouse, and wondering how they would respond to his analysis. Perhaps viewed from the remoteness of Westminster, Lorraine and Raymond McEnroe might come across as archetypal inhabitants of a broken Britain – struggling to bring up seven children on limited resources; living, until recently, crammed together in a two-room tenement apartment, five children sharing one room, two babies and two adults in the other. But on closer scrutiny, they represent nothing of the sort. Although he has been unemployed in the past, Raymond, 44, now works full-time as a carer for adults with learning disabilities, while Lorraine, 37, stays at home to look after the children aged between 12 and two.

Raymond laughs at the way Easterhouse has become an area of "special scientific interest" for politicians who want to study broken Britain, and argues that it is a noisy minority of bored teenagers that has given the area its bad reputation. The majority of law-abiding, productive citizens are more invisible, out at work or inside looking after their children.

But if Easterhouse and Britain are not broken in the way politicians like to paint them, the McEnroes have their own concerns about the way life has turned out for them. After a decade of waiting for larger council accommodation, they began renting a four-bedroom house privately earlier this year. The new house is big and light and they are no longer crowded, but it is also expensive: after the rent is paid and the council tax and the bills, the family has about £12 left of disposable income, most of which is spent on train tickets for Raymond's commute to work.

Lorraine calculates that the family would be better off if her husband gave up his job and started drawing benefits. "It is an upside-down system. If you are working, you end up losing money. If you are on benefits you get free school meals, free uniforms, free fruit and vegetable for the children, help with childcare, reduced poll tax."

Abandoning his low-paid job is not an option, Raymond says, because he wants "to bring the children up with a strong sense of social responsibility. But I don't have any disposable income. I can't put any money in the bank for the children."

His children will grow up in poverty. Despite the government's commitment to halve child poverty by this year, ministers accept they will fail to deliver on the promise. One in three children in Britain is growing up beneath the poverty line; the majority of them now have at least one parent in work, but earning so little that they are unable to drag their family above the bread line.

Raymond recently invested £17 in buying a large saucepan for the kitchen. The family survives on soup, made from the supermarket's daily selection of cut-price vegetables.

'It's about blaming the victim' If the Rev Cuthbertson is angry about the frequency with which he finds himself cremating young fathers, his anger is not shared by many in the community. Indeed, there is a surprising lack of militancy or even vocal dissatisfaction about life in Easterhouse.

Putting aside the charged concept of brokenness, there is no doubt that life for many residents here is worse than that of residents a few miles away in the richer parts of central Glasgow. A series of reports on the Labour government's record of addressing equality has shown how gulfs are widening. A study by Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics, published in January, showed an increasingly divided nation where the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society, concluding that income inequality in this country is higher than in other industrialised countries.

A second study, on health inequalities, showed that despite huge public spending increases on the NHS, the poorest not only die sooner but become ill younger, so that Britain's richer residents are now likely to have 17 years more of disability-free life than the poor. And an earlier report on social mobility by former cabinet minister Alan Milburn found that family wealth, private education and privileged access to university remain the key to well-paid professions. It noted that, while only 7% of the population attend independent schools, 75% of judges, 70% of finance directors, 45% of senior civil servants and 32% of MPs were privately educated.

Local activists who have spent decades battling for conditions in Easterhouse to be improved say there is a dwindling sense of community outrage, despite the palpable unfairness of residents' circumstances. "There has been a massive change in consciousness. The radicalism of the poor has gone. There is an assumption that what you have is what you will get, and you should just put your head down," Cuthbertson says. "Social consciousness has gone now. The divide between the rich and poor and the powerful and the powerless has without doubt increased under Labour rule."

He dislikes and rejects the concept of broken Britain. "It's about blaming the victim, as if to say: 'You have to pull up your bootlaces and get on in the world. You don't get into drugs and alcohol, you keep your family strong.' That's easy for people to say. These people don't have the choices."

Despite the large investment in improved housing stock, the estate remains a very difficult place to live. "Those who can escape, physically, do," Cuthbertson says. Others turn to drugs and alcohol, "which is another way of escaping Easterhouse."

Cathy McCormack, author of the Wee Yellow Butterfly, a book published last year on her three-decade struggle to get improved housing and attention to the difficulties of Easterhouse residents, is also demoralised by the waning sense of community outrage.

"I don't think there is a generation of activists now; I don't think people have a sense that what's happening is not right," she says, sitting in the kitchen of her old-style tenement block which, until she campaigned to have it renovated, was so cold and damp in the winter that her children, and those in the surrounding flats, were constantly unwell.

Families on benefits struggle, McCormack says, to find the money to pay the £3.50 bus tickets to get to the city. "The children want to go to McDonald's, they want to go to the pictures, but if you're receiving a weekly income of £67 job seekers' allowance, that would cost a whole week's budget. The stress of not being able to do that is enormous. There is a social and economic apartheid going on – people are not able to participate in the rest of life."

Across the city, Bob Holman, a writer and lifetime community activist who spent 20 years living in Easterhouse, where he set up the neighbourhood action group Fare, admits life has not improved for residents here as he had hoped. "I am one of the failures. I don't think I've changed much in terms of party policy," he says. "Things have improved – but for the affluent middle classes, life has improved at a faster rate. I have been a member of the Labour party for 48 years, and although it has improved living conditions, housing, possibly education, it hasn't decreased inequality."

While Holman is impressed by Duncan Smith's work, he doesn't expect a Cameron-led government to improve things.

Cameron's assessment of the problem blames excessive state-interference, arguing: "Why is our society broken? Because the government got too big, did too much, and undermined responsibility." But, like Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of the Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, Holman believes the answer does not lie with a retreat of state involvement, but in addressing the inequalities that divide areas such as Easterhouse from richer parts of the country.

"It has to be a state-led effort to reduce the income gap. Why should Iain Duncan Smith or David Cameron earn 10 times as much as people who live in Easterhouse? The most contented societies are those with the most equality."

Holman finds the notion of broken Britain offensive, noting that the brokenness seems to be applied exclusively to poor people. "Look at the number of families in the House of Commons that have broken up. Are they broken?" he asks. "I don't think broken families cause poverty. People are born poor."

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