Traditional Conservative worries about law and order in the classroom were the theme of a speech by Mr Norman St John-Stevas, the Tory educational spokesman, last week. He was careful, however, to express support for comprehensive schools and to steer clear of any debate on declining standards.
Speaking to the annual education conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters-Union of Women Teachers in Birmingham, he painted a picture of vandalising children and terrorised teachers. Life in some schools now resembled trench warfare, he said. "From being the terrorists of Victorian school rooms, many teachers have now become terrorised."
In inner London, he said, there were 38 cases of teachers being assaulted by pupils last year, and a report from the Save the Children Fund estimated that arson and vandalism in British Schools cost #163;15m a year. Mr St John-Stevas called for less emphasis on theory in teacher training and more on practical training in good teaching methods and the maintenance of discipline.
"Good practical teachers should be allowed to take a term or a year off to give tuition in colleges and university departments, while college lecturers should be required to return to school teaching at regular intervals" (his audience agreed noisily).
Heads should be able to count on the support of the local authority and the school governors over discipline, Mr St John-Stevas said.
Schools should link the last year at school with the world of work to overcome disruption and vandalism. Many children were bored in their final year at school because of the way they were taught, or because of what they were taught. They would not get so bored if they learnt something that was going to be useful to them in future.