By Janet Kay
Badly behaved five-year-olds? Six-year-olds excluded from school after visiting violence on their teachers? The very thought drives us to despair.
After all, we're used to aggressive teenage lads, pouting adolescent girls, bike shed smokers and feet-on-the-desk gangland heroes. They're all part of a recognisable world. But savagery in the nursery? It's unsettling, almost beyond our comprehension.
Although you might usefully write a book of disciplinary hints and tips for teachers of older children, few, if any, of the techniques are going to work with a small child who hasn't yet taken on board the social implications of being in a room with other human beings.
Janet Kay has taken on a formidable challenge. As she explains: "Punishment does not work with children who may have reasons not to fit in easily with the behavioural demands of the setting because of their social and cultural background, emotional state, or difficulties with learning."
One result is that the harassed early years teacher who picks up this book looking for quick answers is going to be disappointed. Kay is interested in promoting children's all-round development, with behaviour just one aspect of that. Read on, though, and the practicalities start to emerge. She has good advice about the management of schools and other early years settings, pointing out the importance of clear expectations, shared by everyone and consistently applied.
"Without a management-led vision of what behaviour is wanted, and how behavioural development will be supported, practitioners will struggle to achieve progress in this area." This seems obvious, and yet we all know how often a school's approach to behaviour can be inconsistent between teachers and from day to day.
It's important, too, Kay argues, to go beyond simply telling children to stop, offering no follow-up, explanation or shared reflection. The book is targeted at early years practitioners, but it deserves a wider readership, because if it's possible to achieve calm and order among lively children who are too young to be punished and intimidated, then there are clear lessons to be learned about working with difficult students further up the age range.