No need to keep sending them off

I HAVE just had a letter from a teacher in London outlining her school's behaviour problems. She desperately wants to avoid suspending children as a disciplinary measure, but then, she asks, what else can she do?

I recalled a discussion about short-term suspension last term with a group of bright 10-year-olds. Two remembered being suspended: one spent a happy day in the park, while the other had a sharp punishment from her father. Unfair, declared the group. Suspension depends too much on how parents respond. It does seem more sensible to talk and listen to offenders and to try to get thoughtless children to think rather than packing them off home.

No time for lengthy discussions? Some schools now allocate a role for someone trained to take this on. Good diagnosis is essential. Most children learn from mild penalties linked to explanatory discussion. Persistently unsettled children need professional assessment with medical or psychological back-up. For parents who need help, parent-liaison teachers are clearly an invaluable resource.

Not enough options for sanctions? Here it is worth experimenting, discussing suggestions with parents and children. Report cards seem particularly useful with built-in rewards. Group pressures can help deal with wayward youngsters - the teacher encouraging open discussion of misbehaviour.

Above all, we need to look at our own habits of managing and listening to children, avoiding negative or unclear messages. Be calm, good humoured, judicious and consistent.

Most children do respond positively to a non-negotiable culture of civility. If we come at our problems from all angles, determined to overcome them, fewer miscreants will need the red card.

Sir David Winkley is president of the National Primary Trust

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