A fart in the eye for fine words

1st June 2001 at 01:00
ENGLISH teachers are always on the lookout for oxymorons, so I was intrigued last month by the anarchist training weekend organised in London before the anti-capitalist protest. Did the participants refuse to follow instructions?

Our school recently hosted a much more important gathering - Jack McConnell's "discipline roadshow". The chair was at pains - thinking of his potential safety perhaps - to put some distance between the panel (teachers' friends all) and the politicians (by implication more Machiavellian), but he needn't have worried, for the 200 or so teachers who came to express their views were polite and well-mannered.

So much so that one headteacher interrupted. Perhaps he was slightly frustrated by the apparent accord that a multi-agency approach to indiscipline was achieving. It seemed all too convenient for the creation of community schools. The headteacher injected a breath of fresh (?) air into the proceedings.

"If a pupil farted in class," he said, "for the delectation of his pals and with the deliberate intention of disrupting proceedings for the others, the last thing required is for two social workers and a gastroenterologist to be summoned to counsel him."

Cue tumultuous applause.

In truth, social inclusion for all can offer educational exclusion for tose pupils who want to work in class. Another primary teacher from a deprived housing scheme pointed out the difficulty of socialising newly arrived pupils. She had, over a period of months, managed to persuade one pupil to sit down in class, to hold a pencil and to refrain from attacking other pupils with it. When the HMI arrived all he was interested in was that the pupil hadn't reached level A.

Certainly challenges from pupils are growing apace. One I heard of was disputing a punishment exercise." What's the script?" he kept repeating - so much so that some pages of a drama text were substituted for the original task.

Behavioural problems also arise in the leafy suburbs outwith the city - the accent may be different, the defiance remains the same.

Pride of place went to the first-year pupil who told the supply teacher that he wasn't doing her punishment exercise. As he was already on a behaviour card she felt sure of her ground and replied: "Well, I think you'll find in this school that you'll have to do it."

"No," he maintained. "I'll just take it home to my mother and she'll tell me not to do it."

"And why would she do that?" asked the teacher.

The child played his trump card: "She's a successful entrepreneur."

Who said enterprise education works?

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