Bad case of psychology claptrap syndrome

27th October 2006 at 01:00
We should hold the parents of disruptive pupils to account, writes Steve Devrell

As I write this article, I am certain there is some "professional", tenuously attached to education, who is thinking up some new syndrome to explain the disruptive behaviour of a minority of pupils. It makes me laugh that whenever you offload your frustrations in the privacy of the staffroom, there is always some colleague who has read the latest claptrap from psychologists and has a title or usually an initialisation to explain away your frustrations.

He or she has ADHD or BBCD or SKYTVD or QWERTYUIOPASDFGHJKLD. Whatever the excuse, you are made to feel just a little guilty for not being more understanding. The fact that the little demon has been driving you mad all day and raised your blood pressure to the ozone layer somehow seems immaterial. What nonsense!

How ironic that most of the people who are making a nice little earner from championing the latest excuse for bad behaviour, never actually teach. They arrive in schools with their clipboards, observe, offer some "bum fluff" of an idea and disappear from the premises in a cloud of Ford Fiesta exhaust fumes.

When are educationists going to wake up to reality? Since I have been teaching, there has been an increasing amount of sympathy, money and attention spent on the disruptive pupil and in return the problems have got worse. Some schools operate with an alarming proximity to anarchy. It has become far more difficult to exclude children.

Teachers have to operate solely on trust and respect. We are a fairly benign profession that relies on the goodwill and patience of the majority to accommodate the disruptive minority. If this delicate balance changes, then education and its delivery would become impossible.

It is hard to imagine another country that has brought so much positive input to education with such a negative result. We have mountains of literature and advice on how to deal with the disruptive pupil. There is also a small army of people willing to talk on the subject and give immodest examples of their success "in the field". This begs one to ask that, if they are that good, why were they so quick to leave the classroom? The truth is that although battles are being won, the war is being lost, and the reasons are quite clear.

Education in our country has little value for many. It is not considered a necessity, merely an inconvenience and this attitude is often consolidated in the home, where parents are only too willing to recall the negative aspects of their education. What a contrast this is with developing countries where education has such value.

My wife recently returned from a headteachers' visit to China. While visiting an austere and rather uninspiring school in the urban sprawl of Beijing, she asked about sanctions against unruly pupils. Her hosts just looked puzzled, "What is an unruly pupil?" they asked.

I concede that there are a number of children who have problems with concentration and behaviour, but there are many others who simply get a great deal of enjoyment from disrupting classes, especially with teachers who are described as "soft touches".

My solution to combat these well-documented problems involve making parents more accountable for their children and their behaviour. When a child goes to school, child allowance should be reduced and used as a deposit against their child's behaviour. Clear penalties should be given against children who cause disruption.

For instance a pound;25 fine could be deducted for a detention, pound;100 for a suspension and pound;500 for a permanent exclusion. As a further incentive for pupils and parent, an end-of-year bonus of, say, pound;200 could be paid to those who receive their whole deposit back. This would be paid for out of the fines imposed on disruptive pupils.

Draconian maybe, but in the 34 years that I have been in schools, there has been a dramatic move from a respect for education to a disregard that, in certain individuals, makes the job of teaching almost impossible. At this rate, a further generation will see education in such chaos that it may never recover.

Decisive and possibly unpopular action is required now if the disruptive pupil's present immunity is to be challenged.

Steve Devrell has been a teacher for 34 years. He is business manager of a Solihull primary

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