Banish this band of classroom meddlers

19th May 2006 at 01:00
The motley crew of social workers, pop musicians and celebrity cooks is causing discipline problems in schools, writes Dennis Hayes

Who should be in a classroom? The obvious answer is a teacher and his or her pupils. Who should not be in a classroom? Police officers, social workers, youth workers, health workers, vicars and priests (unless it is a classroom in a church school), therapists, business people, local councillors and politicians, pop musicians, obesity monitors and celebrity cooks, fitness trainers, security guards, parents, and those children who are brainwashed into believing they have a role in determining the form and content of learning and teaching. This motley crew should keep out of the classroom because its presence threatens the unique relationship of teacher and pupil and increasingly diminishes it until it is just another relationship that children have to develop with any older authority figure.

What is unique to the classroom is that the teacher is the conduit to knowledge. That's what makes children pupils, not the more generic and ambiguous "learners". This simple fact defines what is essential about the teacher-pupil relationship. It is something that has being forgotten in educational thinking and policy-making. Recent moves by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) to promote the role of the wider workforce seem consciously to set out to undermine this relationship further. The key argument for a wider workforce rests on a simple confusion. Ralph Tabberer, while head of the Teacher Training Agency, argued that the major challenge in accepting the concept of a wider school workforce was the difficulty of accepting that everyone can teach.

In the banal sense of "teaching" that is concerned with various bits of training this is true, but a teacher doesn't merely train children, he or she educates them. This point is important to classroom assistants who, if they are to be capable of educating rather than merely training, have to get the knowledge this requires.

All teachers have a framework of subject knowledge that children lack.

There is a natural human desire to know and understand and children learn to love knowledge and become passionate about certain subjects because of their teachers. This leads them to relate in more personal ways to teachers and to seek friendship and advice, but this is a secondary matter. The trouble is that this secondary advice now has centre stage in educational policy. To put it bluntly, interfering in children's lives has replaced education. Turning children into pupils potentially liberated them from whatever local and domestic perspectives and problems they had.

The involvement of the wider workforce embodies not a liberating but a contemptuous view of children. Do policy-makers even like children? Their policies reflect the idea that children are nasty rebellious things in need of policing, social training, health advice, spiritual instruction, and endless therapy. Why else are they are imprisoned in the extended school save for fear that they'll go off meeting dubious friends, smoking or shoplifting?

Politicians, it seems, fear children and want to control their private lives, and it always backfires. Children constantly ignore the advice of the many meddlers in their lives. The more behaviour is addressed the more difficult and disrespectful they become. The only reason that children might behave in school is that, in becoming pupils, they get some knowledge and can see what education is about. Being a pupil is not, as some people think, to become subservient. It is a liberating thing, whereas doing well in citizenship training, eating tasteless salads and walking 10,000 metres a day is nothing but being subservient. Children won't accept servility for long and when they rebel there will be predictable accounts of how very bad they are and further calls for interference in their lives.

In time, teachers and their professional bodies may also forget that they have an educational role. Already they match the policy apologists in arguing that the introduction of the wider workforce will free them up to teach. By the time the perverse consequences of this strategy have worked themselves out it will be too late. Education will have been killed in favour of flexible attendance at therapeutic learning spaces.

All teachers could learn a lesson from Alan Bennett's play, The History Boys, in which the politically incorrect schoolmaster, Hector, locks the door to outsiders so that his boys can get some education. The moral is that what was once the hidden curriculum, training children in proper social attitudes and values, is becoming the main focus of the formal curriculum, while education is replacing it as the hidden curriculum. The only way to ensure education for the future is to follow Hector's example until the policy-makers are silenced by the sound of classroom doors slamming throughout the land.

Dennis Hayes is head of the centre for professional learning at Canterbury Christ Church university

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