There's a lot of mythology about behaviour in schools. Throughout last summer, the papers were full of stories about overseas teachers parachuted into difficult classrooms. They told us that UK children are the worst-behaved in the world. A survey of student teachers showed that the biggest area of concern wasn't the pay, the status, or the workload. It was the discipline.
All the more reason that we need a calm and rational book, such as Paul Blum's, to help us explain the underlying anger many students (and their teachers) feel, and to give advice on how to deal with it.
Parts of Blum's argument are depressingly familiar. He talks frequently of the macho culture that is so deep-rooted in our culture, both within and beyond schools. What makes Blum's book so disturbing is his demonstration of the way schools generally reinforce that culture. Macho, he says, is the key to understanding the way schools work, and the response of teachers falls within two approaches.
There are dominant teachers. These are the people who state, "I am a teacher and I am here to teach." As Blum puts it: "This end of the staffroom is usually in favour of punishment and sanction as the cure to the problems of particular pupils. Dominant teachers want exclusion and expulsion if other sanctions don't work."
The dominant teaching philosophy tends to attract higher status, says Blum, and dominant teachers are usually represented within school management. The result can be disastrous.
He provides genuinely practical guidance on training staff for dealing with pupils' behaviour: ways to tell pupils off without resorting to ritual humiliation; to spot the signs of brewing anger; and to embed these practices into a usable behaviour policy.
The book is refreshingly free from dogma or slabs of educational research. It's not a theoretical read. Instead it is the wise and frequently disturbing advice of a head of learning support at an inner-city school.
Geoff Barton is deputy head of Thurston community college, Suffolk
- Picture: macho-culture at work