Bullets are being fired at the wrong target in the fight against disruptiv e behaviour

23rd August 1996 at 01:00
The teaching profession I joined almost a quarter of century ago was highly skilled and well motivated. Now, I cannot think of any occupation that is more beleaguered.

These days, many schools are forced to operate on a daily survival course. Classrooms can be brutally difficult places to work in, yet the teacher is still singled out as the main reason for this increasing anarchy. What nonsense.

If one is to believe the Government, the problem of disruption is new and is being addressed. This, too, is a complete fallacy. Disruption has been like a toothache that's gradually got worse. Now the pain is becoming intolerable and all sorts of agents are being employed to explain a phenomenon that is plainly obvious to anyone who has spent more than a term in the classroom.

The teaching profession has lost its disciplinary teeth - and I never was a 'cane happy' teacher. Physical violence is self-perpetuating and immoral. But stronger powers of punishment and exclusion are essential now. It really only takes two or three children to wreck a class.

The idea of the whole school running wild is totally inaccurate. Breakdown is caused by a very small minority who disrupt with intent, knowing full well that the teachers' powers of discipline are extremely limited and exclusion is an option that head teachers shun for a host of reasons.

The only real hope is for partnership between school and home. Parents should be included in the discipline procedure for children who persistently offend. The contracts that are becoming commonplace between school, parents and pupils, should contain the clear understanding that failure to conform results in an agreed disciplinary process that is clear, simple and effective.

The power to exclude a child should be made by the school staff alone and any appeal against the decision should be addressed to the head who may reconsider. The present policy, whereby people who don't even know the child can overturn the decision of those who have worked with him (or her) for hundreds of hours, is clearly ludicrous.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem in education at the moment is that the people who fire the bullets are frequently the ones who have never seen the target. Councillors and governing bodies are often ignorant of the issues.

Even education officers and inspectors seem out of touch to me. Only recently, a director of education appeared on TV to castigate a teacher who took pictures of disruption using a video camera hidden in her bag. The fact that the pictures showed what is actually happening in some schools passed him by.

Life in schools today cannot be gauged from the occasional visit, sports' day ceremony or presentation of prizes It is an irony that the Government is tightening up on young offenders but limiting the disciplinary powers of the country's educators. We have to establish a firm and effective disciplinary base in our schools. Action must be swift, because we are losing the battle for discipline and quality learning Apocalyptic predictions are not too dramatic. Indeed in some schools, the Apocalypse is now.

Steve Devrell is a teacher at Chapel Fields School, Solihull

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