Contracts alone are not the answer

8th November 1996 at 00:00
Diane Griffiths keeps a check on her son's behaviour at school with the help of a yellow report card. It's important to her that she is able to monitor how he reacts to the turmoil at The Ridings School, which some have labelled one of the worst comprehensives in the country.

The comments on his behaviour from teachers, scribbled on the card before the school closed after attacks on teachers last week, have been "good" or "excellent".

"I asked that a report card be kept on David although he hasn't done anything wrong because I want to be certain what he's up to - especially when there was so much going on at the school," said Mrs Griffiths.

"He's had some trouble in geography class when he was pulled out of his seat by a teacher. He had refused to move away from his friend after he was told to stop talking.

"His jumper was ripped and the teacher admitted he used excessive force. The teacher was under a great deal of pressure and he just snapped. David had disobeyed him and the teacher lost his temper.

"I don't blame the teacher for what happened. There was trouble at the school and a strike ballot had just been called. Teachers have a difficult job and I support them. But I wanted to keep a close eye on what David does and how he is treated."

Like many parents living near The Ridings in Nursery Lane, Halifax, Mrs Griffiths, 30, attended the school which was then Ovenden High. "Many of the staff who teach David taught me and I know they are good." she said. "I know they care but there are a lot of supply teachers at the school who don't seem able to cope."

She did not dismiss the idea of a formal contract or agreement between parent and school on behaviour and discipline which she said might have prevented the kind of incident between 12-year-old David and his teacher.

"I wouldn't refuse to sign one if I thought it would ensure the school would run more smoothly. Perhaps it would take some of the pressure off the teachers and the children would know where they stood, too."

But Tracy Bennett, 33, says she wants a partnership not a contract with her children's senior school. Her 12-year-old son, Curtis, who was bright and eager to learn during his years at primary school, is now a difficult and unhappy child at The Ridings. She contrasts his treatment at the comprehensive with that given to her other son, Boyd, 11, who attends a nearby middle school.

"I have a partnership with the head there. Boyd is hyperactive and can be difficult, especially when he's upset over something. I can telephone her and tell her if he's likely to misbehave and know he won't be shouted at, be given detention or put into isolation as soon as he puts a foot wrong.

"I know the head or a teacher will take him to one side and talk to him, calm him or soothe him. That doesn't happen at The Ridings. The teachers there are quick to shout, give a detention or place a child in isolation. It doesn't take much to set them off.

"It seems they never ask why a child is playing up. They seem to have a need to shout at them to assert their authority, and it just doesn't work. They are supposed to be professionals with some clue about dealing with difficult children.

"I cannot control my son's behaviour in school when I am not there. So a discipline contract would be useless. He is shown and told how to behave when he's at home and I don't shout at him. We talk through what's right and what's wrong."

Mrs Bennett believes that any kind of behaviour contract between school and parents gives teaching staff an excuse to give up on an unruly child.

"I don't want a contract, I want a partnership in which I can trust a teacher to do his or her best for my children, and I will give that teacher whole-hearted support."

Betty Jones, 54, has children and grandchildren who attend The Ridings. Her son Keith, 14, has been given isolation for bad behaviour but it's a sanction Mrs Jones believes staff are too ready to use.

"I agree if he's behaved badly then Keith deserves to be punished, but in this incident all he did was question what he had done wrong and he was put into isolation."

She's worried about the ability of staff to cope after she received a telephone call asking her to come into school because her son had been accused of sexually harassing a teacher.

"Keith told a teacher not to get her knickers in a twist," said Mrs Jones. "She was offended and complained to the head, saying it was sexual harassment. It may not be the right thing to say but it's not sexual harassment.

"My son apologised to her, but if a teacher cannot cope with something like that without calling me into school then she shouldn't be doing the job. "

Some teachers themselves fail to set good examples of behaviour, she said. "They shout at the kids and the kids shout back. What do they expect?" Any kind of discipline contract, she argues, would have to be watertight against misuse by staff. But then she added: "There will be many round here who would probably sign a contract and then just forget all about it."

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