For teachers, parents and pupils, good behaviour is more important than exam success
PUPILS WERE hurling chairs from the balconies of Unity City academy only last year. Things got so bad at times that the police had to be called in to deal with assaults.
Inspectors who visited the Middlesbrough school said pupils did not feel safe or secure and they witnessed pupils shouting, swearing and vandalising the building. They also found that teachers' attempts to intervene were sometimes ineffective and unacceptable behaviour was often ignored.
But when Ofsted returned to the 1,050-pupil school in November, it said good progress had been made in improving students' behaviour.
David Triggs, who was brought in as a superhead after the academy was placed in special measures in 2005, said his primary aim had been to make pupils feel secure.
"When we took over, it was survival of the fittest," Mr Triggs said. "Now it's much calmer and the children are more self-disciplined."
A survey published this week of teachers and parents across England and Wales suggests that they also believe that improving discipline should be their school's top priority.
It was a view held by nearly half of the 10,500 teachers interviewed and the most popular option for the 112,000 parents who took part. In contrast, only about 3 per cent of either group felt raising exam results should be the most important goal.
The school self-evaluation poll was carried out by the marketing company Kirkland Rowell. Mark Chaplin, its director, said the Government's continued focus on tests and league tables sidelined teachers' and parents'
valid concerns about discipline.
"Parents and staff want to see the Government do more to address these concerns," he said.
The company also polled more than 200,000 pupils. One in five said they had been bullied, and tackling this was among their top three priorities, along with a learning in a happier environment and gaining better facilities.
Teachers gained explicit newJpowers this month to physically restrain pupils, which a Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said would send a strong message to trouble-makers that if they misbehaved, theyJwould be punished. "Schools are safe places and we want them to stay that way,"
Unity academy gives part of the credit for its turn-around in behaviour to the US Discipline with Dignity programme. The scheme helps pupils take responsibility for their actions and instructs teachers in how they can discipline pupils without damaging their dignity. For instance, teachers are discouraged from publicly humiliating badly behaved pupils by reprimanding them in front of the class.
Staff and students believe the programme and other changes have helped.
Jodie Rogers, a 16-year-old pupil at the school, said dinner hour had been like a "big riot". Now there was a safe playground, closed-in balconies and CCTV cameras. "You talk to a teacher and your problems are sorted out without all the screaming and shouting," she said.
David Moore, 47, the head of Year 11, said coming to work was less intimidating now, especially for younger teachers.
"People know where the boundaries are," he said.
Enforcing discipline had been less challenging at the 750-pupil Hockerill Anglo-European state boarding school in Hertfordshire, particularly since Dr Bob Guthrie, the head, expelled four pupils for cannabis use three years ago.
"We're certainly not an inner-city school," he said. "We're in a leafy suburb with largely middle-class aspirant parents. Of course, that makes it easier."
But even when behaviour difficulties are rare, Dr Guthrie insists it is crucial to maintain strict, consistent rules - and not just on violence and drugs.
"Our battleground is keeping their shirts tucked in and their ties fastened, making sure they hold the door open and call a teacher Sir," he said. "It's best to fight your battles somewhere that, if you lose, it doesn't matter much."
Dealing with badly behaved parents, TES magazine, page 62