Editorial - A refresher course in crowd control

3rd April 2009 at 01:00
Behaviour management has come a long way. It's time everyone had a skills update

Official statistics tell us one in five teachers abandons the profession because they can no longer cope with unruly pupils (page 1). It sounds bleak. But are young people really worse behaved than they were 20 or 30 years ago? This was the question experts tried to answer when compiling a behaviour and attendance report back in 2005. They might as well have asked: how long is a piece of string?

But they did conclude that schools and young people are not as bad as the media make them out to be. Schools, they reported, were mostly orderly. They also found no evidence of gun or knife crime on the scale of some inner-city English schools. In fact, the biggest behavioural problem teachers' face every day is a small minority of unruly pupils.

That's not to say there aren't serious problems. The number of pupils excluded for violence in Wales was higher than ever in 2007-08; and the emergence of girl gangs that beat up classmates while drunk is also an unwelcome trend - but such incidents are still relatively rare.

So, why are some teachers running a mile from schools in Wales? It is because of a lack of support - and a total absence of training - in dealing with bad behaviour.

It's not surprising that a national training programme was recommended by the National Behaviour and Attendance Review last year. But it is lamentable that the proposal was put on the back burner by the Assembly government this week.

Teachers and schools in Wales have been left to go it alone for too long. In England, heads and teachers have the support of an army of behavioural support consultants and a Pounds 2 million national training programme to boot.

Is it any wonder that heads in our poll, published this week, admitted illegally excluding pupils? Most have acted out of sheer desperation because other agencies - whether through lack of money or resources - simply aren't there for them.

Another powerful argument for training is that older teachers are becoming increasingly out of touch with the latest behaviour management techniques. Their newly qualified colleagues have had at least some recent training. But some more mature teachers may remember punishments - the embarrassment of standing in a corner, writing lines, even the cane - shunned today. Now they are told to give their pupils constant praise, reward them always for jobs well done and ask after their wellbeing. But are teachers - old and new - aware why experts believe these are the best tactics to deploy?

It's a shame the government has delayed the development of a national training scheme. Our poll proves it is the one behaviour review recommendation that 71 per cent of heads at the sharp end most want.

The government's action plan to tackle behaviour and truancy, published this week, is a step in the right direction and contains many praiseworthy initiatives, but it still failed to meet immediate expectations.

We need a national training programme in Wales sooner rather than later.

Nicola Porter, Editor, TES Cymru E: nicola.porter@tes.co.uk.

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