Free them to be good

11th February 2005 at 00:00
In a Conservative party leaflet put through my door this week was the following: "On our first day we will set out plans to give headteachers the power to expel disruptive pupils. This will restore discipline to Britain's classrooms." It is a simple solution, isn't it? It would be interesting to know what would then happen to those disruptive pupils.

Then there is Ruth Kelly's wish to empower headteachers to remove disruptive pupils from the classroom and put them into special facilities inside or outside school. "Zero tolerance". All very draconian, and yet another attempt to "sort out" the negative attitude of so many pupils. But is more discipline the answer? Would it not be better to establish why these pupils are disruptive in the first place?

Having spent a career in secondary schools I know why pupils are disruptive. It is because they are hemmed in by other people's requirements and, yes, disciplined when they fail to conform.

Such disruptive pupils are nice as pie outside the classroom; they are often affable when one meets them in the corridor, in the playground or even on the street. The minute they are confined in the classroom one becomes their gaoler, exacting things from them, controlling, dictating, prescribing, and offering penalties for their lack of compliance.

All teachers will recognise the phrase, "That`s funny, I never have any trouble with him." They will also sympathise with the reply, "That's because he likes your subject and hates mine." It's time we recognised that disruptiveness in pupils is little more than a desire to make schooling more palatable.

They wish to confront a limiting factor in their young lives - having to study one subject when they'd rather be studying another. Yet they are powerless against the system and so they kick out.

Young people react against following other people`s ambitions. They have their own educational destinies to pursue and yet they are stuck with what they are obliged to do.

"Options" at the end of Year 9 rarely satisfy a young person`s craving to study something worthwhile. Options are so narrow that pupils find themselves, still, studying the irrelevant, the unlooked for, the compulsory, the empty - and it does nothing for their disruptiveness. I don`t know whether Michael Howard's intentions or Ruth Kelly's policies will apply in the near future. One hopes that both will do a little thinking and listening first.

AJ Marsden 9 Chester Drive Ramsbottom, Lancashire

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