21st November 2003 at 00:00
How much can governors really do about badly-behaved children? I suppose many of us have old-fashioned ideas but we can't help being shocked by the behaviour of our pupils on the streets and buses, the rudeness to staff and each other, the poverty of language and interests. I'm not even talking about really bad things like bullying and violence but the emptiness of life which seems to be reflected in all the daily interchanges and preoccupations. We have guidelines but they bear no relation to the things I mean.

I know exactly what you are saying and many will echo it. I don't think there is a single or simple answer. Everything that a school does has some bearing- the quality of the teaching over and above the merely acceptable; the range of out-of-school activities and encouragement to develop interests; the way parents are treated and class distinctions handled; the response to incidents where rudeness has escalated; the success of encouragement to read, especially among boys.

There is no reason why behaviour guidelines should be confined to misdemeanours: encouragement of good behaviour is also important and a lot of factors come into that. It isn't, as you say, a simple class issue. I am familiar with schools with wide social contrasts, where some children live in homes worth the best part of a million pounds while others come from households without joy, order, mealtimes, bed times, alarm clocks or diaries. Neither group has a monopoly of the kind of things you mention.

Child avoidance can appear in any. I remember one particularly badly-behaved girl from a very grand home who was just a fashion accessory for her parents.

I sometimes think there should be more open dialogue between teachers and parents, and governors and teachers, about the factors that promote pleasant behaviour, more expressive language, pride and self-respect.

School clubs are a vital element, with strong promotion of reading, especially for boys. So is good use of language: "We have a rich language full of really sizzling abusive words - why use only three?' (And is drama just an annual play in your school? Or does it include role play of taking something back to a shop or having a neighbourly row over a garden fire?) An expert on behaviour management can do wonders in an in-service training day. And do all your teachers always set a good example?

I am really talking about poverty, not in money but in interests, reading, vocabulary, relationships. Governors must get beyond talking merely about behaviour sanctions.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX fax 020 7782 32023205. or see

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