Let the little brats leave if they want to

13th May 2005 at 01:00
Like most secondary school teachers, I am no stranger to reluctant 14-year-olds. I could offer endless hours of evidence to the motion apparently to be debated at the next Scottish conference of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers - teenagers should be able to leave at the end of S2 to start a job. I am not alone in this.

The deteriorating behaviour of S2 pupils should - if it isn't - be on the agenda of every secondary school staff meeting in the land. The Scottish Executive can pontificate ad nauseam about children achieving their potential and engaging all scholars, but classroom practitioners are increasingly aware of a disquieting theme.

Whatever schools do to tackle the burgeoning discipline problems, it can never be enough. Like demented fanatics on ever faster moving treadmills, schools frantically search for solutions, grabbing any remotely feasible lifeline that comes their way.

Relentless hours are spent by senior management teams on discipline matters - often to no avail, and this is no reflection on anyone's will to succeed.

So who are the 14-year-old baddies who should be kicked out of the comparatively cosy (for them) nest of school into the Big Bad World? As I have previously stated in this column, the client base is certainly not one-sided. Previously, children who presented as badly behaved in school almost inevitably came from difficult social and economic circumstances.

Not any more. The gulf between the financial haves and have-nots is not necessarily the territory which these awkward 14-year-olds fall into. Too many of these disruptive kids now come from the me, me, me strata of the affluent I-Know-My-Rights middle classes.

In a secondary school classroom anywhere in Scotland, where teachers are pushed to the limits of their skills, sits a silent S2 pupil, visible only out of the corner of the teacher's eye. She has neutralised her body language to be invisible and hides her agitation regarding the poisonous and enslaving behaviour patterns within the classroom which prevent her learning. She has perfected the act of the passive expression, because she mustn't betray her despair in the face of constant disruption.

The lesser of the two evils is that she is ignored in the inferno of the endless policing of the class, as the teacher struggles to gain control.

When she goes home at the end of the school day, the last thing she'll do is tell her parents about what is going on, lest they complain and thus turn her into even more of a victim. Inclusion?

So I think I must be with the NASUWT. Draconian, maybe, but I despair of the selfish middle classes who allow their offspring to run riot in and out of school. This is society's problem, and yet it is being sidelined as an ill for schools to solve. It's as if politicians have some mysterious collective amnesia when antisocial behaviour, which is so prevalent in schools, is viewed as a condition that can be cured, if only schools could offer more variety of both content and teaching strategies, more in-service days when the over-enthusiastic presenters tell an endless stream of jokes so that we pick up the idea that if we do that with our classes, bingo, our troubles will be over.

We can't. We're at the end of our collective tethers. You haven't noticed, minister? That's a shame, because we need to talk about how we - through no fault of our own - are short-changing the enthusiastic 14-year-olds, sabotaging their chances to achieve their potential. So, if pupils reach the age of 14 and remain unmotivated and don't suffer from the well-documented relationship between poverty and opportunity, and their middle class parents have abdicated responsibility for their behaviour, then for utilitarian reasons, for the greater good of society, they should leave school at 14.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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