Let's be clear on behavioural boundaries

29th September 2006 at 01:00
One problem above all others will harm schools in the year ahead: ill-discipline by pupils. It is the greatest single cause of dissatisfaction and wasted opportunities in British education. Despite 10 years of Labour governments, poor behaviour is at unacceptable levels in British schools.

Truancy is also rising. Since 1997, the Government has spent pound;1 billion on trying to reduce truancy (repeat, pound;1bn pounds). Yet despite this, truancy is higher than ever with 30,000 children regularly missing school. The time has come for new solutions. Any improvement in school discipline must address the question: why are so many children misbehaving?

There are two main reasons. First, pupils (and parents) must understand that schools mean business and that they set the rules. Breach of rules must result in punishment. Pupils will be excluded if they are unwilling to accept the school regime. The Government, for all its efforts to improve discipline, has not helped by making it harder for schools to exclude children. Many teachers have left the profession, or had their lives impoverished, because of unacceptable behaviour from a small minority. In a misguided attempt to protect the few, the majority have suffered.

Make it crystal clear to pupils and parents what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, and they will respond accordingly. If this means more children being sent to special schools, then so be it. Their behavioural difficulties can best be treated in specialist schools where they will have care and attention to help them to learn to behave in socially acceptable ways.

Reason two is that schools have become out of touch with many pupils'

lives. If children do not enjoy lessons, they get bored and distract others. The curriculum, and the way it is put over, is far too narrow. We need to rethink and diversify the school regime. It needs to be more in tune with pupils' needs and learning styles, as well as the needs of the economy and society. Children are very straightforward: if they are stimulated, they behave well; if they are bored, they do not. This truism tends to be forgotten in the drive for league-table results and improvement in school performance. Schooling needs to meet all seven faculties that make up children's minds - their logical, linguistic, artistic, sporting, emotional, social and spiritualmoral aptitudes.

They need to be taught thinking skills for two hours a week (as Edward de Bono teaches). Introducing well-being (colloquially, if misleadingly, called "happiness") classes into all schools would also help to reduce poor behaviour. Instead of just learning about "things" - volcanoes, Stalingrad, logarithms - pupils would learn about themselves. Well-being classes help pupils to understand who they are and what they want in life. Children are taught how their bodies work naturally, how to relax, what food to eat, how to breathe properly and sleep deeply. Instead of being passive recipients of facts, as they often are in PSHE lessons, pupils become active learners and explore themselves. They enjoy doing so.

Our model of education is still 19th century. It needs to be 21st-century.

This doesn't mean the simplistic belief that all will be well with more computer screens. I am talking about the whole nature of what goes on in classes and the way children are treated. The solutions are there. Will the Government respond?

Anthony Seldon is master of Wellington college, in Berkshire

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