May the ethos be with you

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Problems can be left at the school gate, a past president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, told the Moray House students.

Despite the headlines, the vast majority of pupils behave well and school ethos is strong and improving, Gordon Mackenzie, head of Balwearie High in Kirkcaldy, said.

But Mr Mackenzie, a member of the former national discipline task group, admitted there were concerns about a "small but increasing minority of badly behaved pupils". Despite an increase in violent incidents problems tended to be persistent and low level, even if they impact on the teaching of the majority and staff morale.

He reminded students that HMI recently reported that discipline was a problem in 5-10 per cent of schools where it could have significant effects.

South of the border, there was a view that poor behaviour was driving middle class parents to take children out of the state sector and that pupil and parent behaviour was deteriorating year on year.

Mr Mackenzie said the school's expectations and ethos were vital in setting the pattern. "Positive reinforcement, fairness, consistency and a sense of humour are at the root of good discipline." His advice was: "If you follow good practice, it will have an impact. You have got to get into the care mode and if you do not care about young people, you are not going to succeed."

New teachers must be confident, avoid confrontations, get to know pupils as individuals, expect good standards and set a good example by showing humility and listening. They should avoid escalation by overreaction and avoid punishing a whole class.

"You should attempt to be consistent and apply basic values of courtesy and decency. Remember to say what you want rather than what you don't want," Mr Mackenzie said. It was behaviour that was unacceptable, not the individual pupil.

Where there were difficulties, more schools were deploying the framework for intervention strategies which looked at practical steps to defuse classroom difficulties.

Help them to be good

* give praise for effort and good work

* display work

* get to know pupils as individuals

* avoid sarcasm or jokes at pupils' expense

* be friendly and approachable outside the classroom

* involve yourself in extra-curricular activities

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