Parents have to face up to bad behaviour

30th January 2004 at 00:00
re you a potential expert on discipline problems? Can you conjure up, from your teaching experiences, a great stash of practical strategies to support front-line teachers in the battle against disruptive behaviour? You can? Brilliant, you must sign up to be a behaviour co-ordinator right away.

Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, recently stirred a smidgen of seasoning into the discipline pot in the form of pound;500,000. There were groans from the Educational Institute of Scotland which described the initiative as not going far enough to tackle the problems faced by teachers. There were groans from me too when I heard, on the radio, some nebulous being advising stressed teachers to remove offenders to the front of the class.

Wow! That's about as revolutionary as jam on bread. OK, maybe I'm being a tad mean. As this newspaper recently stated, the Scottish Executive has invested pound;10 million a year on the discipline task force recommendations and pound;11 million on supporting alternatives to exclusion. Desperately needed millions by all accounts.

According to Joe Elliot, chair of educational psychology at the Sunderland University, UK pupils are "probably the worst behaved in the world". This conclusion was based on his own experiences of visiting other countries.

Allied to this damning finding is the fact that studies have shown that peer groups in the UK are far more likely to reinforce negative behaviour than those in other countries. I have no reason to believe that Scotland is any different from the UK as a whole and that depresses me.

The reality is that assaults on teaching staff in Scotland rose by a fifth in 2002 and last year's figures show a further 27 per cent increase.

Mr Peacock's scheme aims to implement staged intervention, apparently allowing challenging behaviour to be tackled before it escalates out of control. Teachers can consult behaviour co-ordinators for advice. Fine, let's throw whatever we can at the problem. Teachers are worn down by persistent discipline problems. There is scarcely a class in any school whose equilibrium is not upset by at least one disruptive pupil. The really worrying trend is the proliferation of out-of-control kids on whom huge quantities of school resources are spent - time, money and staff - to little effect.

Yeh, yeh, get the violins out, you've heard it all before. It makes for good dinner party chat. Couldn't do your job for twice the pay, friends mutter into their claret. Well, not without thinking of the guidelines on safe drinking levels and then trebling them! I know I have said it before - but disruptive behaviour has leapt class barriers and offending pupils are just as likely to be the offspring of doctors, lawyers, architects and teachers as they are to be from the loins of the visibly deprived in society.

A solution? Some of Peter Peacock's dosh would be better employed engaging the parents of the offenders. After all, if we need a television advertising campaign to ensure that we defrost our Christmas turkeys properly, then some advice on manoeuvres for dealing with misbehaving youngsters wouldn't go amiss. Why don't we demand more accountability from failing parents? This is partly because we have a different approach for the middle-class parents. They scare us because they might be articulate and they can turn quite vicious when we tell them that their children are nasty little pieces of work. We are too happy clappy in the way that we deal with these parents.

They have got to be brought face to face with the behavioural problems of their children and they must take more responsibility in the search for solutions. Bear in mind, too, that there doesn't always have to be a deep and meaningful reason for bad behaviour - sometimes it's just plain old wickedness.

Otherwise, why do British schoolchildren have just a dreadful reputation.

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

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