Despite recent shocking press reports on violence in schools, a new TES survey reveals that fewer Welsh parents believe that children's behaviour is deteriorating. Michael Shaw, William Stewart, Felicity Waters and Jane Davis report
Reports of knife attacks by pupils and assaults on teachers would give some the impression that disruptive behaviour in schools is spiralling out of control. Yet the proportion of Welsh parents claiming behaviour is getting worse has declined significantly.
A TES poll of parents four years ago found that two-thirds felt behaviour in schools had worsened. By April this year, that figure had fallen to 46 per cent in a survey of 300 Welsh parents asked about their child's school.
In this latest survey, 37 per cent of 200 Welsh parents thought behaviour was deteriorating - not much more than the 32 per cent who say it is improving. In England the figures have gone even further, with more now saying behaviour is improving rather than worsening.
But while the news on behaviour is hopeful, bullying remains a big concern of parents. More than two in five in Wales say their child has been bullied at school. In England, one in three said their children had suffered.
Welsh parents, however, were more satisfied with the way their schools dealt with the problem than those across the border. Sixty-eight per cent said schools in Wales tackled complaints effectively, but just 58 per cent said the same in England and only 48 per cent in London.
Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: "Schools can't tackle these issues entirely in a vacuum. We do need to involve society as a whole to eradicate behaviour which can have devastating effects on children and young people."
The figures come as speculation continues into the tragic death of 13-year old Laura Rhodes, who was found dead after an apparent suicide pact with a teenage friend at her home in Neath.
Laura's family claim she was bullied extensively while she was a pupil at Cefn Saeson comprehensive in Neath and was moved to a pupil-referral unit in nearby Bryncoch last year. "We don't want anyone else to suffer the loneliness Laura went through," they said in a statement.
Earlier this week South Wales Police said there was no evidence of a direct link between bullying and Laura's death, but investigations are continuing.
Peter Rees, chair of governors at Cefn Saeson, expressed sympathy for Laura's family but said it was "simplistic" to focus on bullying.
According to ChildLine Cymru, bullying is the single biggest reason why children phone in - accounting for a quarter of almost 4,500 calls this year. Jonathan Green, the helpline's counselling manager, said more services were needed in schools (see story, right).
Meanwhile, teachers continue to cite poor behaviour as the biggest obstacle to their work. Parents of secondary pupils agree that it is the chief problem, but only 14 per cent of primary parents listed it as a concern, less than half who said that a lack of funding was the main issue.
Most (86 per cent) also agreed that "teachers generally do a good job in managing pupil behaviour". Coral Devlin, 31, who relocated to Anglesey from Derby nearly a year ago, believes behaviour overall has deteriorated - but has been struck by the greater community spirit on the island. Her 11-year-old son, Declan, started at Ysgol Uwchradd Bodedern this term, and the family live in RAF Valley, Anglesey.
"The parents are involved and the children have much more respect for their elders here. There is real community spirit."
Part of the difficulty in judging whether pupil behaviour is improving or not is that many of the indicators are affected by other factors. Last year permanent exclusions fell in England and marginally in Wales. Of 439 expulsions in Wales, nearly 30 per cent resulted from assaults on other pupils or staff. The fall could suggest that fewer pupils are committing serious misdemeanours - but also that schools are "unofficially" removing pupils.
Moyra Healey, the Department for Education and Skills adviser on learning support units, believes pupil behaviour is no worse today than 30 years ago.
The TES poll, conducted by FDS International, was based on telephone interviews with 800 parents of school-aged children in England and 200 in Wales.
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BEST BEHAVIOUR: MOYRA HEALY'S DOS AND DON'TS
* Use a seating plan and put "attention - needers" near the back, where they cannot take over the class.
* Appear hurt rather than angry, as it will appeal to pupils' better nature.
* Place disruptive pupils among the strong well behaved classmates.
* Make sure all pupils face you when you talk to them.
* Use the phrase "I need you to..."
* Use small sanctions consistently and give roughly four times as many rewards.
* Listen to those people who tell you "Don't smile until Christmas."
* Adopt the Mussolini stance - arms folded, puffed-up chest - as it will simply encourage confrontation.
* Use put-downs or sarcasm.
* Speak aggressively to children.
* Become involved in shouting matches with your pupils: they will win.
Moyra Healy is the Department for Education and Skills adviser on learning support units