Pupils will live up to 'failure' label

20th June 2008 at 01:00
I read with interest the article entitled, "Branding my school as weak is simplistic and superficial", part of your coverage of the Government's National challenge strategy (TES, June 13)
I read with interest the article entitled, "Branding my school as weak is simplistic and superficial", part of your coverage of the Government's National challenge strategy (TES, June 13).

Working towards government-led standards is part and parcel of operating in the English education system - school league tables don't exist in Northern Ireland and were abolished in Scotland and Wales. The question is: will increased pressure and the stigma of being a "failing school" really help those on the front line turn these schools around?

Teachers are the education system's greatest resource. But all too often their needs and wellbeing are cast aside in favour of other more immediate concerns. Surely the key to providing pupils with a well-balanced education, and consequently encouraging and allowing them to realise their full potential, is through their teachers.

A positive attitude in the classroom can go a long way towards inspiring children to perform across all subjects. This is especially important in more deprived areas, where the value of education can often be forgotten when viewed in the context of more immediate social concerns. Take the Broken Windows theory. This states that if a person is surrounded by signs of lawlessness, such as graffiti, litter and broken windows, then they are more likely to follow a similar path. Rudi Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, used this theory to good effect in deprived areas of the city during his tenure. His zero tolerance stance on crime and his efforts to clean up the streets saw both petty and serious crime rates fall dramatically.

The same theory can also be applied to schools. The term "failing" acts like an umbrella that covers not just the school and its staff, but also the pupils. If they believe they are labelled as failures as a result of their environment, then they are much more likely to become disillusioned. Consequently they will live up to this expectation of failure rather than success.

Children need to be convinced that the work they do in school is worthwhile. A teacher who has a positive attitude, not just in the classroom but in life in general, will be able to inspire far more ambition in their pupils and ultimately get the results the Government is aiming for.

Teachers are, in essence, the heart of a school and as such need to be looked after. Simply branding the organisation of which they are a part of as a "failure" will only engender a sense of disaffection across the entire school.

Heather Wright, Behavioural analyst and co-founding director of Leading Light, Preston, Lancashire.

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