The story behind the headlines

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
We return to the question we asked a few weeks ago: are today's children behaving badly, compared with previous generations? The issue has once again been raised, almost inevitably, by an episode of school indiscipline (to put it mildly). We would, of course, be highly unwise to extrapolate from one extreme incident, such as that of the Drumchapel head hospitalised after an encounter with one of her eight-year-olds. But the media hype, no doubt fuelled by alarmist accounts from teachers' leaders, will continue to make the charge of the Light Brigade seem a measured response. Sometimes it's a case of "have headline, please supply story".

In truth, teachers are between a rock and a hard place on school discipline, indeed on any issue which they wish to publicise or politicise.

If they do not talk up the problems, they fear no action will be taken; if they do, they risk creating a negative image of schools which is hardly in their interests - not least because headlines about "crisis in the classroom" do not exactly serve to boost teacher recruitment.

There was probably never an age when school discipline was as high up the political and educational agenda as it is today: there is much ministerial investment of energy and money, but credit (in every sense) will some day run out if the current plethora of initiatives is unsuccessful. There is some evidence that new strategies are beginning to pay off - but painfully slowly, for both teachers and inspectors. Teachers, of course, perceive the reality on a daily basis and they do not always appreciate the bigger picture. HMI, on the other hand, sees the bigger picture but is not in a position to appreciate the classroom realities.

Pupil indiscipline has myriad sources, and young people themselves are only part of the problem. Two headlines from south of the border in last week's TES Scotland suggest they have plenty of other role models - "Deputy 'bullied' primary pupils" and "Teacher assaulted head". There are many miles to go before we sleep.

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