Take pressure off with some real solutions

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Teachers are increasingly blamed for discipline problems, and a proper strategy of help is needed, says Paul Lamarra.

Lifting a newspaper on any day you cannot fail to notice the increasing incidence of authorities reporting to an eager media that a teacher's conduct is the subject of an investigation, or that a teacher has been suspended from classroom duties pending disciplinary proceedings.

Sadly there are teachers for whom teaching is no longer appropriate. Some will be the subject of malicious allegations, and others will be guilty of ill-judged actions, although malice was not their intent.

So why is there such an up-surge in the reporting of these incidents? Is it that parents and pupils are more litigious, egged on by an indignant, blame-seeking tabloid press? Is the system stretched to such a point that it cannot cope with the competing demands placed on it, so that it will always alienate some of the participants?

The staffroom reaction to any news of disciplinary action being taken against a colleague is frequently "there but for the grace of God go I". Teachers are becoming increasingly anxious about their professional future and livelihood. The media undoubtedly has a part to play, as does the greater ease with which the general public can access a solicitor, but can we avoid these situations arising in the first place?

Teachers have to deal with an increasing level of indiscipline, coupled with an increasing number of recalcitrant pupils. More and more they find themselves in situations for which they do not have an answer. The stress of trying to raise achievement and at the same time maintain good order is leading teachers onto dangerous ground.

Maintaining good order is seen as the most immediate measure of a good teacher. Stress is producing desperate reactions from those that are all too human. Discipline in schools is a slow, cumbersome paper exercise that only works with the co-operative.

The present systems do not have the immediate answers that are often required to deal with nuisance behaviour and allow efficient teaching. The current pre-disposition against exclusion has encouraged teachers and parents alike to go to extraordinary lengths to insist hat a pupil is excluded. I would hope that this educational nimbyism is not merely an attempt to have the pupil educated anywhere but here, but a recognition that the child in question is in need of more appropriate help. There is help available but the providers will be the first to admit that it is not nearly enough. The "throw them in at the deep end" philosophy of social inclusion has to be balanced against alienating the co-operative majority.

The debate that takes place when teachers and management take to their trenches is sterile. Accusations of putting exclusion statistics before education, countered with accusations of vindictiveness and intransigence, do not help. Schools are between the devil and the deep blue sea, often accused of not being hard enough on the bully and of not doing enough to help the bully overcome his or her tendencies.

The Scottish Executive has to come up with a national strategy for relieving the pressure on teachers and schools. Hopefully more money can be found for more behaviour support specialists, short-term internal exclusion units (sin bins) or even new approaches towards behavioural problems, so that better relationships can thrive with all pupils instead of just chucking them in with up to 32 others.

It is folly to continue sweeping indiscipline under the carpet. Why else does the media celebrate when it detects that all is not as it should be, as was recently the case with Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow and Inveralmond Community High School in West Lothian? These schools will be no different from anywhere else, it's just that they got caught out.

Society is always very willing to point the finger. The SSTA and the NASUWT are considering action against those who accuse maliciously - this is the least desirable option. It is the responsibility of all in education to find constructive solutions within education rather than encourage a never-ending cycle of legal action.

A satisfactory resolution is needed now, because the current perception of indiscipline in our schools is at least as big a factor as pay in dissuading potential new recruits. Action please.

Paul Lamarra teaches at Taylor High School in Motherwell, N Lanarkshire

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