Taming the years of youth

20th February 2004 at 00:00
Discipline, it appears, is destined always to be with us - or, rather, indiscipline. As Pamela Munn correctly reminds us (page four), moral panic about rising tides of violence and misbehaviour among young people is nothing new. Neither, she might have added, is concern about the contribution made by teachers and teaching. How many schools could put hand on heart and say they have adopted as their mission statement: "Security comes from the presence of mature and disinterested personalities manifesting towards the child a consistent and active goodwill" (another of the many pearls from the Advisory Council on Education - in 1947)? And readers will note that, 30 years ago, the turbulent dominie R F Mackenzie was railing against exactly the absence of that "consistent goodwill".

This is not about blaming teachers, although it has been remarked on many times that teachers attribute the influences on them to the situation they are in while pupils' behaviour is regarded as entirely a matter of their individual dispositions. The exclusion figures released this week have put the spotlight on discipline once again. But if ever there was a need to understand what the statistics reveal and conceal, the experience of Mossgiel primary in Dundee is salutary (page four). It points to the complexities of the causes and the solutions.

Even the 1947 report noted that "the security once afforded directly by simpler and more stable societies has been lost". Although it went on to suggest that there was a new obligation on schools to provide that missing security, the message now is surely that other agencies need to join forces with the school to provide it. The articles on the preceding and opposite pages attest to the importance of this for teachers; they may not need to feel loved, but they do need to feel supported.

We now live in an age where schools are home to troubled and troublesome pupils, irrespective of policies on inclusion. The test set by the advisory council all those years ago that the task of schools is "to fill the years of youth with security, graciousness and ordered freedom" is becoming more and more difficult to pass. But schools like Mossgiel have shown that we should never say never.

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