Teenage respect for teachers plummets

5th April 1996 at 01:00
Respect for teachers among secondary school pupils has plunged to crisis level, a new survey shows.

Young people are becoming more and more disaffected as they progress through school and truancy increases dramatically in the crucial period before GCSE exams.

The survey of pupils' attitudes by researchers at Keele University, the biggest ever conducted on this issue, will confirm claims by teachers meeting for their Easter union conferences that violence and disruption is escalating in schools.

The issue has been forced up the political agenda by Labour's education spokesman David Blunkett, who told the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' conference in Torquay this week that he intended to take action to enable schools to exclude disruptive pupils for up to a term. The Government is currently reviewing regulations which allow schools to permanently exclude pupils, but restrict temporary exclusions to a maximum of two weeks.

Peter Smith, ATL general secretary, said:"It is indisputable that people have lost respect for virtually all national institutions. The increase in violence on staff by pupils is unfortunately a consequence of this" The survey, carried out last year among 30,000 pupils in 200 secondary schools across the country, found the number of children saying their teachers are respected falls from 57 per cent of 11-year-olds in their first year of secondary education to only 37 per cent of 15-year-olds in their GCSE year. And the percentage of pupils who feel they can go to a teacher to talk about a problem falls from 43 per cent in Year 7 to just 22 per cent in Year 11.

The Keele researchers also show that boys are more likely to play truant than girls and are generally less happy at school and less convinced that they should stay on after 16.

And it confirms the existence of an "anti-education culture". More than 80 per cent of the pupils questioned said classmates who worked hard were ridiculed.

The findings give weight to fears expressed by chief inspector Chris Woodhead that boys are becoming alienated from the education system, and provide ammunition for Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, who last week outlined plans to allow disaffected 14-year-olds the chance to study part-time in college or at work.

The report's authors, Gerry Gough and Michael Johnson of Keele University's education department, say it shows that the national curriculum is too academic for some children and is partly responsible for their loss of interest.

Bullying and classroom disruption are also major problems for many pupils. More than one in five pupils said they had been bullied and 92 per cent complained of pupil disruption during their GCSE year.

The survey confirms many findings in Keele's research over the past seven years. It reveals that 8 per cent of pupils admit to playing truant "sometimes or often" in their first year at secondary school. By the time they reach Year 11 the figure has doubled to 16 per cent.

Senior research fellow Michael Johnson said: "The survey shows that for a substantial minority of pupils, the curriculum holds little interest. The disaffection seems to grow as they get older, and is worse in boys than in girls. The nature of the curriculum . . . is partly responsible. " But despite the gloomy findings, more than nine in 10 pupils said they were usually happy at school and 80 per cent said they worked as hard as possible.

A separate survey of more than 8,000 parents found most were happy with their children's schools. Contrary to the Government's belief, the results do not suggest most were anxious to exercise choice. More than half chose the school nearest home, while only 43 per cent gave good exam results as a reason for their choice.

But in an encouraging note for the Government, the researchers found that the number of parents who thought national curriculum tests helped learning had doubled to 42 per cent since earlier findings when the tests began.

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