Tories' tough talk on `lines and litter' falls on deaf ears

1st May 2015 at 01:00
Drive for traditional discipline isn't working, survey suggests

More than half of teachers believe behaviour in schools has deteriorated since the coalition government came to power, according to a TESYouGov survey.

Overall, 56 per cent of the workforce believe behaviour has worsened over the past five years. Headteachers are slightly less pessimistic, with 45 per cent claiming that discipline has declined during the current Parliament.

Those most likely to say that behaviour is worse are art teachers, with 66 per cent saying standards have fallen. Music teachers follow close on their heels at 65 per cent, while 64 per cent of design and technology and science teachers say poor behaviour is more prevalent.

The figures fly in the face of Conservative claims that the government has "restored discipline" in the classroom.

Last year, former education secretary Michael Gove published guidelines granting teachers the freedom to use more traditional methods of discipline, such as setting lines and telling pupils to pick up litter.

Mr Gove told teachers at the time that the government's "message was clear - don't be afraid to get tough on bad behaviour and use these punishments".

More recently, his successor Nicky Morgan has claimed that the party's policies have "restored discipline in schools - making it easier for teachers to control their classrooms and giving heads the final say".

A change for the worse?

But according to the profession, changes brought in by the coalition have often exacerbated the problem with behaviour.

Ros McMullen, executive principal of the David Young Community Academy in Leeds and chief executive of the Leaf Academy Trust, said coalition curriculum reforms may have directly impacted on discipline.

"There has been some craziness around manipulating curriculum change by using accountability measures over the last five years," Ms McMullen said. "I would expect that in schools where students are being forced through an inappropriate curriculum, behaviour in classrooms may well have deteriorated."

Tim Plumb, headteacher of Woolwich Polytechnic School in south-east London, said extra pressures faced by teachers could make it feel as though standards in behaviour were worse, but added that he hadn't encountered this himself.

"It hasn't been the case in my school," Mr Plumb said. "You wonder if there has ever been a poll that didn't say behaviour had become worse. I don't think it is based on broader evidence, but sometimes perceptions are just as telling as reality."

Both the Conservatives and Labour have pledged in their general election manifestos to ensure that every teacher is properly trained in behaviour management, but classroom unions believe the issue lies at the door of the senior leadership team.

In 2012, the ATL teaching union published a survey of its members that revealed 90 per cent had faced instances of "extreme behaviour" in the previous 12 months. Mary Bousted, the union's general secretary, said the issue had less to do with government policies and more with the management of the school.

"We do think it has got worse, I don't think there is any question that behaviour has deteriorated in recent years," Dr Bousted said. "And we are not just talking about low-level disruption, but major incidents where [teachers] have been victims of physical abuse. But it's to do with the school you work in.

"If you work in a school where the senior leadership team doesn't support their staff, stay in their office and leave teachers to deal with behaviour on their own on the front line, then you have problems."

`It comes down to the individual schools'

Tim Plumb, headteacher of Woolwich Polytechnic School in London, doesn't think that students' behaviour has got worse but he does believe that the pressure on teachers has intensified.

"In my experience, the job is as tough, if not tougher, than it ever has been," he says. "The reason for this is that a range of things have changed more rapidly, especially performance measures and accountability measures that make the job feel more demanding."

But he adds: "I haven't seen any evidence of government policies having an impact on behaviour. It comes down to the individual schools.They need to ensure they are thinking for the best for their pupils, despite the changes taking place outside. That's always our job."

Has classroom behaviour got better, worse or not changed over the past five years?

Better (%) Worse (%) Not changed (%) Don't know (%)

Overall 9 56 34 1

Headteachers 14 45 41 0

Deputyassistant heads 13 46 41 0

Other senior teachers 9 56 36 0

Teachers 7 58 32 3

Supply teachers 8 59 32 1

Source: TESYouGov. Figures may be rounded

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