Unholy alliance of hate has no place in schools

10th April 2009 at 01:00
Upsurge in appalling behaviour by pupils and parents alike points to dysfunctional homes

The traditional litany at Easter should not include the following: the word "bitch" painted on a garden wall, a triple heart bypass victim subjected to student threats "to shoot him", hoax telephone calls, scratched cars, smashed windows and, in one case, a raw egg given to a child by a parent for the purposes of smashing it over some unfortunate teacher's head. The fact that this year it does is an awful indictment of the way our society fails to police and educate itself (pages 6-7).

All the teaching unions have reported an upsurge in appalling pupil and, more worryingly, parent behaviour. The NASUWT's discovery that barely one in 10 incidents is reported is particularly telling (page 1).

Late last year, Schools Minister Jim Knight predicted that the recession would result in a deterioration of conduct. The stories circulating at union conferences confirm his fears: teachers have witnessed previously carefree youngsters becoming withdrawn and pupils using terms like credit crunch and recession.

However, the truly disturbing finding is the figure quoted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. While it found that 40 per cent of staff thought that student behaviour had deteriorated in the past two years, 58 per cent believed it had worsened over the past five years. In other words, however shattering and real the effects of the recession, the root causes of poor behaviour go deeper than the current crisis and cannot be explained by the state of the economy.

The unions point to various culprits - parents unable or unwilling to teach their children appropriate social skills; the atomisation of family life typified by the child alone in his or her bedroom interacting with the world solely through the computer or television; the boorish and offensive behaviour routinely celebrated on those televisions; and the "joyless" curriculum that has sucked the life out of the classroom.

Whatever the reasons, the response of many schools is probably summed up in the observation of one union delegate: "It's now not uncommon for young children to kick and bite, and some schools just see this as one of the hazards of the job." The implication is clear: many staff have resigned themselves to bad behaviour and, in some cases literally, take it on the chin.

Teachers should not have to put up with this. There are things that can be done. Most schools equip their staff with the skills to deal with bad behaviour. Some do not. The experience of a young teacher whose training was reduced to a 75-minute PowerPoint presentation should not be typical. Equally, poor behaviour must be reported. Appalling though the evidence is, it merely scratches the surface because staff and schools routinely fail to register unacceptable conduct. This is ultimately self-defeating. If bad behaviour is not reported it cannot be dealt with.

Finally, the debate about poor parenting initiated by the ATL this week has to be sustained. The union is right to press for a policy of zero tolerance of violence to protect staff from unruly pupils. The country has been obsessed with the quality of lessons in school. It should focus increasingly on the lessons learnt at home.

Gerard Kelly, Editor, E: gerard.kelly@tes.co.uk.

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