The Week

13th November 2009 at 00:00

Youth crime in broken Britain? Yup, it's all the teachers' fault. "School discipline failure fuels crime, says Home Office" read The Daily Telegraph's headline. This was based on a study, which indeed found that "weak school discipline is related to an increased likelihood of offending and drug use" and that some schools' responses to poor behaviour were "insufficient or in some way inappropriate". But the report's definition of discipline was chiefly based on how the pupils behaved, rather than the teachers' response - and their behaviour was most likely to be affected by their families. "Weak school discipline is one of the risk factors associated with offending, (but) it is difficult to identify the direction of causality in this association," it acknowledged. It also found that pupils brought up by liberal parents were less likely to get involved in crime and drugs than those with strict ones.

Still, teachers may soon have a new initiative to help them crack down on poor behaviour. A Department for Children, Schools and Families consultation document proposed that "all parents would benefit from more regular summaries of their child's behaviour" from teachers. It also recommended that "behavioural information should routinely be included as part of the head's annual report" - an idea swiftly dismissed by the National Association of Head Teachers as "completely pointless".

All pupils and staff at the Essa Academy in Bolton are to be issued with iPod Touches (the ones like iPhones, but without the phone bit). The Times reported that the devices would allow pupils to access the internet and email work during lessons. This approach would be applauded by Nottingham University researchers, who recommended the gradual adoption of similar smartphone technology in class, noting how useful it was for calculations and projects. But the researchers' report panicked The Sunday Express, which warned that children were "being encouraged to use mobile phones in school despite dire warnings from health chiefs".

Traditionalists have often criticised trendy teachers for prioritising skills over knowledge. So why was there no backlash when a head argued that the curriculum should be restructured to "balance the acquisition of knowledge with more valuable skills of analysis, critical thinking, synthesising ideas and abstract reasoning"? Everything's different if you're Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College.

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