What about a charter for teachers?

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
So the Educational Institute of Scotland has joined the chartering classes in Scotland. Its latest broadsheet, A Pupils' Charter - for the Young People of Scotland, is a not-so-lightly veiled broadside in the union's campaign to keep the diverse interests of education upfront in the sights of local authority cash dispensers, post April. As charters go, however, this one probably lacks a certain significant strand. Even the National Lottery doesn't give you something for nothing. A charter - at any rate a charter concerned with human beings - surely implies two-way expectations deriving from a contractual relationship.

Inherent within such a contract is the notion of individual responsibility as well as personal expectations. Compare, for example, the emphasis on balancing partnership and "what you can do" in the 1995 parents' charter in Scotland.

Who is the EIS charter designed for? Political activists? It could be helpful here. It is certainly long on unreconstructed left-wingery. "Pupils have the right to be taught in local schools serving their community" begs the question of whether they, in Tony Blair-approved fashion, do not also have the right to attend a non-local school? This charter does not actually approach pupils as sentient and responsible persons: it speaks over their heads.

In fact, it treats them rather like battery hens. Give a Standard grade class a 400-word exercise in charter construction. Ask them to describe proper and humane treatment for farm animals between birth and the slaughter house, and you would get a document with the same passive slant.

Children are not, of course, battery hens. At the age of five, they are well able to understand simple concepts of mutual kindness and responsibility to others. The "education which is to prepare them for work, leisure and active citizenship" had better have an interactive approach from day one. This charter is not interactive. It decrees that pupils - and their community - should be regarded with respect. Very proper. But what about the obligation of each pupil to respect their teacher and not to disrupt the learning of others? To be considerate, to do as requested and to behave well?

Children are to be "protected from bullying". Why lose the opportunity to spell out to children what the "respect" code actually means to them personally? Among other things, it means no bullying smaller children, and no swearing at the teacher.

I am tempted anyway to think that the EIS has missed a charter opportunity for a group which is in greater need than pupils of such silvery-penned attention. If rail users and hospital patients deserve a charter, then so do teachers. The media tell us that violence, sexual harassment and threatening behaviour towards teachers are increasing. But surely teachers have a right to impart knowledge in a learning-friendly environment?

My first suggestion is for supportive anti-violence policies and guidelines to take root in every school. Disruptive children should as a matter of policy be removed from class, for pragmatic reasons, until that behaviour is modified. My second would be for schools to look carefully at the new approaches for improving behaviour through assertive discipline techniques. My third would be for more and better help in juvenile crowd control training for teachers through the colleges and in-service training.

Teachers should not be threatened with disciplinary action if, singly or en masse, they refuse to teach a violent thug of 15. The charter says that children are to have "pleasure as well as success" in school. Teachers could do with a bit of that too.

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