Why the behaviour battle will never end

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Bad behaviour by children is an inevitable feature of society and cannot be eradicated by schools, the head of the Government's new taskforce has said.

Sir Alan Steer was appointed last week to chair a working group of heads and teachers, which Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said would leave "no excuses" for schools failing to tackle behaviour problems.

But Sir Alan, headteacher of Seven Kings high school in Ilford, north-east London, said: "Schools can have a huge influence on bad behaviour, and if they are not doing that, bulldoze them to the ground. But they are not in total control. We are always going to have children coming into school with behaviour problems because of their social background."

Ms Kelly said the working group would report in October on whether there should be a national code of behaviour in schools, new powers for headteachers and improved teacher training.

It will also look at parental responsibility, exclusion appeals panels and how to protect teachers from assault.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she hoped the group would recommend three or four programmes that are proven to work on badly behaved pupils.

"Then we can say to schools, you should adopt one of these programmes and there is no excuse any more for poor behaviour in the classroom," she said.

According to Ofsted, one in 10 secondary schools has unsatisfactory discipline.

Sir Alan, whose school was praised by inspectors for its exceptionally good behaviour at its last inspection in 2002, said there was no "magic bullet" that would bring order to every classroom, although policies could be applied more consistently.

He attributed his school's good discipline to the quality of teaching, the provision for pupils with special needs and to the high standard of facilities and buildings.

"In this country, we're obsessed with punishment: 'Can you whack 'em hard?'

But it's got to be about preventing disruption. If you say that, people say you're soft, but it's flaming obvious," he said.

But influences on young people from swearing footballers to parents who believe it is acceptable to break the law on speeding all undermine schools' efforts to instil discipline, he said.

The announcement came as a Derbyshire mother, Julie Atkins, blamed schools when her three daughters, aged between 12 and 16, became pregnant, saying sex education should be better.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said it was the most extraordinary example yet of parents refusing to take responsibility for children's behaviour.

Unions have welcomed the working group, and will be invited to nominate representatives.

But the National Union of Teachers will also continue its call for a wider inquiry into pupil behaviour, following the rape of a female member of staff by a pupil at a central London school.

Steve Sinnott, NUT general secretary, said: "The wider issue of pupil violence also needs to be tackled. Currently no one knows the scale of the problem because the statistics are woefully inadequate."

Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, said curriculum reforms which had been "neutered" were more important.

Speaking at a Qualifications and Curriculum Authority discussion on the future of English, he launched into an unprompted criticism of the Government.

"We are not having a conversation about what education consists of, we are having a conversation about order in the classroom.

"What on earth are we doing having that conversation without having a conversation about creativity as well?"

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