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Violence remains a brutal problem

I was intrigued by the article "When fights were 'clean, healthy fun'" (6 December) about research into the nature of and response to historical playground violence. This brought back memories of my time as a physical education teacher and head of year in a large non-selective comprehensive in North Kensington, West London, in the 1960s and 1970s. As the researcher Jacob Middleton points out, playground fights were a regular occurrence in the early 20th century as a means of establishing a pecking order. This was particularly the case in North Kensington in the 1960s for children from immigrant families.

On occasion, individual fights became general when staff on duty lacked the confidence or physical presence to intervene. A number of senior managers in secondary schools found the group violence and insolence of certain students very difficult to contain or even address. By contrast, those teachers who commanded respect could make a quick judgement and might allow a fight to "run its course", in particular when a bully was being given a "going over" by a smaller student. Managers in "tougher" schools might sometimes be proactive. I remember one headteacher, an extrovert Welshman, who on hearing that there was to be a fight at break time got into the playground before the students and calmed everything down.

However, by the 1970s the whole context of "playground fights" had changed to become group and community warfare. There was an increased viciousness to the fighting, with the use of weapons, kickings, violence to staff, bullying and so on. Respect for teachers also rapidly deteriorated.

School fighting and violence has not gone away. And it does not now allow its participants to triumph unless they adhere to the "gang creed". Physical violence has become gang violence and a culture of "taking out" those who dare to challenge the leaders. As those of us who work in schools and colleges are aware, it is not now limited to physical beatings but has become increasingly psychological, with an increase in cyberbullying and sexual harassment, often of an extreme nature.

John T Morris, JTM Educational Consultants.

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