Monday, 2 November 2009

Discipline in schools

"The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders.... They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company…and are tyrants over their teachers."

This was not a quote from a concerned Darlington parent from today, but from Socrates in the 4th century BC. Humans, it seems, have a habit of overestimating the scale of the rebellion or bad behaviour of any new generation, and always seem to think it’s never happened before.

However, could it be true that in certain areas, in the early years of the 21st century, that in some specific areas it has finally come to be true? For example, in Socrates' final worry - that they are "tyrants over their teachers"?

It’s clear that in some classrooms, and certainly in many state schools, disruptive children are preventing others from working, I believe in a way that they really didn’t 20 years ago.

Here’s an example issue, that of physical contact. I've just talked to my dear friend Richard, who is a schoolteacher in Huddersfield. He is assertive, smart, streetwise and funny. A good teacher, and kids like him. But he tells me that he, like all teachers at his school, sometimes finds keeping order difficult. Why? Try the following conversation:

- “Stephen, I don’t think you should be playing MP3s on your mobile phone in the classroom, you know that’s not allowed. Please give me the phone.”
- “No, you’ll have to get it off me.”

Now Richard can’t do what my teacher would have done, simply reach over, grab the child gently by the wrist, and remove the phone from his hand. Because that’s assault. Detentions are useless because the kids don't turn up. He can send the kid to the head, but he’s already sent 3 this week for similar things. And you can’t really suspend or expel a kid for playing a mobile phone, so what will the head do (even if he did ultimately expel the kid, the school loses funding for every kid expelled)? So he’s stuck. And he’s a good teacher – someone less self-confident wouldn’t ever achieve a sensible lesson in that school.

Now, here’s the question: is it right that we are now so protective against the possibility of corporal punishment – or is it that we really secretly believe that our teachers are all trying to molest our children? – that we preclude any kind of physical contact, even when it’s quite harmless and in the interests of the whole class? And what about other things which have changed in the last 20 years which might affect order and discipline, like the seemingly ever-increasing intervention of parents on the side of the child, rather than that of the teacher?

I'm not talking about the wider issues of the curriculum, teaching standards, academic standards and so on - just whether teachers can keep order or not with the tools they're currently given. I’d be interested in your thoughts.


  1. Rob,
    I am a huge supporter of good state comprehensive education. There a superb examples of these in and around darlington (and darlington has improved markedly as a whole in recent yrs)
    i must say that my own children have enjoyed a std of state education that i could only have dreamt of one generation ago IN THE VERY SAME SCHOOL. My main concern is that too many heads/lea's are unwilling(or "proud"?) to learn on the lessons of the succesful schools.I believe we should be building on the progress made in the succeful schools and ensuring that all our communities can share in that success.

    Just to clarify in response to the earlier thread, it was perhaps a leading question but was not intended as some sort of trap about local issues. I would simply like to hear from a candidate who is prepared to speak without party afiliation being their first concern.

  2. Ianh, I should perhaps point out that I too am a big supporter of state education, indeed, I'm also the product of it. I went to a great comprehensive (what is now Bedale High School) 20 miles from here, and a great grammar (Ripon Grammar). Like every parent, I'd like the same opportunities as I had open to my kids, and better.

    I'd agree with you on the importance of sharing best practice, I don't know if the current mechanisms do that with total efficiency, but that's certainly the direction that Labour has moved the education system. I also think that the current propagation of schools on the cooperative model is an excellent innovation, after all that kind of community involvement has effectively been the model of many of the best schools for a long time anyway.

    Anyway that's largely an aside - my real point was about the nationwide issue of discipline in schools. Of course, perhaps general order and discipline problems don't arise in Darlington's schools but I suspect they probably do, as they seem to be everywhere at the moment.

    Any teachers like to comment?

    [Note on earlier thread: party affiliation not at at all my primary concern. I made the point to confirm that you had Lib Dem councillors, because I don't have any contact with them, whereas the Labour ones I do and can find out more details about the issue from them.

    I will criticise the Lib Dems when they're wrong-headed on policy, but I'm not going to - and didn't - criticise councillors whose position I don't currently even know. Ok?]

  3. Knowing the school Ian H talks of why was it that Darlington's present Labour run Council wanted to close it?

  4. Ianw, you'll have to stop talking in code, I'm afraid. Which school are we talking about?

  5. You see... Rob you want to be our MP you don't live here in Darlington and you know nothing of one of the towns biggest uprisings which saw the Prime Minister intervene in the end.
    Hurworth Comp!

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