Below are some of the many examples of high profile figures suggesting that getting a perfect classroom climate where all pupils behave immaculately and are all keen to learn is fairly straightforward and mainly a matter of common sense. (I have references for all these quotes, but my intention here is not to ‘name and shame’, but to suggest that such statements underestimate the difficulties of getting all classes, however challenging, to behave perfectly and are therefore unhelpful in terms of improving things).
Few, if any problems will arise if the teacher goes in well prepared with a good lesson plan. (Numerous sources, including a former Chief Inspector of Schools)
‘A simple checklist for behaviour….’ (Dept for Education) – many of the things on Charlie Taylor’s checklist are quite sensible, but putting ‘simple’ there, and suggesting that checklist approaches work in any context will completely solve the problem are misleading. (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/571640/Getting_the_simple_things_right_Charlie_Taylor_s_behaviour_checklists.pdf)
There are a few straightforward and simple things that schools can do to eliminate pupil disruption, (Dept for Education).
Schools should use lines, detentions, have pupils picking up litter (former Secretary of State for Education). I think most teachers are aware of the option of lines and detentions. The picking up litter suggestion is an interesting one as it divides opinion amongst teachers. Some think ‘demeaning’ sanctions are OK, others don’t.
Teachers should be able to ‘grab’ pupils to eject them from classrooms (Former Prime Minister). I know from surveying teachers and student teachers that the majority of them think that grabbing pupils is a risky strategy and may well escalate into more serious incidents.
‘Pupils should be given ‘a right royal rollicking’ (a former government behaviour advisor). There is at least the inference here that teachers should shout at pupils. Most teachers that I have asked about this do not think shouting is an effective strategy.
‘Children from more deprived neighbourhoods often respond to raw physical power.’ (Education Consultant’ – letter to Daily Mail). I think that most people I know would respond to raw physical power. The problem is that teachers are not allowed to use raw physical power on pupils, and most parents would not be happy with this. Furthermore, pupils are aware that teachers are not allowed to use raw physical power on them, and any use of raw physical power would probably lead them to complain to the head and to their parents about this.
‘‘It isn’t rocket science. Children need to know the rules and teachers need to know they will be supported in enforcing them.’ (Former Chief Inspector of Schools). As I have argued elsewhere on this site, there is more to it than this.
‘The working group (Steer working group on behaviour in schools) will 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.’ (Former Secretary of State for Education). No dumping of blame there then? You could do the same thing with the police.
Teachers and ‘The soft bigotry of low expectations’: (former Secretary of State for Education). Again, the suggestion that it’s the fault of poor teachers, and that teachers do not try their best to get the best outcomes for all their pupils.
Teachers’ ‘casual acceptance of poor behaviour’: (former Chief Inspector of Schools). The inference here is that teachers can’t be bothered to sort out pupil behaviour, they are too lazy or/and too stupid. It is perhaps true that some teachers show more determination, perseverance and energy in trying to get to ‘Level 10’ with all their teaching groups (many respondents mentioned perseverance as one of the ‘variables’ in teacher success in getting to the best possible levels of classroom climate), but the suggestion that some teachers just can’t be bothered at all and just don’t care how the pupils behave is implausible. Classroom climate is such a major factor in a teacher’s quality of life, that most teachers would prefer the pupils to behave at least reasonably well.
‘… a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need. Teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools…’ (Former Secretary of State for Education – front page of national newspaper). In my 19 years working in secondary schools, I came across some teachers who weren’t very good at the job, who had lost their idealism, and who weren’t as conscientious as they should have been, but I don’t think I ever came across any who deliberately tried to prevent pupils from learning and doing well as a deliberate aim.
The unhelpful nature of such comments is echoed by some press comments in relation to teachers and behaviour in schools. Taylor makes the point that the ‘steady drumbeat of negative rhetoric’, in relation to teachers and behaviour in schools, ‘will not be helpful in persuading parents that they should give strong support to teachers when their children are disrupting the learning of other pupils. (Taylor, 2012: 30). As examples of this, one newspaper front page, in addition to noting ‘the laziness, complacency, incomprehensible jargon and sheer incompetence of many teachers’, pointed out that the then Secretary of State for Education (Gillian Shephard) ‘goes to bed every night with a comprehensive school master – she is one of them’ (Sunday Express, 9 June 1996). Such a headline would be unthinkable in most other OECD countries. Daily Express headlines echoed such sentiments (‘Lax teachers need a short sharp lesson in discipline’ – 7 November 1996). Although these examples are quite old, they are not untypical of much of the press discourse relating to behaviour in schools. It is not, ‘British teachers on the whole do a good job in difficult circumstances’, it is ‘the problem is poor teachers and rubbish schools’.
All these comments have a negative effect on teacher morale and teacher recruitment and retention, and they present a misleading picture of the issue of behaviour in English schools.
Taylor, M. (2012) ‘Our schools are being undermined by a constant rhetoric of decline’, The Observer, 2 September: 30.