Education Quandary

'Do people outside schools know how bad pupil-behaviour is these days? Ofsted has written about it, but seems to just blame the teachers'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

Monday morning. A GCSE business studies class in a school just outside London. The teacher is young, bright, well-prepared; the computers are humming and ready. Where are the pupils? Oh, here they are, dribbling in late, without paper and pencils, many with the poached egg eyes of weekend excess. One puts his head down and sleeps, another yells, "What?", when told not to use his mobile phone. Questions elicit only shrugs and silence. A group of girls swear audibly when asked to stop talking. Two boys explode in argument and grab at each other's sweatshirts. As they are parted, another boy puts his feet on his desk, takes them down with provocative slowness when asked to, then puts them up again as soon as the teacher has moved on.

This teacher keeps the lid on things, just about, but by the end of the lesson almost nothing has been accomplished and he has been reduced to interacting only with the two pupils who are showing an interest.

No, people outside schools do not have a clue what teachers have to put up with. You have to see it to believe it, but most of us don't spend time in school classrooms. And those that do - the teachers, classroom assistants and laboratory technicians -- have grown so used to it, they take it as routine. This particular teacher thought his lesson "not too bad at all", because his two worst trouble-makers were off sick.

Yet what Ofsted calls low-level disruption is growing in schools of all kinds. More and more pupils are insolent and argumentative. Yes, even nice grammar and private school kids. And while the scale of disruption obviously varies, its consequences in terms of lost teaching time and sapped teacher energy are always the same. Society needs to understand that very clearly. And to understand where the solution lies. Not in school at all, but at home. Because if parents don't teach their children to behave, they have no right to expect their teachers to teach them anything.

Readers' advice

One thing is clear from all my experience in inner London comprehensives: schools cannot teach children how to behave. Only parents can do that. There are no really "good schools" and "bad schools", simply "well brought up kids" and "TV-saturated, attention-deprived, fast-food nourished, boundaryless latchkey kids".

But this is politically awkward: no vote-mindful MP is going to blame parents for poor behaviour in schools. Hence, the blame landing squarely on our door. Unfortunately, this blinkered approach, coupled with a five-year election cycle, means that the long-term policy of investing in compulsory early-years parenting skills provision (which the Home Office calculated was the most effective crime reduction strategy it had analysed) will never be put in place, as its benefits would take 12 or 15 years to reap.
Kester Brewin, London SE26

I am a retired infant teacher. In my first teaching practice, I was punched and kicked by a six-year-old boy while his parents watched. In fact, I have found too many parents totally lacking any realisation of their duties to prepare their children for education or for life. Parents like these are guilty of a particularly nasty kind of child abuse. Their failings make their children social cripples, unable to communicate at levels higher than the grunt, the swear word, or the growl.
Mrs I Green, Stoke-on-Trent

Improve behaviour in school? Simple. Stop expecting teachers to cope with disruptive pupils in mainstream classes. Pull them out and teach them separately. Either in on-site units, or special schools. Then everyone else will simmer down.
Roger Hart-Evans, Nottingham

Next week's quandary

My daughter wants to take film studies as one of her three A-levels. I am very suspicious of this, or any subject that ends in "studies". My daughter says she may as well do something she enjoys, because, at this stage of school, it is all one examination after the other. But will it be of any use to her, and what will people - future employers, for example - think of it?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 21 February, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser