Education Quandary

'The pupils in our school swear all the time, especially outside class. School outings are a nightmare. What can we do? Nagging all the time is corrosive, but do we just let it go? What do other schools do?'
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The Independent Online

Oh, groan teachers, tell us about it. This goes on all the time. The language is unbelievable. And half the time they don't even seem to know they're doing it.

HILARY'S ADVICE

Oh, groan teachers, tell us about it. This goes on all the time. The language is unbelievable. And half the time they don't even seem to know they're doing it.

Some teachers admit that they've given up the fight and choose to ignore it wherever possible. Others wage a constant battle of attrition, using all the usual range of sanctions and punishments.

"But you know what?" exploded one teacher, furiously, "this is just another area where we're expected to do all the dirty work that no one else can be bothered with. These children's parents swear - they come into school and swear at us! People in the street swear. Everyone swears. But if our children swear, that immediately means we're a lousy school, with teachers who can't hack it."

In turn, quite a lot of pupils, especially older ones, say they can't see what the fuss is about. Four-letter words are just not shocking in the way that they used to be, they say. They're on television. They're on every hip-hop track. Everyone knows them. What's the problem?

The problem is that children need to learn about appropriate and inappropriate language in order to get on in life. They also need to understand that to many people this language is still offensive, and that they should respect their feelings and not use it around them.

The majority of schools manage to keep bad language down in classes and corridors by the age-old tactics of setting boundaries, jumping on transgressors and cultivating an atmosphere where pupils are encouraged to respect themselves and others. The same multi-pronged approach ought to apply in the playground and on school outings.

But it is hard. If swearing equals normal speech for the under-16s, it isn't surprising that they revert to to it whenever the fetters are off. Parents could do more to back teachers up, but of course many don't .

And anyone out there who is smugly thinking that this is only a problem of disadvantaged kids in rough urban neighbourhoods, remember this. A Norwich secondary school recently suspended a boy for a day after he swore at someone in the playground. His father? Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary - himself prone to use a ripe turn of phrase whenever he is angry or irritated.

READERS' ADVICE

I was trying to get off a bus recently when three boys came racing down the stairs and pushed past me. They were aged about 11. They jostled me out of the way to be able to get off first. The strap on the bag belonging to one of them caught on mine, which pulled him back. Without a second thought he pushed me hard in the chest, yanked at his bag, and shouted a stream of expletives at me. The conductor said that this was completely normal, that children were by far the worst part of his job, and that he and his colleagues dreaded school holidays.What a terrible indictment, not of teachers, but of parents. Shouldn't something be done to make them take their responsibilities more seriously?

Jayne Norman, Hendon

You do nag, you do your best to maintain standards, but if it doesn't work, you don't lose any sleep over it. It isn't our fault that children are growing up like this. They are not - I presume - learning it from us, their teachers. They are learning it at home, and from society at large, including the multi-million-dollar music industry that sells them gutter standards of language and values as a lifestyle to emulate.

Kirstie Vreelander, West Sussex

This is about more than language. If a school sets high expectations for its pupils; creates an atmosphere that they are proud to be part of; has teachers who are role models for high standards of behaviour and language; and makes it clear that it expects its pupils to behave in the same way, then it is unlikely to have anything more than minor problems with bullying or bad language, and these can be easily dealt with. If, on the other hand, it has a discipline policy that is based exclusively on shouting and punishments, then its teachers are unlikely to be able to keep control.

Ed Clarke, Stoke-on-Trent

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

My son wants to take further maths, maths and physics at A2 level next year, but his school head has told him that if he only takes these three subjects he will not qualify for university entrance. He says that further maths and maths are counted as only one subject, which would mean that my son would not have enough subjects to apply for university. Is this right? If so, are there any good universities to which he could apply with only these subjects?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 7 July, 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 h.wilce@btinternet.com. 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

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