Gizmos replace pens as pupils' classroom kit

Children fail to turn up with proper equipment, say teachers, who blame parents for indiscipline
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The Independent Online

Children are turning up to school fully equipped with mobile phones, iPods and MP3 players, but without even the basic essential of a single pen to do their school work. This is the finding of a survey of 8,231 teachers by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, published today.

It reports that 68 per cent of teachers cite a lack of parental support as one of the main reasons for pupil indiscipline in schools.

In addition, 51 per cent say children fail to turn up with the proper equipment for school, such as pens. The teachers – 61 per cent of them – also criticise parents for failing to ensure their offspring's homework is done on time.

"Teachers aren't receiving the support they need from parents, school leaders and government to assist them in maintaining high standards of pupil behaviour," said Chris Keates, the union's general secretary.

Speaking at its annual conference in Glasgow, she added: "Parents can't simply abandon their responsibilities at the school gate.

"Sending their child to school with basic equipment, on time, with homework completed and with clear expectations of how they expect them to behave is a crucial part of their life.

"Too many pupils arrive at school with mobile phones, iPods and MP3 players when teachers wish they could bring a pen."

The upshot of this lack of parental support is that thousands of children arrive at school not in a proper state to learn, according to 44 per cent of the respondents.

In addition, 43 per cent of teachers thought pupils and parents had aspirations that were too low, thus leading to them being distracted in class and not paying attention to lessons. They then go on to disrupt lessons, with the majority of teachers saying that constant chattering by pupils does most to disturb classes.

However, 46 per cent said mobile phones were a distraction in class, with pupils seeking to upload pictures which had been taken in the classroom. Twenty-eight per cent also cited the use of iPods in class as a major distraction.

The survey also revealed that nearly half the teachers (46 per cent) wanted school leaders to give them stronger support when it came to confiscating items such as mobile phones and other electronic equipment. The Government is planning to give teachers greater powers to confiscate items as a result of the new discipline guidelines it is issuing.

However, 56 per cent of those surveyed rejected another government proposal – that they should be given more authority to search pupils.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there was a lower percentage vote recorded when the teachers were asked if poor-quality teaching had anything to do with indiscipline in class – only 11 per cent thought that was the case.

Discipline has traditionally been one of the NASUWT's main concerns at its conference.

Earlier this year it staged a one-day strike, along with the National Union of Teachers, at Darwen Vale High School in Lancashire, claiming that the school's senior management did not support teachers enough when they tried to impose discipline on pupils and confiscated items such as mobile phones.

One teacher, who had worked at the school for 10 years, complained that there had been no consistent approach over the banning of mobile phones.

"This has led to more pupils getting out their phones in lessons," he said. "Poor behaviour has escalated because of management's refusal to acknowledge that there is a problem."

A summer of discontent? NUT calls for a ballot on strikes

Teachers voted for a summer and autumn of discontent in schools yesterday, backing widespread strike action over education spending cuts and a threat to reduce their pensions.

Delegates at the National Union of Teachers' conference in Harrogate called for a strike ballot next term to be followed by more industrial action, including a one-day general strike by all public sector employees.

Industrial action over the Government's threat to reduce pensions and raise the retirement age to 68 – given unanimous backing – would start in June. Jerry Glazier, an executive of the union, said: "The NUT will not stand by and let the Government mess with our pensions."

Teachers are first on the front line with industrial action because the Government has already acted to increase their pension contributions by £100.

Jim Thomson, from Devon, said: "If I have to work until I am 68, I have to work another 45 years. I have worked for three and I am bloody knackered."

Delegates warned that the most vulnerable children would be hit hardest by spending cuts. Phillip Clarke, from Lewes, Eastbourne and Wealden, called for concentrated public support, saying: "There is a huge and unprecedented attack on public services and the welfare state. Demonstrations, industrial action and whatever we can do towards making a 24-hour public sector general strike a possibility is necessary – just to begin to fight back against the Government."

After the vote, Christine Blower, the NUT general secretary, said: "The cuts are so drastic it is impossible to sit back and watch it happen. The NUT, along with other TUC-affiliated unions, will fight these cuts all the way."

Richard Garner