Polite teachers 'will create pupils with better manners'

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The Independent Online

Ralph Surman, a member of the Government's Steer inquiry into discipline in schools, will urge teachers to "over-exaggerate" politeness in addressing pupils to try to improve their behaviour. He wants a return to the days when the teacher's greeting of "good morning, class" is greeted by a chorus of "good morning, sir" or "miss".

Mr Surman, the deputy head of Cantrell Primary School in Nottingham and an executive member of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, will tell his union's conference on Wednesday: "It's a question of do as you would be done by."

He added: "Politeness breeds politeness. If you show them good manners by saying 'good morning' and 'how are you today?' you'll get a good-mannered response. If anything, I tell colleagues, you should over-exaggerate politeness and you'll get it back. If the kids aren't going to get training in good manners from home, we need to do it."

The call marks a shift in emphasis in the reaction by teachers' leaders to poor behaviour by pupils.

In the past, most union conferences have concentrated only on how to tackle the worst behaviour by pupils, threatening to refuse to teach those who abuse other pupils but are not excluded from school. It also contrasts with the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly's exhortation to teachers to give priority to "zero tolerance" of poor behaviour. Instead, Mr Surman will urge teachers to engage in constructive dialogue with pupils to avoid discipline problems in the first place.

It follows government research by academics at London University's Institute of Education that found teachers' good manners and fair play could be more effective than the smack of firm discipline in improving pupils' behaviour.

The researchers looked at 250 primary schools and found a "softly, softly" approach had achieved a remarkable success in reducing poor behaviour and improving attendance.

Mr Surman will call for all schools to be given £4,000 a year to spend on rewards for good behaviour. "The pupils should be given gongs or medals," he said. "Everyone wants to be a winner and I haven't met any pupil who wouldn't like to have some tangible recognition of what they've done."

He will make his plea as the union debates the inquiry by Sir Alan Steer, the headteacher of Seven Kings High School in Ilford, Essex. The Government has accepted the inquiry's key recommendation - to enshrine in law a teacher's right to discipline a child.

Meanwhile, Mary Bousted, the union's general secretary, warns tonight the Government's education reforms will create "schools for the underclass". She will tell the conference giving popular schools the right to expand will mean those serving the most disadvantaged communities will lose resources. "They will find themselves ghettoised into schools where peer group pressure is not to achieve but to reject education and all it can offer," she will say.

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