The Violent Society: Pupils used to show respect: The changing times: Parents would 'belt' troublemakers, writes Steve Boggan

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IT IS NOT a modern myth; things really are worse. Teachers such as Jim West, who retired two weeks ago after almost 30 years, can remember a time when violence and disruption were not a problem.

'Violence was very rarely discussed because it simply didn't happen,' he said. 'Children would show you respect, stand up when you came into class and would get on with their work. That was expected.'

Until he retired, from ill health, as head of the mathematics department at a comprehensive school in Southampton, Mr West, 51, kept his pupils' respect - they still stood when he entered a room. But other things had changed.

'There has been an insidious erosion of standards of respect and support, leading to more disruption and problems controlling it,' he said. 'Years ago, if you asked parents to come to the school because their child had been in trouble, you knew that the parents would listen and the child would probably get a belt when he got home.

'These days, the parents invariably support their child against the teacher, no matter what. That, coupled with a lack of support from governors and the Government, makes the job very difficult.

'I was subjected to physical violence only a few times - ironically, the worst attack, when someone threw a punch at me, came early on in my career. Then, I managed to grab the boy and restrain him. If a teacher did that today, he would probably be charged with assault.'

Despite the decline in discipline, he would not advocate a return to corporal punishment.

'I don't think I would like to see it come back,' he said. 'That, in itself, would not change things. Teachers need support from the Government and from parents before they can get the respect of children.

'Besides, it has always been only a minority of children causing all the problems. Most pupils are still good, hard- working kids.'