Marie Stubbs: We must instil respect for teachers - and for parents and pupils, too

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The Independent Online

The phrase I hate perhaps more than any other in teaching is "kids like these", used so often to damn or dismiss young people. I dislike the language and deplore the attitude it conveys. The Prime Minister has been promising "respect" for authority, but children need some of that respect too.

The phrase I hate perhaps more than any other in teaching is "kids like these", used so often to damn or dismiss young people. I dislike the language and deplore the attitude it conveys. The Prime Minister has been promising "respect" for authority, but children need some of that respect too.

Looking back on 40 years in schools, I would say that children have always been difficult. If they can annoy teachers and get a laugh, they're going to do it, because they're young and have their eye on the main chance. Growing up in the east end of Glasgow, I did a bit of it myself. Inside most hoodies, you will find frightened teenagers trying to be cool. Speak pleasantly to them, and they will probably respond. Aggression doesn't work.

There is no doubt that schools and families are under great pressure. Schools have become more target-oriented in the past decade, and teachers are more stressed. Parents, too, are struggling in a world vulgarised by the advertising industry, where childhood has lost its innocence and where relationships and emotional parameters are constantly shifting.

It is not acceptable for teachers to complain they are unable to work with this or that child. It is as if a doctor says that he doesn't want to treat a patient's injury because he doesn't like the look of it. Apart from a very, very small minority of students, they can be dealt with. They have to be helped to rise above the package that life has dealt them.

How? Part of it is old-fashioned. Children are required to be civilised in school. Their home life may be far from simple but school is a place to come to learn and that means they have to respect the rules.

Teachers out there know they have a great deal to offer, and must be confident in their own skills - to accept, for example, that they are in charge of their own classrooms. It is important to say, too, that schools need help. It is a wonderful job, but without consistent support some teachers become bruised and tired.

Ninety per cent of schools are doing a terrific job, facing down the bullies, coping with a bewildering range of social problems. What angers me is that the lack of a policy to deal with the other 10 per cent. I didn't find it in any of the manifestos. What is being done for inner-city secondary schools?

In my view, we need radical action - a completely different basis for staffing, for example. Staff them as well as Eton or Winchester, and pay them accordingly. Give them the best of the teachers from the state sector, even if just for short internships. But please let's generate some respect for parents and pupils - as well for the teachers they rely on.

Marie Stubbs led the team that achieved a remarkable transformation at St George's Maida Vale in west London, the school where headteacher Philip Lawrence was murdered. Her account of the experience, 'Ahead of the Class', became an ITV drama

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