It’s like the media just woke up to behaviour issues in schools and decided to print stories about violence and unruly pupils and tables being thrown all at the same time. Of course not, that’s a silly idea – new measures have been put in place by our government to allow teachers to search students for dangerous objects: knives, guns, drugs and probably football stickers too. Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, wants to “put head teachers and teachers back in control of the classroom”. Lovely. More power to us and all that.
Having worked in two inner city London boroughs and one pretty deprived outer London borough, I have some experience of the kind of schools the press are talking about, schools where kids have been caught with knives, drugs and other – mostly improvised – weaponry. I have seen fights, clean and bloody. I have witnessed students drift in and out of gangs. Sometimes, you get a student who is tough as nails; you know from anecdotal evidence that they are involved in trouble outside of the school. When they get caught with a weapon, or when they are involved in a fight, you feel like you always knew the path that child would take and in a fit of self-righteousness, you might say: “I could have told you that was going to happen.” Sometimes, however, a student who is quiet and friendly – the kind of student that is expected to do well in school, is caught doing the same thing as our other errant student. In the pit of your stomach, disappointment gurgles and you start to wonder what else you don’t know about the rows of smiling faces in the room.
In all the schools I have worked in, the cases of students being caught with weapons or being involved in serious violence towards teachers have been few and far between. If they hadn’t been, maybe I would have become hardened to that disappointment and started to expect more occurences of that kind of behaviour. What has become more and more evident over the last few years is that the reason why those cases are few and far between is because of the ethos of the schools I have worked in. I have worked with teachers who tirelessly strive to improve the character of the students in front of, working in systems designed to adapt and mould behaviours – with clear sanctions and rewards in place for those who succeed or fail in their efforts to become rounded adults. I have, in truth, seen teachers who do not believe it is the government’s responsibility to give us more power; they have been individuals who assumed the responsbility for teaching children the difference between right and wrong. While it may not be particularly politically correct to say so, incidences of the worst kinds of behaviours in the classroom have often been as a result of poor teachers who stood back and allowed the students to believe they could get away with that kind of violence in their classroom.
I do welcome greater powers for teachers, of course I do. But I also know that the solution does not lie in that measure, as gratifying as it is that teachers are being protected. Having these powers in place will not change the fact that some schools do not embed a culture of respect in their pupils, the fact that some teachers abdicate responsibility for behaviour and the fact that in schools where violence occurs regularly, it may be due to the fact that there are no hard and fast sanctions for those actions.
Whose behaviour is worse? The child who throws a table across the room or the teacher who has not set up boundaries to delineate what is acceptable in the classroom and what is not?