Who's to Blame When Kids Behave Badly?_
The following entries from a school's discipline record book, make depressing reading. May 17: Fred Goddard - cutting another boy's face with a penknife. October 2: Adelaide Partridge - kicking a girl in the playground. Except that this is a discipline record from a small primary school in the Thirties - an era when we like to believe children were in awe of teachers - and so were their parents. There always have been kids who cause trouble in the classroom. But what has changed are the ways of dealing with them.
Fred and Adelaide were both caned - a form of punishment some people would like to see revived - although this didn't always stop children misbehaving, as the record clearly shows.
Now, however, our problems are on a different scale. Teachers threaten to strike if certain troublemakers are allowed back into school - and children have taken legal action against teachers who they claim don't give them an adequate education. On top of all this, recent Government figures show that the number of youngsters expelled from school has risen three-fold since the early nineties. We must remember that most schools are run perfectly well, with good relationships between staff, parents and pupils. But in cases where the system breaks down, who shoulders the responsibility?
Who's to blame, when teachers of one school drew up a list of 60 youngsters they said were too disruptive to be taught? Or in schools like Manton Junior, in Nottinghamshire, where members of the teaching staff refused to teach 10-year-old Matthew Wilson? How can a 10-year-old defeat the teaching skills of professional adults?
It's a question that baffles Eileen Bennett, 67, who's just resigned as chairman of the schools governors at Manton Primary, disillusioned by the acrimony surrounding this boy's education.
"I think some teachers are failing to lead by example. Even their standard of dress - tracksuits and old jumpers - gives the wrong signals to children. Most of them do a good job, and I agree that if a child is beyond control he or she should be asked to leave. But Matthew's never had any help and has had a tough time. Three important men in his life died in the last couple of years: his dad, his sister's boyfriend and a cousin. No one seems to take that into account. He's started at another school now and he's doing really well. So I'd like to know why, if that new school can get the best out of him, the teachers at Manton couldn't."
Julia Noble, from south London, can sympathize. She has three children - Ben, 15, Timothy, 9, and Sophie, who's seven. The problems began when her two younger kids started school.
"Tim complained that a teacher had manhandled him. When I told the school, they put me down as a neurotic mother. I finally took him away when I realized that for six weeks he'd been sitting by himself at a desk facing the wall. The teacher said she'd done it to help him concentrate - but no one had discussed it with me."
"Sophie was different. She's very academic, but she was getting hardly any attention because she's quiet and studious. In the end I took her out after she'd had 14 supply teachers in one year. Six-year-olds were allowed to sit with their feet on the desks and others would crawl around the floor. And there were four kids who constantly disrupted the class."
Parents are having to take more and more responsibility for the academic side of their children's schooling - helping with reading at home, supervising homework - all the things you'd expect a school to do.
Julia now teaches her younger kids at home herself. So are teachers failing to do their jobs properly? Or are we expecting too much from them?
Certainly many feel betrayed by the education system that makes them the scapegoat for many of society's ills. Pete Bishop, the headmaster, says: "A lot of parents have abdicated responsibility for the moral upbringing of their children. Many have to work long hours, so there's no one at home to give that moral lead. Other parents are simply incapable of providing it, and we're obliged to take that on board, too. Teachers are now being judged by results and league tables, so we don't have the time to look after the areas that aren't easily measured. We get the blame for everything. A few years ago, parents never came to me to complain. Now it happens too often. And children play on it. They say: "If you do that again I'll get my mum on you." "We have far more behavior problems than we used to because there's less discipline at home."
Sue Rogers, 51, teaches history, she says teachers no longer command respect from pupils or parents. "Parents" attitudes have really changed. They're still a pleasure to deal with - the trouble is, they know their rights, but not always their responsibilities. "One of the parents refused to believe me when I said her child wasn't working enough. She told me it was nonsense. I actually had to prove their child owed me several pieces of work and wasn't delivering the goods, before she'd accept what I was saying. I think this lack of respect filters through to the kids. If children aren't given guidelines, they become screwed up. Ultimately, it's the parents who send us their children, and bad or incompetent parenting will create problems. Most people admit that they wouldn't like to be a teacher - and I honestly can't blame them."
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