Last week I appeared on BBC Radio London to chat about a recent report on behaviour in London’s schools. The report states that behaviour in London’s schools is at its lowest levels for many years, and that many teachers suffer from depression and stress because of the conduct of the delightful little lovelies that they’re trying to teach every day.
The views that I stated on the radio are ones that I have long held - that the reason behaviour in schools is bad is because of the lack of respect that pupils have for teachers. So what is the reason for that lack of respect? I strongly believe that it’s because of the lack of discipline and punishment allowed within the school system these days.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not an advocate of corporal punishment, and certainly don’t wish for the return of the slipper, the cane or any other hideous weapon of child destruction. I do however believe that the lack of discipline and the eradication of a healthy fear of the consequence of misbehaviour, is what has caused the fall in standards of conduct. If children know that they will not get punished for their action, then there is nothing to stop them repeating it.
I appeared on BBC Breakfast last year about the same subject matter and there was a teacher on the programme with me. When asked how he dealt with poor behaviour, he talked about getting to know the child, talking to them and finding out about the route of their problem, but said absolutely nothing about punishment. I understand that this approach has some merits and that understanding the pupil and why they misbehave is important.
However, the bottom line is that if you do something wrong there should be a consequence, and if children do not get punished then they will go through life without respect for anyone in authority, whether that’s a teacher, a boss or the police.
It seems to be that the lack of deterrent we present to our unruly children is mirrored later in life, as these kids grow into adults with no responsibility or fear of being penalised for their actions.
Of course, a lot of the blame has to lie with parents. If parents don’t afford respect from their child then how on earth is a teacher going to do it? Too often nowadays you hear parents saying they want to be best friends with their children. Well, you know what, you’re a parent not a mate.
My little girl Molly and I get on brilliantly and have a wonderful and fun time together, however she knows that I am the grown up and what I say goes. She also absolutely knows that if she disrespects me or anyone else, then she will be reprimanded. And I hope that instilling those basic levels of respect for adults will mean that she will continue to behave well at school and then similarly as she enters adulthood
Talking about this subject also made me turn back the clock and think about my own school days and what my standard of behaviour was. Now let’s not forget this was over 30 years ago and it was in the days of removal of privileges, immediate detentions and corporal punishment. When I think back (and I don’t think it’s through rose tinted specs), our behaviour was more about mischief than anything else.
We were definitely cheeky and I was always getting in trouble for talking too much (no surprise there), but there was never any malice in our actions. And that was because of the respect and healthy fear that we had for the teachers and the headmistress.
The worst thing I can remember us doing was locking the geography teacher in a cupboard. But it was a big walk in cupboard, and it was only for a few minutes (honestly!). When the door was unlocked (I can’t remember who actually turned the key), we stood together in a style rather reminiscent of Spartacus, and all took the blame together. A very dull hour long class detention and worse, the wrath of our parents, meant we didn’t do anything like that again.
The bottom line is that without resorting to beatings, schools must find a way to instil respect back into their pupils, and for me that will only happen if they are allowed to punish bad behaviour. And if parents play their part too, children should once again understand that the boundaries set by adults are done so for their own good and have to be adhered to.
NOTE TO SELF: As Einstein cleverly put it, ‘Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one learnt in school.’