The education story of the moment is the teachers going on strike at Darwen Vale High School in Lancashire in protest against the poor behaviour of the students there. Apparently, the headteacher's has refused to deal with the situation by being "soft" on the pupils. The Daily Mail has fallen in love
with the story, covering it exhaustively. I'm not huge fan of the Mail's education coverage and this is largely a case in point: this story for them is proof that our schools are "broken". However, one reporter has noted that some of the parents don't know what the fuss is about. In another Mail
story, parents have protested against a headteacher who has cracked down too hard, giving 717 detentions in four days for relatively minor offences such as wearing bracelets or arriving late for a lesson.
Although I am certain that these stories are far more "complex" than they are presented in the media, they are interesting stories to consider because they raise the key issues connected with school discipline. Does one take a "child-centred" approach, or an "authoritarian" approach to school discipline? I was talking about this on Radio 5 Live this week with Steve McCormack
, a teacher-journalist who has written extensively on this issue. McCormack was more nuanced than the normal people you get slagging off state schools; he said there was a problem but appeared to blame parents more than teachers. I pointed out that Ofsted says that behaviour is good in 86% of schools; McCormack felt that nothing Ofsted says is reliable. I replied by saying that the school inspectorate remain, for all their faults, the most objective voice on the issue.
The issue is incredibly complex. There are so many factors that lead to poor behaviour. By and large our state schools are orderly places where discipline is good, but certain causes lead to problems. The top ones are probably these:
1. Schools with high staff and pupil turnover.
2. Schools which admit pupils from disporportionately deprived backgrounds, where expectations of pupils are very low.
3. Schools where lessons are unengaging and teachers are not committed.
4. Poorly managed schools where there is a "cover-up" culture and problems are not openly discussed or dealt with.
5. Unsupported and "demoralised" schools.
This said, committed teachers can make a big difference if they stick with it, carving out their own "niche" even in difficult circumstances.
My feeling is that we need an Aristotelean "golden mean" between the "child-centred" approach and a more teacher-led one, where it's clear the teacher is in charge and sets the ground rules, but involves pupils in the process.