School discipline is a hot political issue and according to David Cameron it’s one of the things that’s wrong in Britain today. It fits nicely into their “Broken Britain” theme that the country is going to the dogs – children are running wild, and headteachers supposedly aren’t allowed to run their schools.
But what’s the reality? As a school governor I have occasionally ratified exclusion decisions – I disliked doing it, and I was of course concerned for the future of the excluded youngsters. But sometimes it must be done, and it’s for the sake, ultimately, of the rule-abiding majority who wish to learn.
There is a right of appeal to the local authority, but in four years I’ve only seen it happen once, and the school’s decision was upheld. According to Tory myth, appeals routinely succeed and youngsters “swagger” back into school, then to cause havoc; but if schools follow the correct procedures in the first place, which are clearly defined, then appeals often fail.
Into this controversial arena Michael Gove has again tossed the bizarre idea, first mooted in 2008, of a “troops-to-teachers” scheme. Troops will be apparently retrained as teachers to bring the “discipline of the parade ground” to failing schools.
Former services personnel can successfully become teachers and in the US it’s worked as a way of upskilling veterans who might otherwise be unemployed. The Training and Development Agency already encourages mature entrants from all manner of professions, including the armed forces.
But it’s rather patronising to reduce their skill and training to that of the parade ground – those who enter the teaching profession have an interest in the whole child, and discipline is only part of it. It’s insulting to students. because it gives the well-behaved youngster a bad name – the majority wish to learn, and it’s not their fault if they attend a “failing” school. And it’s offensive to the many good teachers who already impose good discipline, not by acting as if they’re on a parade ground, but by their strength of character and ability to communicate with young people.
Of course, no-one should underestimate school discipline problems. At its most extreme – where, for example, weapons are brought into school, or there is threatening behaviour towards teachers – then you have to crack down very hard indeed.
But indiscipline is also manifested as chatting or fooling about in class, which although trivial, can disrupt concentration and bring down everyone’s performance. It’s found in expensive private schools as well as in inner-city comprehensives and few of us, if we are honest, didn’t sometimes misbehave.
Good teachers ensure well-behaved classes, and in my opinion Labour’s improvements to teachers’ pay and training, as well as its light-touch inspection regime, are raising standards across the board.
Labour’s Ed Balls has a series of questions to ask an elusive Mr Gove; if he tracks him down, maybe can he add “troops-to-teachers” to the list?