Discipline in schools didn’t get better

Discipline in schools has deteriorated. That is the message of the recent report commissioned by OFSTED.
- In 1996/97, 76 per cent of schools said they had good levels of discipline. The figure had fallen to 68 per cent by 2003/04.
- Gang culture is perceived as widespread in a fifth of secondary schools.
- Children are caught carrying knives and other weapons at least once a term in two out of five schools.
- ‘Challenging behaviour’ is shown by up to half of pupils in some schools. ‘Challenging behaviour’ includes biting, pinching, throwing furniture, assault, disobedience and temper tantrums.
Of course this is not very scientific. A lot of what is being analysed are perceptions – both by teachers and inspectors. Nevertheless, where it is difficult to get hard evidence, we sometimes have to make the best of something less satisfactory.
The Government response to the news was typical.

First it argued that it is not really so bad. Stephen Twigg said, “Permanent exclusions are 25% lower than 1997 and, as Ofsted acknowledges, pupil behaviour is good in most schools most of the time.”
Then it put itself on the side of the angels and said it is not complacent: “We are supporting schools in showing zero tolerance to any bad behaviour”
Finally, through Ofsted, it blamed someone else: the teachers. Bell, the chief inspector of schools declared: “Today’s report shows that strong leadership and effective teaching of an appropriate curriculum, supported by training and coupled with good links with parents and outside agencies, are key to managing challenging behaviour.” In other words, it is not the Government’s fault. It is the poor leadership in schools.
But of course the buck stops with the Government. The State has been running most education in Britin for more than half a century. Who employed the teachers? Who is in charge?
The reduction in exclusions, which Mr Twigg thinks is some sort of evidence of better behaviour should probably be regarded, instead, as one of the reasons why indiscipline has got worse. When Labour came to power in 1997, one of the first things it was proud of was reducing explusions. His logic is absurd. If we stopped putting murderers in jail, would that mean we had a less murderous society? Obviously not. The sheer self-serving nonsense which education ministers dish out is sometimes quite stunning.
It is also simply not true that the government has stood up to bullying. The idea that ‘zero-tolerance’ is being used is so absurd as to amount to a lie. (The education chapter in the book has a particularly dismaying example of a head teacher not be being supported.)
I interviewed two boys recently who had been at a comprehensive school in Westminster. They told me about criminal or delinquent things they did at that school which I am sure the school did not know about. The so-called ‘perceived’ gang culture and bullying is sure to be an underestimate of what is really going on, not an overestimate, as Ofsted seems to prefer to imagine.
One of the boys told me how he used to threaten the new boys, the eleven year olds, so they would give him their free lunch vouchers. Then he would sell the vouchers to other boys. His activity was never discovered by the school. The other boy was involved in organised credit card fraud. Again, it was not discovered. In the end, their mothers took them out of the state school and made heroic personal sacrifices to send their boys to a fee-paying evangelical school (the sort of schools that Bell has made some criticisms of). The lives of these boys were saved – by poor parents taking them out of the damaging hands of the welfare state and putting them in a safe, decent, caring, motivated environment.
Most papers carry the story. The Guardian version is here.

  1. Relgious peril: what David Bell said about independent faith-based schools
  2. Jeremy Paxman, David Bell – liberal fascists
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