Drawing the line over who is in control

Middle of the road

THIS issue is not going to be resolved immediately without a fundamental change in approach to schooling from the earliest stage. Discipline has been denigrated too long by social workers, educationalists and the like as having negative connotations (physical violence and so on). But discipline is about setting out clear and unambiguous guidelines for behaviour, from kindergarten/nursery age on. Children need to know where the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not are placed – I was taught by my father that the only way to recognise the middle of an unmarked road was to know where the edges were. For parents to simply say discipline is a school’s problem or for teachers and schools to say it is a parental problem is akin to seeing only one verge of a road – the middle is difficult to determine. If schools have rules they must be seen to be fair and effective; to be that, they must be enforced without exceptions and done with a willingness to upset some people.


Sense of purpose

FIRST, the great majority of Scotland’s students work hard and behave from day to day in our schools. However, this is of little consolation if you are facing a class which contains a group or even a single pupil whose sole purpose in life is to torment you with the persistence of our native midge, with the added bonus of ensuring as little teaching and learning as is humanly possible. This is not solely a school problem. These pupils are the ones creating havoc in shopping malls or housing schemes.

So what is to be done? There are as many theories as there are problems. The spectrum tends to run from the return of corporal (or even capital) punishment and punishing parents by fiscal means to fighting indiscipline with praise and rewards for positive behaviour. Much is heard of the supremacy of pupil and parental rights along with the apparent disappearance of corresponding responsibilities. Poor teaching, an inappropriate curriculum, failure to recognise and plan for the needs of students through lack of personal learning planning, the roles of inclusion and exclusion – all have their day.

Perhaps we need to pause and reflect on what does work. A clear sense of purpose, consistency and clear standards, common goals, a sense of community and communal responsibility, a positive ethos with a realistic recognition of the strengths and needs of all in the school, good leadership at every level in the school, ongoing focussed professional training for all staff, a good physical working environment and strong links with as many parents and carers as possible. Experience shows that these factors all contribute to reducing indiscipline. In addition setting challenges and supporting the way to meeting these can bond teachers, pupils and parents.

General Secretary, Headteachers’ Association of Scotland

Bring back belt

APART from being appalled at the standards of discipline and manners among a great number of pupils, I am even more shocked at the naivety of those who wring their hands and wail over how the situation has come about and what can be done about it. The onset of the disease was when the belt or Scots tawse disappeared from our classrooms brought about by the namby-pamby nanny staters who now intend to ban airguns and anything else they cannot control.

Looked at logically, we don’t have to thrash children but the properly controlled use of corporal punishment for serious breaches of discipline worked as a deterrent in the past – why not again? The belt could have been administered in a controlled environment after proper investigation of the facts and in the presence of one or more witnesses to ensure it was not overdone.

The majority of young people are law-abiding and hard-working and require protection from louts and bullies. Let’s give them and our teachers the support they need.

Girvan, Ayrshire

Top priority

PUPIL indiscipline remains the No 1 concern for the vast majority of Scottish teachers. Recent research, carried out by Dr Pamela Munn of Edinburgh University on behalf of the Executive, confirmed the generally-held view that pupil indiscipline has worsened since the last similar survey (1996) and that the greatest problem is one of ‘low-level’ indiscipline. While the problem is more marked in secondary schools than in primary schools both sectors report increasingly disruptive behaviour and increasing teacher stress as a result.

Peter Peacock has conceded pupil indiscipline continues to be a major problem and that this reflects societal change which impacts in many areas of life not just in schools.

The Minister has re-affirmed that ‘targets’ had been getting in the way of good practice and that was why they had been removed in 2003. He has also re-emphasised the rights of headteachers to exclude and the rights of pupils and teachers to learn and teach in a safe environment free from disruption. Why then do we still have a problem? The rhetoric of the Executive is not matched by changes at school level. Pupil indiscipline is too often seen as a problem somehow separate from wider educational objectives. There appears to be a failure to realise improvements in pupil behaviour will have a effect on almost all of the current National Priorities in Education, particularly attainment and achievement and citizenship and values. There must be an acceptance, particularly at Local Authority level, that mainstreaming may not be suitable for all. There must continue to be special school provision and ‘mainstreaming’ must not mean that all pupils are integrated into classes at all times.

The top two priorities for teachers in the Munn survey in terms of improving discipline were “more places in special units outside school” and reduced class sizes. Cognisance of that first priority must be taken by Local authorities and of the second by the Executive.

The lesson for teachers is that the problem of pupil indiscipline must be seen as part of the whole process of re-professionalism and of changing the culture at local authority and school level.

Member, EIS Council


Corpun file 16073

Yorkshire Post, Leeds, 24 June 2005

Letters to the Editor

Ridiculing of children cruel

From: BH Sheridan, Redmires Road, Sheffield.

I DON’T usually disagree with former boarding-prep-school and boarding-secondary-school pupil S Franks (Letters, June 18), but your correspondent is not well placed to comment on discipline in schools in the real world — I mean inner-city comprehensives.

I am also uneasy about his sanguine attitude to teachers who could “humble” with “a few well-chosen insults.”

If I lack self-belief in some areas I have no hesitation in blaming a female junior school teacher who never used corporal punishment but clearly enjoyed humiliating pupils with her venomous tongue.

Sixty years on, it still hurts to recall how she stood me in front of the blackboard, ridiculing me with sarcastic asides to the class.

By contrast, the headmaster of the same school used the cane but without a hint of sadism. He taught a full timetable and his influence on my life has been as positive as his junior colleague’s was negative.

I hasten to add that this had nothing to do with the fact that he beat us; it’s just that caning was the norm at that time.


I remember him with gratitude for engendering the interest in sport and cultural pursuits which has defined my life.