On behaviour management, it is fair to say that the Labour Party has left the debate on discipline in schools to the Conservatives. We need to pull back and have a real discussion. Lucy Powell has a real opportunity here to tackle the issue of discipline in our schools and redefine Labour Policy on it. So what do I feel she needs to address?
The association of left-wing teachers with poor discipline.
The idea that left-wing thinking requires permissive discipline in schools needs to be rejected. This does not mean that the shadow secretary of state needs to ‘get tough’, but she does need to think of the real cost to teachers, pupils and schools. Call them reasons or excuses, but either way the education of thousands of pupils is affected on a daily basis by a doctrinal belief that children are not for responsible for their actions. How is it acceptable that working class children have their life chances affected by the ideological stances of their middle class teachers?
Personally I feel that a start would be to actually engage with teachers who support the Labour Party and find out, rather than assume, what they think and what their experiences have actually been. I can accept being in the minority in my views but I cannot accept a situation where no one in my party is even bothering to find out if I am in the minority!!
Poor discipline in the classroom
What is the impact of disruption on the poorest? How many lessons do they miss? How many classes have to be evacuated? What are the solutions that local authorities suggest and how effective are they?
If Labour want to transfer power back to the LEAs if they get elected ,then so be it. However, to pretend that the training and solutions provided to classroom teachers was adequate in the past is again to ignore reality. Only 3 months ago, I was told of the Head of the Behaviour Support Team telling a Head Teacher that her staff needed to become more resilient to the verbal and physical abuse they faced. Is this good enough? I do not claim that this is mirrored across LEAs in the country, but in my own experience LEA advisors have been hippy idealists still peddling theories and ideas from the 1970s, without revision or indeed any kind of analysis as to the weaknesses of their approach.
This particular Head Teacher is now off with stress, the deputy has left and the school is in a state of low level chaos. Meanwhile, nothing has changed for the teachers and there are no solutions for them. Also remember there are vulnerable children in those classrooms who are not behaving poorly and they have to come into school and watch members of staff being abused. How is this an acceptable state of affairs?
We need fairness in our dealings with children – there is nothing left wing about assuming that the child with the greatest behaviour problems needs the most attention from the class teacher.
An evaluation of current practices is needed and I believe it is the Labour Party who needs to do it. What works and what doesn’t? I am not interested in seeing a shadow secretary of state being the mouthpiece of ideologues or those with vested interests in particular modes of behaviour management. I want to see her create her own views based on the experiences of teachers and parents. Should we institute nurture groups in schools with the explicit goal of creating dependency (in order to create independence it would seem yet I have seen very little of the latter and a lot of the former) when the evidence from psychology points to developing better relationships between child and parent?
Another issue that troubles me greatly is that these groups are targeted at the most vulnerable and yet no long term study exists as to its impact. Intervening in emotional and mental health issues simply cannot be left to those with vested interests in particular types of behaviour management
The Way Forward?
Lucy Powell has a real opportunity to critique and revise Labour’s education policy and solutions to the issues of behaviour management. It would be a tragic waste if, yet again, assumptions trump experience and reality in our stated policy positions.
This post was originally published on the Labour Teachers website.