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Wednesday, 27 March, 2002, 00:43 GMT
Parents say teachers cause misbehaviour
family group
Study suggests parents and teachers are at odds
Parents say unfair treatment by teachers is a big reason why children misbehave in school - though they accept that problems in the home can contribute.

Parents also told psychology researchers from Nottingham University they thought peer pressure could cause their children to play up.

Teachers tend to blame unruliness on bad parenting - a view being reinforced by the Education Secretary, Estelle Morris, in a speech to the ATL teachers' union on Wednesday.

Dr Andy Miller, who led the team of psychologists, said the work showed there was at least some common ground between teachers and parents, which could be worked on.


The team has previously studied the attitudes of teachers, then of pupils.

For this latest work they asked 144 parents at an inner city primary school in the south of England to rate a list of 61 items that people said caused pupils to misbehave, on a scale from "very important" to "not important at all".

Most of the parents thought pupil misbehaviour was caused by the "unfairness of teachers' actions" - for example, teachers having favourite pupils, "picking" on pupils and being rude to children in their class.

One parent in Wales, David Mooney, wrote to BBC News Online's Talking Point on this issue to say his eldest son was nearly excluded from school three years ago, aged eight, because of his disruptive behaviour.

Right and wrong

This was a boy, as he puts it, "from a good home, a county chess player, consistently in the top two across all subjects and no trouble away from school".

"We were at a loss as to the problem," he said.

Only when he had moved up a year and the bad behaviour promptly ceased did he explain.

"The unfair, biased behaviour of the teacher, who favoured his 'pets' and was inconsistent in his handling of pupils.

"My son, having a strong sense of right and wrong instilled from an early age, found this unacceptable but could do little about it.

"Hence the disruptive behaviour to 'punish' the unfairness of the teacher."

The other main reason parents gave the researchers was "pupil vulnerability to peer influences and adverse family circumstances".

In other words they attributed blame to other pupils' encouraging children to misbehave, parents' letting their children get away with too much, and fights and arguments at home.

Home-school agreements

In the past, Dr Miller said, studies had shown that teachers repeatedly blame home circumstances for unruly behaviour and believe that a "lack of parental support" is the biggest obstacle to tackling it.

In further work for a book which has yet to be published, Dr Miller says the official approach has been to get home and school working together to solve problems.

But he asks what has stopped these being adopted more widely.

"Answers such as time pressures in schools, a lack of co-operation from parents, and the fear of exciting further strong and destructive feelings, all suggest themselves," he says.

Difficult ground

"But an area not yet examined - the beliefs that teachers, pupils and parents have about whom or what constitutes the cause of difficult behaviour in the first place - may hold an important key."

He says the fact that teachers view parents as the major cause of classroom misbehaviour is likely to present a major stumbling block.

"Government advice on home-school agreements is unlikely to be received in the spirit intended when set against these widespread attributions towards parents."

Dr Miller says the findings show that the way blame is attributed can create enormous obstacles to the search for agreement.

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See also:

24 Mar 02 | Education
Bad parenting 'causes child crime'
22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair warns parents over unruly children
23 Mar 01 | Education
Parents warned: No 'aggro' in school
09 Jul 01 | Education
Tackling bad pupils - and parents
09 Jul 01 | Features
Learning to be better parents
25 Mar 02 | Education
Q & A: Parenting orders
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