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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February, 2005, 18:12 GMT
Lesson discipline 'needs parents'
Teachers say pupil behaviour is getting worse
Parents as well as teachers need to take responsibility for classroom behaviour, says an education expert who has researched teachers' experiences of pupil indiscipline.

Sean Neill, a researcher at the Institute of Education, University of Warwick, says teachers' authority needs to be reinforced if they are to keep the respect of pupils.

While politicians have called for a tougher approach to misbehaviour, Dr Neill says teachers have felt they have lacked support to impose discipline.

"We have to give teachers more professional authority, otherwise the sanctions they impose on pupils won't work. Their status needs to be built up," said Dr Neill.

Undermining authority

When pupils have been badly behaved, parents can undermine the school's discipline by taking the side of the erring child, rather than supporting the teacher, he says.

And the appeals system, which allows a pupil's exclusion to be reversed, also makes it more difficult for teachers and head teachers to exert authority, says Dr Neill.

The rate of change in schools and the number of initiatives can also make teachers feel less confident, he says. And when teachers are unsure, this can make it harder to impose order.

Dr Neill says evidence over trends in pupil misbehaviour can be contradictory - and it is not clear that there has been an increase in classroom disruption.

But he says a large majority of teachers do believe that behaviour has become worse - and that this perception is one of the biggest factors in making teachers leave the profession.

In particular, he says that low-level disruption is a major problem for teachers, such as pupils answering back or not settling down.

And he says as teachers feel under greater scrutiny and pressure, they are more sensitive to the amount of lesson time lost through bad behaviour.


But Dr Neill is unconvinced by quick fixes. Technology, such as CCTV cameras, might displace a problem, but unless it is tackled it will re-surface elsewhere.

If teachers adopted a much tougher attitude and started shouting at pupils, he says that pupils would soon call their bluff.

Teachers and pupils both know that teachers cannot use force - and that parents would not tolerate the use of force - so an aggressive manner would soon be seen as an empty threat.

And he makes the point that if any system of discipline is to be credible for pupils, it needs to be backed up by parents and wider authority. When teachers are on their own in front of a class, they need to know that any sanction will be enforceable.

While politicians have talked tough and called for more discipline in schools, Dr Neill says pupils' behaviour is more likely to be the product of the environment outside school.

"Pupils' behaviour will reflect their home lives and wider social attitudes. If we live in a self-promoting, consumerist culture, then it's going to be more difficult to get pupils to take their turn and listen to others."

Parents can also face contradictory pressures, says Dr Neill.

While there might be suggestions that children brought up by attentive, nurturing parents are better behaved, this might conflict with the financial necessity for parents to work long hours.

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