Ok class, now quieten down. Bryony – how many times do I have to tell you? Mobile phones away! Today we are going to be looking at an important topic: Childhood behaviour. In a moment, we’re going to try to get a serious answer to a controversial question. Oh Jimmy, please put that cigarette lighter away – I don’t think Becky appreciates her hair being set alight.
First, let me have a show of hands – how many of you think that school discipline and behaviour is getting worse? Now that’s interesting…
My Playground Misdemeanours
I used to be a bit of brat. At primary school, I was notorious for getting into fights: older kids would bait me to see how hard the ‘new boy’ could really punch. More often than not, I would gladly oblige. Then came discovering swear words. This proved an exciting game for a ten year old – how loudly you could shout a profanity before getting told off? (Sorry Mum).
When I started teaching a couple of years ago I dreaded the prospect of having to keep rowdy teenagers in check. Harrowing stories abounded: hormonal adolescents throwing tantrums and knife-wielding yobs looking for a adult-shaped victim. And that was even before I heard my colleague’s horror stories.
My reality was far less frightening. I largely failed to see these ‘juvenile delinquents’ materialise. Accepted, my students are a somewhat ‘cherry-picked’ cohort striving for medical and nursing degrees. Student misbehaviour is common, but nothing like the ‘howling, undisciplined’ youths as described in the sensationalist press. To me, they were pretty similar to how I remember my pubescent stage. And yet, the consistent consensus amongst many is that students are becoming increasingly unruly.
Clearly not everything adds up…
Declining Classroom Discipline: The evidence
“Collapse of the classrooms as hooligans win power struggle” is the typical tabloid portrayal of education (that one is courtesy of the ever trustworthy Daily Mail). The finger of blame points firmly at the evils of technology, poor parenting and declining moral standards.
It would appear that the majority of teachers also think classroom standards are on the way down. 92 per cent of teachers who completed an online survey last year said that pupil behaviour had gotten worse over their career – to the point that 70 per cent are consider quitting the profession completely.
Shocking stuff, but is there other evidence to support this view?
Parents certainly don’t agree: More than 85% of parents in the UK believe that behaviour in their own child’s school is good or better. School inspectors, Ofsted have failed to report any decline in student behaviour in the many years they have been scrutinising British schools.
Under government instruction, Sir Alan Steer undertook a comprehensive report in 2008, examining ways to improve school behaviour. His summary was contrary to what many expected, pronouncing that the “great majority of pupils work hard and behave well … It is often the case that for pupils, school is a calm place in a disorderly world”.
Reports for other parts of the world show a similar picture: No clear decline in school discipline has been observed in the USA, Finland or Holland.
What’s going wrong?
Something has to be wrong here. Why is there a disconnect between teacher’s beliefs and those of everyone else (excluding tabloid newspapers)? My personal experiences have been largely positive but I would not be naive enough to suggest my experiences are representative of many areas of education. (Ok, so there was one rather explosive Bunsen burner ‘incident’ last year)…
Are students and teaching establishments so hiding the true reality and distorting the findings of inspections? Are the parents who deceiving themselves into thinking their offspring are angelic ‘little cherubs’? Do teachers read the Daily Mail?
Memory can deceive. Professional teachers and lecturers may be falling victim to ‘Rosy retrospection’ – a tendency for all of us to remember the past better than it actually was. Technology and culture evolves and every generation faces new challenges – but in all sobriety, I can’t say I recall my behaviour as a youngster being any different to a typical 21st Century child.
Give me a few more years in this job though, and I may be saying something quite different…
Got an opinion? Think I’ve missed something? Please feel free to share your thoughts and comment below…
Steer, A (2009). A review of behaviour standards
and practices in our schools Learning Behaviour: Lessons Leaned
Achenbach, T., Dumenci, L., & Rescorla, L. (2003). Are American Children’s Problems Still Getting Worse? A 23-Year Comparison Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31 (1), 1-11 DOI: 10.1023/A:1021700430364
Verhulst, F., Ende, J., & Rietbergen, A. (1997). Ten-year time trends of psychopathology in Dutch children and adolescents: no evidence for strong trends Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 96 (1), 7-13 DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0447.1997.tb09898.x
Mitchell, T. (1997). Temporal Adjustments in the Evaluation of Events: The “Rosy View”, , Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 33 (4), 421-448 DOI: 10.1006/jesp.1997.1333
Harris, S. (2004) Collapse of the classrooms as hooligans win power struggle, Daily Mail, 3rd February, p.19.