Monday, October 26, 2009

Barbarism begins at home

Violence against state school teachers continues to rise. Has our 'culture' really changed so radically?

Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And that's the case with Boris Johnson and his article in today's Telegraph, "Teachers need the law on their side", where the current Mayor of London remarks that:
"Classrooms are often scenes of such anarchy that learning is impossible. Violence against teachers is continuing to rise, with physical assaults by children on adults up to 18,000 a year".
By strange coincidence, last night I finally got round to watching acclaimed French film The Class Entre Les Mures. When I did, the first thing that crossed my mind was: who on earth would want to be a state school teacher today?

The way things turned around within a generation is simply stunning. From the excesses of corporal punishment and anachronistic authority, state school teachers have now turned into pariahs: wholly powerless and deprived of dignity and respect.

And even if you ignored recent news stories, a simple glance at violence-related statistics would reveal the sheer scale of the problem.

And I wince as I type the words up, but Boris Johnson is absolutely spot-on when he writes that part of the blame lays directly on the parents.

Our 'culture', for want of a better word, has changed. State school teachers are no longer regarded the same way. Worse than the cane used to be mum and dad finding out the student had been punished, no matter what justification he'd stutter.

Now, on top of "not my son" and "my kid could do no wrong", many parents also look down on teachers and they're not afraid to show it. Which in turn rubs off on the students. Schoolworkers' wages are nothing to write home about and -in the era of celebrity oracles, short attention spans and instant gratification- those pedantic 'losers' are hardly going to look like models to aspire to.

It may sound terribly defeatist, but culture and knowledge are not in fashion today.

At best, this is the era of the self-made young entrepreneurs, asset prices and high flyers. At worst, it's the rule of endemic celebrity obsession where anyone can get their faces (or knockers) known to the wider public through the media circus of big brothers and who bullies the loudest.

Either way, using grey stuff in the old-fashioned way appears to be definitely passe'.


Oliver said...

18,000 incidents out of a teaching population of around 438,000 teachers (that's a 2001/2 figure, which includes nursery, primary and secondary teachers, from the ONS). That means 4.1% of teachers experience physical assaults a year. I'm not saying this is by any means acceptable, it's certainly not, but it gives a little context and is perhaps a lower figure than you would expect to come out after reading Boris’ and your own articles.

I think this might be a case of Boris Johnson jumping on yet another populist bandwagon to gain support when in actual fact the situation is not as serious as he would have us believe.

Teachers don't need more power, we simply need more teachers. Boris, in banging on about giving more power to teachers, is simply avoiding the real, more costly, and fundamentally effective solution.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

I'm with Oliver and I'm a teacher who has never seen or been the victim of any form of assault and considering I work with the hardest to help, either in secure units or PRUs or just tough schools across the UK.

Everything has to be taken into context and I don't think we roll up the flag just yet and say or parents and young people are all fucked.

Although, I will say that I have NEVER met a hard to help young person or child who has had excellent parents, the problem does indeed start at home and then leak out into the wider world.

claude said...


it really is a matter of how you view it. Sure they are still rare but, to me, 4.1% of teachers assaulted in schools is a massive proportion. Also, the percentage goes up dramatically in certain areas.

And, also, the above figures does not include threats and other type of abuse- otherwise, apparently, we reach 80/90,000 a year.

I despise Boris, but I don't think it's populistic bandwagon to say that discipline in schools has deteriorated immensely in the last few years.

Because, Oliver, you also have to put the above mentioned 18,000 against figures from the past and the comparison isn't encouraging.

For instance, in 2006, 221 teachers across the country needed at least three days off school with injuries after an assault, 21 per cent up on six years ago, according to official statistics.

No-one's saying parents and young people are all fucked (well, maybe the Daily Mail or Ann Widdecombe are), but from stuff I hear from mates who work as inner city school teachers the problem shouldn't get underestimated either.

Jonah O'Dell said...

In a multiracial, multicultural polity, there are only two choices: chaos or tyranny-authoritarianism. In either case we win, though not without severe sacrifice. As the power elite continues to import unassimilable third world immigrants to Western nations, the opportunies for Western counter-revolution increase: because 1) chaos leads to instability and war, giving the West the opportunity to reconquer occupied territories by force, and 2) tyranny/authoritarian rule produces and legitimises opposition.

Stan Moss said...

reconquer occupied territories by force

why do right-wingers always have to be so odd?

Paul said...

Good article. Problem is there is no solution (aside form Jonah's comments) that the government will implement. More teachers will not work, as one of these screwballs will prove just as capable of disruption if he/she is in class of 20, as they are in a class of 30. I'm tempted to blame some of the policies of the left for this (excessive welfare etc) but no one here is naive enough to think it will get better under the Tories least of all me. Furthermore whilst a problem is the lack of autonomy teachers have in terms of discipline or decision making. This is a consequence of powerful government; the sort that always seeks to legislate and macro manage institutions. The transfer of power away from the individual, to central authority. Where I mentioned teacher above, you could easily substitute nurse or police officer. Individuals who upon encountering a problem are obliged to fill out a form or follow a statutory procedure rather than employ common sense.

I don't know enough about teaching to propose a solution. The old days when teachers (or again police, nurses etc) had more power led to instances of abuse in some cases. Now of course those individuals who in days of old would have received swift discipline in schools are left to run riot. Doubtless Parliament will legislate a solution, I don't know, will we see a 2010 Dangerous Pupils Act? Whilst local authorities issue stab proof vests to teachers?