Friday, 1 October 2010

Look, it's over there! Insists Gove.*

The so-called "no touch" rules that discourage teachers from restraining or comforting schoolchildren are to be abolished as part of a "new deal" for teachers, the education secretary, Michael Gove, said yesterday.

Personally, I didn't get into this job to hug kids but to teach them. If I can support pupils, that's fine, but I don't want children to see me as part of their extended family either. I'm a professional with a job to do, not a babysitter.

Slightly less callously, and more in tune with what I most especially dislike about this idea, it's important to have a clear 'don't touch the kids' policy for several reasons. An atmosphere where pupils need to fear the teachers physically is a bad atmosphere for learning. It erodes trust between teacher and pupil. Also, kids can be very antagonising and badly behaved - pretty much every school I've worked in has been in a deprived or inner-city area and had behaviour issues of one kind or another. The last thing a stressed teacher approaching the limits of their temper needs is to feel that there is some leeway around physical contact with the kids. It's better for us as well as for them.

I know of schools - heck I've worked in them for brief periods - where there are panic buttons on the walls and teachers carry walkie-talkies. There was one school in Newcastle (not one I've worked in I'm afraid, although one I did visit on one or two occasions in my previous professional life) with metal detectors and an on-site police officer. There are serious behaviour problems at these schools.

(a) there is no miracle solution to this - bringing back the birch will not make the pupils better, in fact I'd say that it would be more likely to prolong the cycle of violence.
(b) violence in schools is always found in the most deprived parts of the community, those most suffering from joblessness and poverty. The very problems, I should point out, that Gove and his government are doing their level best to exacerbate.
(c) this is a tiny minority of schools. In most schools teachers do not feel threatened by their pupils. Certainly I never have. And even if this should change in the future, and some pupil does sincerely make a threat against my personal safety, any putative moves back towards corporal punishment will be a terrible backwards step. How can we teach children that violence solves nothing if we are prepared to use it ourselves?

* I can't help but feel this is the first salvo in an attempt to blame bad behaviour and school problems in the coming years on pupils, as schools are sapped of vital resources, much-needed refurbishments are shelved and class sizes grow.

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