The Government’s new bad behaviour Tsar, Tom Bennett, writes in the Telegraph this week that using progressive teaching techniques for all children, regardless of their background, is a “very good way to maximising misbehaviour”. I began this blog with the intention of disagreeing with him, but reading his subsequent blog http://behaviourguru.blogspot.com/2019/05/good-schools-help-children-behave.html there is more that is aligned with my own thoughts.
And here they are!
First of all, attaching labels to discussions about behaviour is wrong, because it smacks of ideological zealotry. If any school or teacher thinks that it is always right to organise every class in groups, self-directed learning, enquiry-based learning or other similar approaches, then they are putting ideology ahead of children’s interests. The best teachers mix and match according to the content, context and circumstance. There are some classes where you just do not engage in many of these so-called progressive strategies – it just leads to a mess, even in hands that are far more capable than mine. Here, you need reward and sanction systems, and a firm hand.
However, I don’t like the pejorative voice attached to the same ‘progressive teaching techniques’ present in the Telegraph article. It intimates that, even in the hands of the most skilled teacher, such methodologies are wrong and unfit for more disadvantaged children. No, this is wrong and patronising. The best ‘child-centred’ lessons actively teach vitally important behaviours such as listening to others, critical thinking and independence.
The truth is that traditional or progressive approaches to teaching may make some difference to classroom behaviour but only in the context of a good teacher. Mr Bennett is absolutely right when he calls for more rigour in the way we train teachers about behaviour management. Generally, a well-trained and competent teacher will choose from a range of various methodologies, and will recognise when classroom organisation and systems need to be strengthened or relaxed.
But we are burying our heads in the sand if we ignore the elephant in the room here. Behaviour is more challenging in schools not because of the trad/prog polemic, but because, as a society, we have all allowed general standards to decline.
When I see parents posting videos of their children singing songs with the f-word in them, and then laughing behind the camera lens, I despair. As a society, we now want to be best mates with our children, to be loved by them, to accelerate their development so they become adults as soon as possible. We are complacent about boundaries and I just don’t think it’s healthy for children. Or, sadly (and this is nothing really to do with money or class) we stick them on the sofa with an iPad so we can get back to our Facebook account (or to write blogs about behaviour like I’m doing now).
This has nothing to do with disadvantage, or class, or money. This is where I tend to disagree with Mr Bennett. There may be subtle differences, but this is a national issue spread across the spectrum of society.
Of course, politicians will rarely speak of the way society brings up its children, because it is a sure-fire vote loser. But out of all the issues that we face as a society, this has to be one of the biggest.
I’m not damning a whole generation of parents here, nor am I absolving myself. I am part of this general trend. I’m recognising that it is becoming more and more difficult to bring up children, and this has to affect the classroom in some form or other. All of this has its root in the withering away of once-proud communities, and the decapitation of our public realm.
Rather than give £10 million to a behaviour tsar, we need real investment in those schools that are providing innovative community services, and have excellent relationships with local parent groups. How sad it is that Sure Start centres were closed down in their hundreds, as they are the perfect places to design programmes for parental support, allowing them to discuss the pressures that we now face, the rise of technology for example, or the impact of body image and raised expectations of what a child should look like. Or just to reassure parents that it is OK for you to say ‘no’!
Of course, there are far deeper problems that schools can do little about outside their general safeguarding duties – addiction, trauma, mental health, domestic violence, neglect. This shifts resources away from conversations about pedagogy, as schools (like mine incidentally) move from one daily crisis to the next. But that’s for another blog…
Teachers may well need more guidance about behaviour, but our biggest challenge is outside the classroom. Look after the health of the community, and teachers will be able to teach. Ignore it, and face the destructive consequences.