How teachers can win the class struggle against unruly pupils

There was a time, not all that long ago, when teachers had their own preferred methods of ensuring quiet in the classroom.

Some favoured a ruler across the palm. For others, it was a quick cuff to the back of the head and, when things got serious, unruly pupils

were made to kneel on chalk.

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Those were different times and most welcomed the end to corporal punishment which hung like a dark cloud over many pupils' school days. However, with reports of classroom violence increasing and many teachers feeling powerless to do anything more than raise their voice a little for fear they may be the ones ending up in the headteacher's office, the solution to bad behaviour has become a thorny issue.

However, yesterday the Government announced it may have just found the answer. Parenting orders. A Bill is currently making its way through Parliament which will require all parents to sign up to behaviour contracts, known as Home School Agreements. Should a child continually flout the agreement, Ministers want schools to invoke parenting orders under which parents can be told to ensure their child goes to bed at a reasonable time, doesn't drink alcohol at home and makes it into school in time for registration.

If that fails, heads have been told they can resort to court action. If found guilty parents could face fines up to 1,000. Parenting orders are nothing new, but figures show that between September 2004 and

August 2008 not a single one was issued. Sceptics might well argue that the lack of take-up is sign itself that the scheme is already fatally flawed.

"It's complete nonsense," says Cedric Cullingford, professor of

education at Huddersfield University. "These parenting contracts will have absolutely no effect on problem behaviour. The Government has been through this process so many times, but it always comes up with the same baffling solutions.

"It's always a complete puzzlement to me why they never read the very good research which is out there concerning child behaviour and the school system. They don't even seem to read the reports they have themselves commissioned. It's a complete mystery."

The one thing everyone seems agreed on is that classroom behaviour in general has declined. Just this week a survey of teachers by ATL found four in 10 had encountered physical aggression in the classroom, with more than a quarter claiming the violence was specifically directed towards them.

However, Prof Cullingford warns that nostalgia for the supposed good old days will not solve the problem.

"Turning the clock back is not an option and nor should it be," he says. "I am aware sometimes that I sound like a grumpy old man, but not everything was as rosy in the past as some people would have you believe.

"However, the status of teachers has certainly been diminished. They have become hampered by bureaucracy and the fear of putting a foot wrong that their authority has been undermined."

There was a time when children went into the classroom and heeded every word of whoever was stood at the blackboard.

"As surprising as it may seem to some, children want to behave well and they want to understand their place in society and finding some new way to punish them or their parents isn't the answer.

"The first thing I would do is get rid of the National Curriculum and Ofsted, both of which have damaged the profession. Children need to be inspired, they need to enjoy learning and that's what all good teachers want. Instead of the current immovable curriculum, what we need is broad guidelines which would give teachers flexibility in the classroom."

Given that he has been working in the field of education for many years, Prof Cullingford has had a long time to think about where things went wrong and compile his own wishlist of changes.

"Sadly, I don't think any country has a perfect system of education and I don't think it's necessarily helpful to look abroad for answers," he says. "However, as in some other European countries, I would like to see children starting formal school later and pre-school education to be vastly improved.

"The support for parents of children between the ages of one and three is woeful and if we could get that right then I have no doubt the

problems we see in later years would decrease considerably.

"Overhauling education is not easy and successive governments have

turned a blind eye to the real problems. Even now, even after all the terrible policies which have been introduced I still have hope that someone, somewhere will eventually have the courage to make the

difficult decisions which will improve the teaching of our children for the long-term future."