Jayne Dowle: A blight on our schools that begins in deprived homes

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Disruptive behaviour in schools causes more problems than bullying, poor teaching and lack of resources put together. That’s just my humble parental opinion. I’ve said it since my two children started at primary school and I will probably continue to say it until they leave. It’s good to see though that a major new study by Oxford University confirms my both my instinct and experience.

These academics have found that disruptive pupils exert a malign influence on those around them. In close comparison, the study suggests that “middle class” pupils who find themselves in the midst of a chaotic classroom can experience their work dropping by as much as two whole grades.

Few state school teachers would disagree with this. At my son’s recent parents’ evening, several members of staff admitted that there are pupils in their class who are beyond teaching, and they cause untold problems for the rest who want to learn. I’ve heard first-hand from my son some hair-raising tales, and he is only in Year 8. What some of his classmates get up to science lessons would put the fear of God into any teacher – and scare most parents half to death.

Let’s not fall victim to moral panic though, because moral panic is the last thing anyone wants when it comes to education. Moral panic causes parents to remove their children from schools deemed as “blighted”, leaving behind the rest to form an unruly majority. This makes life even more difficult for the teachers charged with attempting to keep order and generally does our education system no good at all.

The academy my son attends had a damning Ofsted report earlier this year. Pupils not listening in class, fighting in the corridors, teachers unable to keep control... learning about what happens behind closed doors was a parental nightmare, frankly.

I could have panicked and pulled Jack out, but the school is doing an excellent job with him one-to-one. So I stepped back, read the letters home advising us that a new executive head was being brought in, and took the long view.

However, I know plenty of parents who changed their mind about sending their own child there this September. I’ve even heard of one family sending their 11-year-old more than 10 miles across town on two buses when the school in question is just a few minutes’ walk away.

This made me quite angry, to be honest. Although every right-thinking parent wants what is best for their child, I believe we also have a collective responsibility when it comes to education. Remove all the “good” children from a school and you end up with something worse than any bog-standard comprehensive of my youth. You end up with a self-defeating culture where achievement is stamped out by peer pressure, a place where no teacher in their right mind would want to take a job.

In an ideal world, a school would be run to support all children, regardless of their academic ability and attitude to learning. The problem is, we live in a world which is far from ideal. If we’re looking for reasons why our secondary schools are blighted by disruption, we have to look further than what we see in front of us. The problems start way before. Five-year-olds are coming to formal education with delayed speech and communication skills, barely able to dress and feed themselves and use the toilet. No wonder they can’t engage with learning.

Only this week, another study, from the Institute of Health Equity at University College, London, found that almost half of children have failed to develop properly by the time they are in school. In our own region, Yorkshire, this is even more damning. Just 42 per cent of children in Hull reach a “good” level of development by the time they are five, with Doncaster and North Yorkshire at 43 and 44 per cent, respectively. Wakefield comes out tops, with 57 per cent of children where they should be.

Sorry to depress you and hit you with a load of statistics, but this state of affairs demands close attention – because it is getting worse. In 2011 in England as a whole 59 per cent of children showed a good level of development at the age of five. Three years later, this has dropped to 52 per cent.

If you want to know why this is happening, look around you. Look at the poverty and deprivation thousands of children are growing up in. Look at the benefits culture which so many are forced to rely upon. Look at the ghettoes – sorry, there is no other word for them – in our towns and cities where English is not spoken. Look at the drugs and cheap alcohol culture which youngsters witness in the home every day. Look at the parents who don’t buy newspapers or read books or use the written word except to surf the internet on their mobile phones. And then you will start 
to see the reasons why blighted lives make for blighted children who blight our schools.