By the late 1980s, British comprehensives had become synonymous with chaotic indiscipline. A survey carried out in 1987 by the Professional Association of Teachers found that 94 per cent of teachers believed indiscipline was becoming more commonplace, 86 per cent believed that classroom violence was increasing, 80 per cent had been subjected to verbal abuse, and 32 per cent had been physically attacked by a pupil. For many, the link between the crisis in British schools and the radical ideas which preceded it was unambiguous. As Cox wrote in 1992: "Today the breakdown of discipline in inner-city comprehensives is a direct result of the sicknesses which afflicted the schools in the 1960s."
Tory reforms of this period focused on applying free-market principles to the running of schools, but allowed the philosophy of schooling to remain largely in the hands of progressive educators. By the time New Labour came to power, the inheritors of 1960s radicalism had firmly embedded themselves in the institutions, and progressive ideas about education received a new lease of life. The later director of Demos and leading light in Labour policy circles, Tom Bentley, wrote Learning Beyond The Classroom in 1998. On the topic of discipline he claimed: "Expecting young people automatically to accept someone's authority because they are in a position of power is unrealistic, as well as unhealthy."
It was these progressive orthodoxies that suffused the PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) training I received to qualify as a teacher. While at university, I received next to no lessons on classroom management. When we challenged our tutors on this point, the answer was always the same: as long as you get the other things right (pupil motivation, interesting lessons, positive thinking), behaviour should fall into place. We were not alone in this worrying omission: according to a 2008 NUT survey the majority of teachers have never received training in behaviour management. Considering just how much pupil behaviour dominates the concerns of a new teacher, this finding is startling.
The sole session I did receive on behaviour management consisted not of discussing practical methods, but instead pondering the "root cause" of bad behaviour. "What is more important," we were asked, "in explaining bad behaviour at schools: absent fathers, or children not eating a healthy breakfast?" Such sessions seemed more concerned with making armchair sociologists of us than effective classroom teachers.
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