… as any teacher can tell you

22 September 2005
The Daily Telegraph
link to original

Phil Smith was the man who sorted out the yobs… and I desperately needed him. I was in my first year of teaching, and I had just encountered my most unruly class. Halfway through my lesson, the pupils began to shout obscenities at the top of their voices, they then proceeded to push all the tables out of the classroom, and finally, smoke cigarettes openly in front of me, blowing smoke in my protesting face. I was crushed and humiliated by the experience. But the Deputy Head, Phil Smith, was on my side. "Don’t worry, Francis, we’ll get them," he reassured me.

The next day he swept into my class and read the riot act. This class of 15-year-old tough East Enders were trembling and silent. Smith quickly found out who the main perpetrators were, and then, with a wave of his hand, excluded them. They never troubled me like that again. He was respected by those children: he had taught in the school for years, he knew many of the parents very well and had even been given permission by some to beat their offspring.

Mr Smith is exactly the kind of authority figure that Tony Blair needs if the Government is going to win its battle against the tide of yobbish behaviour afflicting our schools and streets. However, for all the Government’s announcements last week that it will set up a task force to deal with pupil indiscipline and force yobs to do community service, many of its other policies are actually encouraging loutish behaviour. And unlike their more highly publicised initiatives, these insidious new plans will actually produce tangible results for the worse.

Perhaps most troublingly, proposals issued in February by a quango, the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), which now look certain to be implemented next year, could mean teachers such as Mr Smith may well lose their jobs. Mr Smith was what is termed a "pastoral" deputy head; that effectively meant he was in charge of pupil discipline. The STRB proposes that all "pastoral" posts must be phased out in the next three years. The idea is that any teacher who is paid extra should get the money for fostering learning – "Teaching and Learning Responsibilities" as it is now known in the jargon – rather than for making children behave. This makes sense in theory, but in practice there could be even more chaos than there is now.

People such as Mr Smith will be removed from taking charge of discipline and instead will probably receive their money for monitoring and tracking the academic progress of pupils. In other words, they will be forced to act even more like glorified bureaucrats than at present (and most pastoral heads even now have mountains of paperwork to wade through).

Some schools, in anticipation of this change, have already abolished such roles as "heads of year" – these are the teachers who look after the behaviour of specific year groups – replacing them with non-teaching staff.

Bureaucrats deal with all contact between home and school, and teachers do not speak directly to parents. This is a shame because such teachers as Mr Smith gained their authority because they did have such a close relationship with the parents.

The best teachers with "pastoral responsibilities" are like the old-fashioned bobbies on the beat. They patrol the corridors of the schools, dropping into lessons to see that the pupils are behaving, addressing and encouraging classes who need positive comments, admonishing students who have been sent out of lessons, and laying down the law to unruly classes. The new proposals will mean that such teachers will either lose their jobs or be forced to sit in an office, writing phoney reports and brochures.

Who will be running the schools in the meantime? The yobs, I suspect.

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