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John Simkin

Life in the UK Classroom

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Last week a group of academics from Cambridge University, led by professors Maurice Galton and John MacBeath, published a report based on the study on questionnaire responses from 233 teachers in 65 schools. The report says that bad behaviour was the worst obstacle to teaching, followed by a lack of discussion time and large class sizes. The sharp decline in behaviour during the past 15 years was blamed on the "overloaded" curriculum, parental attitudes, large class sizes, inclusion strategies and the lack of time teachers had to talk to pupils and to each other. The report says that teachers work between 45 and 70 hours per week. Outside lessons and "directed time" they spent an average 22.1 hours on other work-related activities such as preparing materials and displays (6.1 hours) and marking (5.3 hours).

The report adds that the Department for Education and Skills would be better off if it spent the millions of pounds used to help schools meet test targets for 2006 on investigating ways to improve pupil behaviour.

http://www.data.teachers.org.uk/index.php

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I would definitely commend this research to the attention of any secondary teacher. The usual research finding applies: more work needs to be done in this area.

However the academics have attempted to interpret the world. The task however is to change it :)

Perhaps it is time we changed things for the better!

Edited by derekmcmillan

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I would definitely commend this research to the attention of any secondary teacher. The usual research finding applies: more work needs to be done in this area.

However the academics have attempted to interpret the world. The task however is to change it :)

Perhaps it is time we changed things for the better!

And of course it is inconceivable that any of the Militant Tendencies rivals in the forthcoming NUT election have much to say about these matters :lol::lol::)

The candiates other than Mr Powell Davies (who is a member of a Trotskyist organisation - they wont tell you this on the ballot paper!!) are listed below ;)

John Bangs

Ian Murch

Steve Sinnott

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It might interest you to know the top 15 obstacles to teaching (ranked in order of importance).

1. Poor pupil behaviour.

2. Lack of time for discussion and reflection.

3. Large class sizes.

4. Too many national initiatives.

5. Overloaded curriculum content in own subject.

6. Pressure to meet assessments targets.

7. Poor resources, materials and equipment.

8. Inclusion.

9. Lack of parental support.

10. Inadequate pay.

11. Preparation for appraisal/inspection.

12. Poorly maintained buildings.

13. Prescribed methods of teaching.

14. Limited professional opportunities.

15. Insufficient pastoral support.

My own choice would be:

1. Overloaded curriculum content in own subject.

2. Lack of time for discussion and reflection.

3. Inclusion.

4. Large class sizes.

However, I think that some pressures are more subconscious than conscious and I suspect the following have the main impact on teachers.

1. Prescribed methods of teaching.

2. Pressure to meet assessments targets.

3. Too many national initiatives.

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It might interest you to know the top 15 obstacles to teaching (ranked in order of importance).

1. Poor pupil behaviour.

2. Lack of time for discussion and reflection.

3. Large class sizes.

4. Too many national initiatives.

5. Overloaded curriculum content in own subject.

6. Pressure to meet assessments targets.

7. Poor resources, materials and equipment.

8. Inclusion.

9. Lack of parental support.

10. Inadequate pay.

11. Preparation for appraisal/inspection.

12. Poorly maintained buildings.

13. Prescribed methods of teaching.

14. Limited professional opportunities.

15. Insufficient pastoral support.

However the report also says

None of the obstacles to teaching and professional development has an independent existence. They are all closely inter-related and inter-dependent. While teachers' talk of poor pupil behaviour may be seen by some (including some policy makers and media critics) as simply blaming pupils, it is plainly evident that there is an intrinsic relationship of behaviour to class size, inappropriate curriculum, pressure to meet targets and keep up with new initiatives, and a consequent lack of time for professional sharing and reflection.

Having identified pupil behaviour as a major issue is only the beginning. What they need is serious research into why pupils behave so badly and whether behaviour has really deteriorated or is simply regarded as a greater problem in an atmosphere of constant testing, inspection and performance-related pay.

Derek McMillan

socialist

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Hello there,

I think the list of issues relating to obstacles in the learning process is dauntingly accurate and yet another frightening illustration of the decline of an education system which claims to give 'entitlement for all' and to deliver'excellence in our schools'. We clearly are not delivering to the huge number of pupils with challenging behaviour. The influences of outside stimuli apart, there is no time or space to create the kind of inclusive atmosphere of learning which will encourage self-esteem and responsibilty. I think Derek is right that the supposed decline in behaviour should be measured against the pressures imposed.

On the other hand, I resent precious money being spent on endless research, maybe some more positive uses would be to create some pilot projects using the resources to test out the differences in class size/ behaviour by extra staffing and space and also providing some sort of therapeutic help, art therapy, etc

Those who claim that teaching 30+ is no different from teaching 20 or less may not have had the inner city experiences some of us have worked through. It's true that there always were behavioural problems, for all sorts of reasons but with a class of 20 there is physically and emotionally much more 'space' to work with.

Another pressure on time which takes the teacher away from being able to focus on individual pupils is that success is measured by competitive tests, fatuous statistics and meaningless checklists. Who wants to be a failure? Neither pupils, teacher, Head or school, or parents? The success I keep hearing about is at the expense of a lot of failure...

...are we going back to days when I sat at primary school class of about 45+ in a separate row from all my friends....because I could read and write better than them? On the far side in a row were the kids who couldn't write at all.

Or can we move towards/maintain a scaffolded approach to learning where we can build on each others' strengths and share our skills and talents?

High on my obstacle list is:

curriculum content. class sizes, lack of support, time, freedom, constant changes/ inconsistency in policy...and much more. I'm tired just thinking about it!

I hope the Government take note of the suggestion...so long as they don't pay a team millions of pounds to work out how to do it....

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Bad behaviour in schools is not a new phenomenon. I was confronted with very bad behaviour in the school in South East London where I did my teaching practice in 1965. I was very green at the time, the product of a posh grammar school in Kent, and I had never before experienced such disruption in a school. I was not good at coping with bad behaviour, and neither were most of the trainee teachers who were my contemporaries. Our tutors were poor at offering advice. They tended to come out with unhelpful statements such as, "If you make your lessons interesting then you won't have any discipline problems." Rubbish! Some kids set out to disrupt every class, regardless of how interesting it might be.

I got better at coping with bad behaviour, mainly thanks to the teacher responsible for looking after me at my practice school. I didn't follow his advice to the letter, however, and I certainly did not copy all the ways in which he handled bad behaviour. He would lash out quite viciously at disruptive kids, hitting them with heavy textbooks and sometimes holding them upside down by the legs for several minutes so that the blood rushed to their head. Very few kids attempted to misbehave in his classes. The most useful tip that I learned from him was to make eye contact with a single child that could be seen to be misbehaving - i.e. rather than shouting oneself hoarse at the whole class - note down the child's name and make sure that the child received some kind of punishment. Sometimes this had to be repeated three or four times with different troublemakers. In really bad cases the child would be sent straight to the headmaster, i.e. removed from the class where the disruption was taking place. It worked - more or less - but I don't know if it would work now. The level of rudeness and lack of respect among young people is noticeably worse than it was in the 1960s. I am happy to be retired from full-time teaching.

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I used to go to Peckham Manor Boys' School once a week to help out with a drama lesson when I was a teacher trainee at Goldsmiths'. The class teacher I worked for was in his fourth year of teaching. His first three years had been as a Latin teacher at a posh private school in Sidcup … but he was one of the best teachers I have ever come across. What made him special was that he cared about the kids he taught - despite the fact that an objective observer would have called them ineducable hooligans. (I remember having to search 11 year-olds for weapons before they could go into class - and we always found some). This was in 1976, by the way.

You could see that the greatest problem the school, the teachers and the pupils faced was the desperate poverty and inequality of the society in which they existed. It seems to me that Britain has spent the years since then officially denying that this was the case, since acknowledging the problem places some obligation on you to at least try to do something about it. My interpretation of the National Curriculum, league tables, goals, targets, checklists, etc is just that they're all an elaborate attempt to escape from reality … and reality will catch up, sooner or later.

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That's it, David,

They're all in denial!

I agree with what you say - a very expensive and elaborate way to pretend everything's fine. First of all, just as things were taking shape and developing constructively, a new governement came to power and destroyed everything, literally. Then, we(I) had such hopes when finally New Labour came to power...

I too taught through some crazy times, and could tell some tales of horror, but for every one of those I can tell of many more magic moments, and successes - I still meet kids I taught years ago and some of those were ones you thought could never make it out in the world - there are many surprises.

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Interestingly, we have just had a Workload Study commissioned here in Tasmania and I've seen the preliminary report, and guess what?? It says exactly the same things - biggest causes of teacher stress: behaviour, inclusion, bureaucracy and constant change.

While I agree with the above posters that there were always badly behaved students, I do not accept that things are not worse. Unless you have been teaching in a consistently similar school constantly over the last twenty years, I don't believe you are qualified to make that judgement.

There was an excellent article in one of our national papers recently pointing out the treatment that is nowadays dished out to doctors, nurses, bus drivers, waiters etc - they are being attacked and assaulted on a daily basis, and making the point that younger people particularly are much more concerend about their own rights than their responsibilities. We made the mistake of OVER emphasising that in the 80s, then we brought in Inclusion, then we made parents more aware of THEIR rights - the right to defend their offspring beyond all common sense, the right to defy authority, the right to believe that everything is someone else's fault and not theirs. I cannot believe that any of you can be reading the daily newspapers, walking up and down your city streets, and not acceopting that social behaviour has deteriorated.

If you read the TES staffroom chatline over any length of time, you will certainly find out how teachers are treated nowadays, not just by children but by parents as well. It's the same here - we have an alarmingly increasing incidence of young children, Kinder upwards, who are physically attacking teachers - biting, scratching, punching, spitting, throwing objects - some of them are like little wild feral animals. No, they're not ALL like that, but a disturbing, and increasing, number are. Do little children get to be like that by chance? I don't think so.

The question is: how do you change society? Yes, we can put school programs in place. Yes, we can have parent training sessins. We can spend heaps on "behaviour management" PD, but it can't be done by teachers alone, yet they invariably get the blame when things go wrong.

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Jay writes

While I agree with the above posters that there were always badly behaved students, I do not accept that things are not worse.

As I said, there were always badly behaved kids, but behaviour standards are significantly worse now. I used to go out for a drink in the pubs our town centre at weekends when I first moved to the area in the 1970s. I would not dream of going there now. Every pub in the town centre has at least two bouncers on duty at the door, there are CCTV cameras all over the place, and mounted police appear in the streets at closing time. We are talking about the Royal County of Berkshire, by the way...

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