I’m sure I’ve moaned about this before, but the Daily Mail often annoys me with its hypocrisy about school discipline. It seems to run two, contradictory, types of stories on school discipline. The first type is the “school discipline is not strict enough” story. Here are some examples of Daily Mail stories either calling for better discipline or reporting sympathetically on others doing so (found after Googling “Daily Mail School Discipline” and “Daily Mail Behaviour in Schools”):
- It’s teachers who need a lesson in discipline to control these unruly students 20 July 2011
- Gove drive for more discipline in school: New teachers must show they can control pupils 8 November 2011
- Now schools have finally admitted how bad discipline has become it is time to get a grip 5 April 2012
- BAN mobiles from schools: New Ofsted chief gets tough over classroom discipline and schools could be penalised for failing to tackle disruption 9 May 2012
- Mobile phones in class and backchat from pupils: Inspectors notes reveal teachers are losing school discipline battle 12 May 2012
- English pupils ‘are among the worst behaved in the world’: Even top-rated schools are blighted by classroom chaos, study says 14 April 2014
- Unruly teenage pupils ‘ruining four in ten lessons’: State school heads demand tougher powers to tackle poor behaviour 26 June 2014
- Pupils are losing an hour a day’s teaching because of rowdy behaviour: Headteachers under fire for allowing disruption to go unchecked, damaging pupils’ exam chances 25 September 2014
I have a lot of sympathy for this type of story in that I do think the extent of poor behaviour in schools is a national scandal. I’m more optimistic about the way things are moving than I used to be, but I’m always happy to see the issue raised, and I don’t want a return to the bad old days of the Steer Report when it was hard for any teachers to dare defy the behaviour denialists who insisted everything was fine.
So why am I complaining about the Daily Mail? Because they also frequently run another type of school discipline story, which consists of disgruntled parents moaning about schools who have stood up to them and enforced the rules on their children. While some of these articles are, perhaps, phrased so as to hear both sides, it is clear that the human interest aspect of the story is provided entirely by the family of the child who was disciplined. Examples include (all found by Googling “Daily Mail excluded”):
- Extreme haircuts should never be grounds to exclude a child from school, says children’s champion 19 March 2012
- Boy, 14, excluded from school after teacher accuses him of making Nazi salute and clicking his heels 7 February 2013
- Pupil, 13, excluded from school for wearing ‘dangerous’ traditional tie instead of a clip-on 14 February 2013
- Schoolgirl is excluded from classes after she turned up to school with her hair dyed ginger 18 December 2013
- Schoolboy, 14, excluded from lessons for organising mass walkout over a LACK of homework 17 March 2014
- Schoolboy, 14, excluded ‘for being two minutes late when he returned from using the toilet’ 3 October 2014
- Schoolboy, 9, kicked out of classroom because he had his hair cut like Arsenal footballer Olivier Giroud 20 January 2015
- Teenager, 14, who was ordered by school to ditch his dyed red hair is expelled after he posts headteacher’s Facebook picture – complete with tattoo and even redder hair 26 January 2015 (This last one is the one that prompted me to blog as it involves a headteacher who used to work in the West Midlands, who I know well enough to know they do not deserve to be treated like this.)
What is most irritating to me about all these stories is the extent to which the student’s and parents’ accounts are always accepted at face value, and the focus is always on the original cause of the misbehaviour, not on the behaviour by student or parents that may have escalated the situation. We’ve all taught kids who are keen to turn the most minor misbehaviour into a major incident, through repetition, defiance or continued anger. This will apply at a whole school level too, with some of those (both parents and students) who pick a fight over one minor rule being unable to back down even if it means leaving the school.
If a child is unlikely ever to follow a rule then they have to go, in order for that rule to be enforced on the rest of the school. If students retaliate in severe ways at teachers who enforce rules then they have to go or teachers will be scared to enforce those rules in future. If students feel free to argue over the interpretation of the rules, then enforcement is obstructed. Rules only really exist if they are enforced and can continue to be enforced. It is those schools where staff are too scared to confront students, which have the major discipline problems. Standing up to students (and sometimes parents) may not be pretty, but it has to be done and it does not help if the media act as if children have suffered a great injustice by being expected to comply. I don’t actually think it should be considered newsworthy if a school enforces the rules, but if newspapers do wish to report it, they should stop reporting it as: “Schoolboy, aged X, excluded for infringement Y” and instead report: “School refuses to make special exception for student over infringement Y”.
Oh, and while the Daily Mail always seems to me to be the worst offender on this, perhaps because of the hypocrisy, I think it’s worth pointing out that the same type of non-story can be seen in all sorts of different papers.