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Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Yano — Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Are parents to blame for bad behaviour in the classroom?

Posted on 24th May, 2013 | filed under Education, Featured

Young schoolboy sticking his tongue out and about to throw something

Ursula Hirschkorn investigates who’s to blame for increasing levels of unruly behaviour in our schools

When my children were pre-school age I toyed with the idea of training to become a teacher. I was attracted by what I thought would be short hours and long holidays. A couple of stints in the classroom soon put me straight. The hours are so long and stressful that the holidays are a necessity rather than a luxury. But what makes the job so hard? Ask a teacher and the response will frequently be: the parents.

A recent survey from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) lays the blame for declining behaviour in the classroom squarely with the parents. More than half of its members (53 per cent) said that behaviour had got worse over the past 10 years, with 73.7 per cent saying this was due to a lack of boundaries at home. The increasing breakdown of family life was cited as a key cause of this failure to set rules at home.

Many teachers back up this point of view. The ATL says its members have been verbally and physically abused by children, and a friend who is a primary school teacher wearily told me about a mother who arrived at school with her child in pyjamas, clutching his uniform and saying: ‘You see if you can get him to wear it, because I can’t.’ The child was six years old.

A recent survey of Kent schools found that significant numbers of children were starting school still wearing nappies because their parents hadn’t bothered to toilet train them. According to teachers, this type of poor parenting is rife – one teacher resorted to keeping a box of cereal and milk in her classroom because so many of her pupils arrived without having been fed breakfast, others tell of young children arriving at school exhausted after sitting up all night watching TV.

Karen Harper, who, after years of working in a school nursery, is about to qualify as a teacher, agrees that poor parenting makes her job more difficult. ‘Parents are finding it increasingly hard to be consistent with their rules and discipline,’ she says. ‘But if children don’t know what the expectations are, how can they be expected to follow them? Furthermore, if the boundaries and expectations change (depending on parental mood, different situations or other undefined reasons), the child is left confused and uncertain of what they are expected to do.’

Jane Ronan, a London primary school teacher with eight years’ experience agrees. ‘I feel [the decline in behavour is due] to parents failing to say “no” to their children,’ she says. But she stops short of blaming family breakdown for behaviour problems. ‘Having taught a class with three children experiencing family breakdown during their first year at school I can honestly say I saw no change in the behaviour of the three very different children’.

I know from my brief experience that teaching is undeniably a tough job, but is this simply a case of teachers passing the buck for failing to keep order in the classroom? Sometimes it seems as if the ‘rights’ of disruptive children trump any attempt to get them to behave at school, to the detriment of the whole class. Perhaps it is not just better parenting that is required but stricter schools.

Jessica Phipps worked as a primary school teacher in the UK for 10 years. Two years ago she moved to Spain and now works at a French-speaking international school in Barcelona. She has noticed a marked difference between the behaviour of children here and their European counterparts, and puts this down to the stricter approach to child-rearing in general.

‘I think culture and lifestyle play a big part, as I don’t see a lot of behaviour problems teaching in Spain,’ she says. ‘There is not all the “politically correct” rubbish here, as parents are confident and not worried about how they choose to discipline their children at home – even if that means a smack on the bottom. If children are disciplined and have rules at home, then this will result in correct behaviour at school and therefore allow teachers to teach and not spend all day dealing with behavioural problems.’

But it’s not just at home that rules are made to be obeyed. ‘I do see a big difference in the schooling here in Spain,’ says Phipps. ‘The rules are very strict [and if a] child misbehaves at school they are sent out of the classroom. There is no talk about not being able to exclude the child as there is the UK.’

While not condoning a return to smacking, a strict set of rules both at home and at school seems to be the key. As Harper says: ‘Parents, teachers and society have a duty of care to work together in showing and teaching children how to behave.’ It’s time to stop blaming the parents or the teachers. Instead, society as a whole has to get tougher on bad behaviour to make children in the UK start following the rules again.

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Are parents to blame for bad behaviour in the classroom? was posted on 24th May, 2013 by Ursula Hirschkorn under Education, Featured

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Ursula Hirschkorn

About the author: Ursula Hirschkorn

While I have rather more years of experience of writing for magazines and newspapers than I might like to admit, I suspect that my most recent challenge of attempting to bring up four little boys qualifies me far more than any journalistic achievements to pontificate on child rearing. That said my years of contributing to titles as diverse as The Daily Mail, Parentdish, The Independent, NHS Choices, Conde Nast Bride, Woman, Ready for Ten and Made for Mums, has at least gifted me the ability to string a sentence or two together. I have also graced the GMTV sofa and held forth during many a radio debate on LBC and BBC Five Live, proving I can talk as well as write.
  • http://twitter.com/whatschool Miranda Perry

    I enjoyed this article, thank you. Quite a lot of cited ‘bad behaviour’ in schools in mythical and anecdotal. People often compare behaviour now to when they were at school, when of course corporal punishment was used as a deterrent. Teaching has changed,and pupils are expected to be emotionally and intellectually involved in order to understand what they are learning. In the past, they might have been expected listen in silence and learn by rote. This change in teaching style is bound to bring about different behaviours. When I was at school, bad behaviour took place under the radar. Bullying was almost a rite of passage. This is definitely not the case in the majority of schools these days. The not for profilt website http://www.how-to-choose-a-school.org/summary/behaviour-and-discipline.html gives you an idea of what behaviour parents should expect in good secondary schools.


    this vein of thinking and belief does very little to help families who have struggled through years and pre-school with a child who may have special needs, learning, speech and physical delays,…yet are still kept on track by their DOB into an education system that wants round pegs for round pegs but our children are not able to comply or fit… the years of battle a family faces to have anybody actually listen and respect that a parent is begging for help and seldom gets it until the damage is done and there is a child and a family at breaking point….what say this great percentage of teachers and professionals about this lovely ‘inclusive education’ and the aims of GIRFEC…these opinions are seriously flawed and detrimental to us all…please re-think what you are actually lumping every child into here….why is it always the behaviour?…not the cause that is important…why not the child and why they are so distressed and unable to manage in our school system as it pitifully is? I believe this generalised blaming of parents is an outrage and very very narrowminded thinking…whilst parents battling to be heard and gain any help for their children is continually ignored, not acted on and blamed on bad parenting. And I wanted to believe our education system just needed time to develop but here we are reading this tripe, sending everything backwards again…sad, sad, sad…our lost souls and childhoods and nobody cares. Thank you for your attention to these issues and thank you for clarifying what every parents is made to feel like when faced with these challenges and their child labelled as a ‘bad’ child by professionals with ‘bad’ attitudes…and obviously perfect round fitting children!!

  • Jane Evans

    It saddens me when I read about a need for stricter rules and even smacking is mentioned as a possibly effective alternative. Neuroscience and research on attachment highlights the benefits of being closely connected on an emotional level with children to build their emotional intelligence and to guide and teach them about life. Strict rules and punishments can sometimes ensure conformity but a the risk of alienating a child so this is a high price to pay.
    Messages about desirable behaviour can be delivered just as well using kindness and children understand and respond to routine and structure as they have an innate desire to please us. We need more of the right support for parents/carers not to be punishing children for behaviour they can not help.