Shock troops

'Behavioural consultants' tell teachers how to recognise signs of boredom in their students.

Ray Crowley

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Topics Politics

They are sending in the police, the army and the special experts. No, I’m not talking about Iraq.

‘Behavioural consultants’ will be visiting secondary schools in England as part of a government initiative to combat disruptive behaviour in the classroom. Teachers will be instructed in the controlling of ‘antisocial students’, while simultaneously teaching the rest of the class. (Staff meetings may soon take the form of learning to write on the board with the left hand, while strangling a lippy kid with the right.)

Teachers will also have the opportunity to learn the early warning signs of pupils becoming bored in their lessons – boredom that could lead to them becoming disruptive. (Revision aids with phrases such as ‘Sir, this is soooo boring’ and photos of sleeping pupils could be in the pipeline.)

This is not the first initiative for dealing with bad boys and girls to be announced by UK education secretary Charles Clarke. The Independent reports that extra police patrols outside schools and one-to-one tutorials from army officers are on the agenda for young scallywags who bunk off PE (1).

In my day (which wasn’t so long ago) if you were bad at school it was called misbehaving – there was nothing as glamorous as ‘antisocial behaviour’. If you stuck gum under the table, you had to scrape the gum off all the tables in the room with a ruler, and you didn’t get an army general screaming ‘down on the floor and give me 20!’ as motivation.

No wonder so many teachers are leaving the profession, if the government feels it needs to send in troops to assist with the most rudimentary parts of their job – controlling the kids and not boring them to death.

Of course, this is also a convenient way for the government to avoid putting more money into school facilities and equipment. Let’s just blame it on teachers not knowing how to do their jobs, and on kids who are supposedly getting more nasty. But in truth, even the best teacher in the world would be hard pushed to teach a computer lesson to a class of 30 with access to just three machines.

Controlling the bad kids is going to become even more difficult if the rest of the UK follows the lead of Scottish education authorities, which have banned detention (2). I can just imagine the school cafeteria erupting into applause as that one is announced over the tannoy system. Head teacher: ‘We can no longer give you after-school detention (sigh). Go on, have a food fight. What can I do about it, anyway?’

This ban came about after a pupil began legal action against her local council, claiming that repeated detentions were a violation of her human rights. It is a sad day when ‘human rights’ have come to mean the ‘I don’t like it’ squeal of a pissed-off schoolgirl. Teacher or pupil, it must be tricky to work out where you stand these days. On the one hand, disruption cannot be tolerated; on the other hand, naughty kids have ‘behavioural issues’ that need special attention – after all, punishment would be a violation of their human rights.

I don’t know why the government stopped short at sending the army into schools – why not send in weapons inspectors as well? Home secretary David Blunkett is proposing to introduce a law against under-18s owning air pistols, and a ban on carrying replica guns in public without a reasonable excuse (such as, ‘Sorry sir, the dog ate my real gun’) (3).

Since threatening someone with a replica gun (or possessing with intent to threaten) is already a criminal offence in the UK, carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years, I doubt that these new laws will have much effect – other than make Blunkett appear to be taking action in the face of the current ‘gun culture’ panic.

The raising of the minimum age for owning an airgun may at least save a few snails, which will please animal rights activists. That is, if they have time to read about it. The animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is currently very busy campaigning against cruelty to chickens, outside…Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) (4). Yes, they are going to stand outside fried chicken shops – the places where people go to eat battered bits of chickens – to convince people that kindness to chickens is important.

One of PETA’s demands is the introduction of automated chicken-catching, to ‘reduce the high incidence of bruising, broken bones and stress associated with catching the chickens by hand’. It’s funny, because the only place I ever saw a chicken that felt stressed out was in the animated children’s film Chicken Run. Newsflash: that was fictitious.

Of course, it is an admirable human quality to be able to show mercy for lesser species, and I’m sure KFC doesn’t set out to be deliberately mean to the birds – like calling them nasty names. But let’s get this in perspective. With its secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices, KFC tastes really good.

(1) Behavioural experts to be sent into schools, Sarah Cassidy, Independent, 7 January 2003

(2) Classrooms ban detention after pupil cites human rights, Paul Kelbie, Independent, 7 January 2003

(3) Blunkett to outlaw the carrying of replica guns in public, Jason Bennetto, Independent, 7 January 2003

(4) KFC is cruel to chickens, says animal rights group, Michael McCarthy, Independent, 7 January 2003

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Topics Politics

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