Violence disrupts the class
by Kevin Donnelly The Courier-Mail, 18/11/2009

The education revolution is pointless, unless the issue of student misbehaviour is addressed with some vigour.

FORGET the Rudd-Gillard education revolution with computers, national testing, some billions of dollars spent on buildings and a national curriculum. The real issue confronting schools, which politicians are ignoring, involves rude, disengaged and violent students.

The result? New teachers are quitting in droves; older teachers are retiring early and stress-related claims are on the rise.

The Australian Education Union's annual survey of new teachers puts badly behaved students at the top of the list when it comes to complaints. The Australian Education Union's 2008 survey ranks student misbehaviour before concerns about pay and class sizes, and second to workload as the chief source of complaint.

Secondary school teachers rank it No. 1 at 71.4% and primary school teachers second at 66.1%. Even worse, the percentage of teachers complaining about rowdy students has increased each year since the first Australian-wide survey in 2005.

No wonder nearly 50% of new teachers say that teaching is not a long-term career and, given the chance, they would leave the profession.

In Queensland from 2006 to 2008 there was a 46% spike in suspensions for "refusal to participate" and a 40% spike in suspensions for "property misconduct". No wonder many thousands of parents are turning their backs on government schools every year, arguing that Catholic and many independent schools have stronger discipline policies and more effective classrooms.

What's to be done? The first thing governments should do is to give state school principals greater autonomy and flexibility over managing their schools and setting firm policies in areas such as discipline and student behaviour. Earlier this year, the Victorian Government had school principals protesting when it reduced the number of days a student could be suspended from 10 to five, and made principals get head-office approval before giving such a suspension.

Looking at the Rudd-Gillard education revolution, it is obvious that the spotlight is on making schools and teachers more accountable. At the same time, the education model adopted is highly centralised, top-down, and the reality is that government schools are being forced to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach.

It's wrong to hold state schools accountable by publicly ranking schools in areas like test results, staff morale and classroom behaviour while denying them the autonomy given to non-government schools.

Government school principals should have the same authority and control over their schools as non-government principals; including the power to set discipline policy, hire, fire and reward teachers and to set the culture of the school to best reflect the values and expectations of parents.

As important as schools having the power to establish a clear and consistent discipline policy is the need for parents to stop spoiling their children and to teach them civility and good manners.

Long-gone are the days when children were seen and not heard and when parents accepted it was their responsibility to teach children respect for authority and that learning generally requires concentration, hard work and application.

Even worse, many children have spent all of their early years being treated as little princes and princesses, with doting parents giving in to every wish and indulging every request or fancy.

Young children fed on entertainment, including computer games, the internet and DVDs, and who have never been made to sit quietly, read a book or complete a difficult and challenging task, arrive at school unprepared for learning.

Last week, Education Minister Julia Gillard convened a national conference in Canberra involving 150 school leaders from around Australia.

Although her focus was on selling the Government's education revolution, it quickly became apparent that principals had other, more immediate and pressing things on their collective mind. Foremost was classroom misbehaviour. The reality is that spending billions on school buildings and trying to attract quality graduates to teaching is useless if teachers cannot teach because of disruptive children who refuse to learn.