The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has produced a poll that indicates violence from pupils in primary schools is getting worse.
They are proposing that parents whose children misbehaved repeatedly should be offered parenting classes – and that if they refuse the classes, some of their child benefit should be taken away.
It’s not often that I agree with a trades union, but in this case, I think the ATL are right to highlight the fact that the misbehaviour problems are not caused by the schools. Their origin lies in the children’s families.
One of the founders of “mumsnet” is quoted as saying:
“They [parents] feel really strongly that removing benefit doesn’t have any realistic chance of making things any better. We think, as parents, class sizes are a problem.”
Meanwhile, another study by Manchester University for the government has found that the SEAL programme has had little impact on pupil behaviour. SEAL is the government’s “Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning” programme, designed to improve behaviour and attendance at primary schools. According to the BBC:
“Seal uses small group work to boost pupils’ personal development, social skills and develop their relationships with others by improving their self-awareness and motivation.”
The report concluded:
“There was no evidence to suggested that small group work had any substantive impact at the school level”
Not much evidence of mumsnet being right about class sizes causing this then, or of the SEAL programme being useful.
Meanwhile, the government have also been spending huge amounts of money on Sure Start centres to try and address some of these problems. A committee of MPs has just complained that the government is planning cutbacks in funding for Sure Start.
However, Dawn Primarolo, Children’s Minister, is quoted as saying:
“Now there are over 3,500 across England, giving all families with young children access to family support, childcare, health services and employment advice, and the emerging evidence is clear that it is working. Despite tougher finances, Labour has pledged that Sure Start funding will rise in line with inflation up to 2013.”
Family support, childcare, health services and employment advice. Are those what is really needed by the families causing these problems?
I can’t help feeling that all this well-meaning middle class stuff – of which the quotes above from mumsnet and Ms Primarolo are fine examples – is missing the point. The comfortable middle classes, bringing up their children generally properly, probably are concerned about issues like class sizes and childcare provision. But the comfortable middle classes aren’t the problem.
The families whose primary-age children typically assault teachers need much more than this. These are broken families. The prevalence of divorce, of parents having kids without getting married and then splitting up, and of young women having kids whose fathers are never present in their lives won’t be addressed by these measures.
Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the ATL, said that she had found, from her time as a teacher, that she had never got to meet the parents she had wanted to meet the most.
“They were simply absent from their children’s lives.”
The government think it’s all about getting money to the poor. They seem to believe that measures like tax credits, child benefit and help with childcare costs can mend broken families. They can’t. The problem is not a financial one. It is a social and cultural problem.
The biggest culture problem of all is in the government, that thinks “the poor” are just like them, except with less money. They seem to find it hard to conceive of broken homes where satellite TV comes before feeding or educating the kids.
Politicians should beware of thinking they can solve social problems. However, this government have made turning a blind eye to this into an art form.
Perish the thought that they should be seen to criticise bad behaviour by parents. Perish the thought that they should say publically that if people want kids they should get married and stay married. After all, all lifestyles are equally “valid” in the Labour lexicon.
Until we as a society, all of us, reject this Socialist nonsense and start rebuilding our broken society, none of these problems will improve. David Cameron understands this. He has made “mending our broken society” a centre-piece of the Tory election strategy. He has promised tax breaks for married people – and therefore State discouragement for cohabitation and single parenthood.
And we shouldn’t underestimate the power of simple leadership. If government ministers are continually telling everyone that it’s OK to have any lifestyle you want, then social fabric is undermined. If they keep on publically urging people to act responsibly, it really can change the cultural atmosphere and eventually change people’s behaviour. And that is true not only of government ministers, but also church leaders (who have been conspicuously and disgracefully quiet on this), journalists, celebrities and others who have influence. When David and Victoria Beckham kept their marriage together despite astonishing media pressure to split up, they were performing a public service as well as doing what was right for themselves.
Under Labour, the State finances have been trashed. But perhaps even more seriously, social problems have been allowed to fester unattended, simply because of political correctness and Socialist dogma. And that is an even more compelling reason to turf them out on May 6th.