30 September 2014

Bravo to the chief inspector for speaking out, but schools need more than discipline*

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools, has yet again put his finger on the pulse of the nation, daring to say things that most know are true but few are brave enough to say.

This week he will publish an Ofsted report claiming that low-level disruption in British schools is damaging the quality of learning and the atmosphere of school life.

Teachers are too often intimidated and are unable to teach properly.  Students who want to learn are thwarted from doing so, and an atmosphere of disorder permeates the classrooms and corridors in schools, across the country.  Wilshaw will criticise head teachers for not applying strict enough punishments to inculcate proper discipline.

Nothing in life can be achieved without discipline, obedience to authority and hard work.    Few institutions are more disciplined than the Royal Ballet or the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Companies with lax regulations do not flourish.

Discipline has to be learnt at home and carried out at school.  And if there is none in the classroom, then learning won't take place. 

Unless students are utterly clear where the boundaries lie, the more timid members of the class will not contribute for fear of ridicule or harassment.  The inescapable irony is that liberal and liberating learning only occurs when there is structure and order.

However, in one respect, the chief inspector does fall short.  IN laying so much stress on discipline and compliance, he is ignoring the more important ingredient of a well-ordered school, which is self-control and intrinsic good behaviour.  

The problem with a school in which there is good behaviour merely for fear of punishment is that the students learn little about life and the difference between right and wrong.  They do not learn about the human qualities that make up a good society, and they leave school with little awareness of personal responsibilities.

Good schools need to couple firm discipline with a very strong emphasis on values and the development of good character.  All students need to be taught the difference between good and bad, the importance of punctuality, respect for peers and adults, and the importance of kindness and consideration.

(Surely much of this can, and should, be taught at home?)

* Excerpt from article by Anthony Seldon (Master of Wellington College) from the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/11112278/Teach-children-a-lesson-in-good-character.html

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