Newly Qualified Teachers: Teaching in Damilola's Shadow ; Pupil Behaviour Can Be Shocking to New Teachers. but They Shouldn't Despair, Says STEPHEN MCCORMACK. Teachers Can Have an Immense Influence for Good on Wayward Youth

Article excerpt

Blame the parents! No, don't just blame the parents - fine the parents. And, I suppose, if they don't pay, jail the parents. That'll sort out youth crime, no problem. Peckham'll soon become as safe and serene as Camberwick Green.

I caricature, of course, but I worry that policy is becoming a scatter- gun approach of knee-jerk reactions coupled with well- meaning and partially effective palliatives. The fundamentals are being overlooked, or rather avoided, because addressing them would take more political courage, more time, and of course more money. But address them we must if the current trend is not to continue.

The trend I am talking about is the constantly declining level of behaviour among teenagers and children. Since becoming a teacher, I have lost count of the number of times more experienced colleagues, with decades of service in state comprehensives, have remarked about how behaviour has worsened and indiscipline increased year on year, and how this is continuing.

The manifestations vary according to surroundings, of course. Teenage gangs of prematurely hardened criminals do not stalk every corner of our country, but in some places, perhaps, it's only a matter of time? In the area of semi-urban Surrey where I teach, we thankfully do not yet have any Damilola Taylor-like incidents. But there are cases of teenagers being attacked in feuds that spill over from school, truancy is on the rise, and graffiti have begun appearing in places where they would have been inconceivable a few years ago.

It certainly appears very difficult to deal with persistent truancy. One pupil I should have been teaching for two-and-a-half terms has been to just one of my lessons since September. This pupil's total appearances on the register this academic year can be counted on the fingers of two hands. The school and education authorities have known about the case since last autumn, and the student has been seen out with a parent many times during school hours, but the official and legal bureaucracies have not yet managed to engineer a situation where the student is forced to attend school regularly. A whole school year has been as good as lost, and the student in question was, last summer, already way behind his peer group.

So it is not surprising to learn that, in more difficult inner- city areas, large numbers of teenagers are spending little or no time at school, and when they are there, not getting any real learning done.

The uncomfortable fact that has to be accepted is that, in many of these cases, the parents are as inadequate and incapable of normal, civilised behaviour as their offspring. It should not, after all, come as the remotest surprise, if a moment is taken to think on a wider chronological canvas. Today's parents, in their mid to-late- twenties, were merely the problem teenagers of the late Eighties and Nineties. …