The culture of low expectation in schools; are teachers too tolerant of bad behaviour?

The standard of behaviour by young people is so bad such that what is acceptable as the norm is well below the level that will create an environment conducive to learning. Some may want to argue that: how come the examinations results are getting better and more people are achieving A and double A* – or whatever you want to call it. Later in this blog, I will provide reasons why I believe the examination grades are getting better, despite bad behaviour in the classroom.

What I term “lowlevel yobbishness” is widely tolerated in schools and sadly, is seen as the norm in far too many instances. This is a topic that I will explore further in the next few weeks. In this particular article, I will be looking at something that is less serious than low-level bad behaviour but is probably just as damaging to learning and improvement of standards in schools.

When I left university, before I started my teacher training, I had to go and observe classrooms at a secondary school for one week as a requirement for my PGCE course (teacher training). I was really excited when I was offered a place at a local comprehensive school.

A good start to the day at a comprehensive school

When I arrived at the school in the morning, I was not at all disappointed. I could relate back to my own schooldays as there was an assembly and they were celebrating success and all that. A slight bit surprised as the assembly was not a religious assembly, in contrast to the Anglican school I attended as a child, where we had religious assembly two or three times a day. It was really good to see young boys and girls in their school uniforms and most were quite well behaved. There was a smile on their faces as announcements were being made as they celebrated some sort of achievement in a local competition and the prize winners coming to the front of the school to be commended by the head teacher. What I did not realise was that not all the students in the school were present in the assembly. When the assembly finished everyone had to go to the classroom.


My optimism did not last until lunchtime

On my way to the classroom, for which I was accompanied by a senior teacher, it puzzled me how many doors there were and the large bunch of keys that he had with him as he unlocked and locked each section of the divides in the school corridors. Considering that he was a highly experienced teacher and had taught in that school for a long time, I was a little worried about how nervous he looked as he went through his bunch and took out a key each time to open one of the countless doors that were used to segregate different areas of the school. When I got to the classroom, there were not many students and you could tell that the atmosphere was not that happy or orderly.


Poor behaviour goes unchallenged in the classroom

Some students were on the back bench, with their heads on the table, despite it being nine o’clock in the morning. Some did not bother to take out their books from their bag and some did not have any books. There were about half of these students who were quite well prepared, alert and ready to learn. The teacher did not question the latecomers and ignored the two girls who had chosen to chat throughout the lesson. There were some boys, whom I believe, the teacher thought it better not to challenge. Despite having no interest whatsoever in the lesson, they occasionally walked round to disrupt other students. The only positive event in that lesson was that there was not violence and a handful of the students did learn something but it was less than half of all the students. Considering that particular class was supposed to be the top set, God helps what the bottom set was like! Yes, I did observe the lower set in that school and quite frankly, it was a little like a young offender’s institute and expectations were so low it was so astounding.


Low expectation and bad language is the order of the day

After starting my teacher straining, which was in Yorkshire, I realise that I was so naïve in thinking that London was the worst place and that things were better in the little towns and villages. In fact on the whole it was worse, considering that my first observation was in one of the worst schools in the London Borough of Islington. It shocked me when I was at a school in the rural part of South Yorkshire and a father was complaining about his son being given homework to do. He was of the belief that home is for playing and that no academic work should be done at home. At another school in Barnsley, when a Year 7 student used the ‘f’ word, the only sanction was for him to be taken into a little room and calmed down and be allowed to go back into the class without any further sanction. Expectations were very low and for some families, speaking to your parents about university constituted selling out as that sort of ambition was for a different tribe!

In my next blog, I will be attempting to see if there is a link between academic achievement and standard of behaviour. I will be sharing with you my experience as I started my teaching at a comprehensive school, from where I moved up to a grammar school and then to an independent school. I’ll be looking if the standard of behaviour in one school is better than the others.

Our next blog is on Friday and the title is: “Improving students’ behaviour improve exam results

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