I’ve been very fortunate to spend time with a variety of new teachers over the past few years. Whether they’re on PGCE placements, NQTs, RQTs or Teach First participants they are all, without exception, impressive, hardworking, compassionate, dedicated and brimming with enthusiasm about the difference they hope to make.

There is however one consistently ugly blot on this bright landscape. It’s not the workload – they’re up for that. They’re still young and supple enough to cope with the absurd demands placed on a teacher’s time. It’s not even pupils’ sometimes stunningly insolent, casually vindictive and plain bone idle behaviour – they went into teaching with their eyes open; they’d watched Educating Essex and Tough Young Teachers.

No, what most blights the careers of all these able young torch bearers is the blithe manner in which experienced teachers systematically undermine their efforts to instil discipline and maintain order. It’s bad enough that young teachers are still being sold the destructive lie that students will behave if lessons are planned appropriately; that if students do misbehave (and they most certainly do) it’s the teacher’s fault for not being fun enough.

But worse, schools’ behaviour systems seem designed to crush all prospect of teachers getting a chance to learn their craft. Consider this example of the lunatic way one school allows pupils to do exactly as they please:

  • 1st instance of disruptive behaviour: verbal warning (C1)
  • 2nd instance: name is written on board (C2)
  • 3rd instance: After school detention is issued (C3)
  • 4th instance: warning that further disruption will result in external isolation
  • 5th instance: student is removed form the lesson and spends the following day in chokey (C4).

Students are allowed commit the same atrocity FOUR TIMES before the teacher is allowed to remove them from lessons! But there’s more. If student gets a ‘C3’ their parents have to be contacted to allow them to be detained after school. If students get a ‘C4’ their parents do not have to be informed and often aren’t. Most students don’t like their parents knowing they’ve been badduns and so they actively seek out a C4 in preference to a C3!

If we accept pupils flicking each other in the ear four times before they’re removed, we’re telling them four flicks are acceptable. It’s only the fifth flick that merits serious sanction. What kind of message does that send?

Possibly this kind of system could be excused for being the product of unthinking blindness. Maybe leaders don’t realise the trouble this kind of system causes for teachers at the start of their careers. Maybe they’ve forgotten how hard it is to start out. Maybe. Except that many of the teachers I’ve spoken to have said they are presented with further obstacles.

One teacher told me a story about two boys engaging in a foul-mouthed, high volume exchange before pulling down their trousers and leaving the room. When she recorded this on the system the boys were duly collected by SLT and asked to account for their behaviour. “We weren’t swearing at her. We were just, like, swearing.” The school leader decided this was reasonable and told the teacher that he was reversing her decision and that the boys would be returning to her lesson! Can you imagine?

Other teachers have told me stories about there being too many students in isolation on a given day so some children’s demerits mysteriously disappear from the school system. Other ways in which teachers are undermined is by asking them not to record incidences of poor behaviour as it “creates too much paperwork” and “looks bad on the figures”. And of course there’s the classic undermining tactic of telling teachers they’ve issued too many consequences and will clearly need to be ‘supported’ until they fall into line. Perhaps the story I’ve been most shocked by is a teacher saying that because he appears to be the only member of staff to issue negative behaviour points to one particular class that the problem must be his not theirs. He has had the class removed and been given a new class who have been given carte blanche to do whatever the hell they like. I find this outrageous. That two experienced members of staff – a deputy head and a head of department – could collude to smash a young teacher’s reputation so publicly is morally reprehensible.

In every school I visit I have trailed this message along behind me: The primary responsibility for behaviour rests with the school, not the teacher. Of course teachers must bear some of the responsibility for the behaviour of pupils in their lessons. And of course having a well-planned lesson helps. But without watertight systems, classroom teachers are put in an untenable position.

In an effort to consider whether new (or indeed any) teachers are being systematically undermined, consider whether any of these apply to your school:

  • Pupils swear at teachers without being excluded
  • Supply teachers and NQTs (and lunch staff) are hazed and hounded by baying packs of feral children
  • Teachers send pupils out of classrooms for poor behaviour only to have a member of SLT bring them back in and undermine their authority in front of the class
  • Teachers are expected to set and administer all their own detentions and follow up every misdemeanour witnessed in the name of ‘improving relationships’ or to turn a blind eye and pretend it’s not happening.

If so, you work in a bad school. And if you lead in a school where these oh-so-ordinary atrocities routinely occur, shame on you.