When the public sector began to categorise people by gender and ethnicity it was, no doubt, with the intention of exposing discrimination against women and ethnic minorities. However, when it comes to our schools, the ‘tick boxes’ have uncovered a very different picture. A report in the Daily Mail provides the background:
- “Under a 'nappy curriculum' introduced by Labour four years ago, teachers observe children in their care and judge how well they are doing against 13 scales.
- “Youngsters attending primary school reception classes, nurseries and childminders are assessed against the scales at the age of five.
- “They are judged to have reached a 'good level' of development if they can show they are attentive in class, know the importance of school rules, take turns in conversation, guess at the meaning of simple sentences, write a letter to Father Christmas, blend sounds together to say simple words and respect others.”
The most dramatic finding was a huge gender gap:
- “Just 55 per cent of boys reached the standard compared with 73 per cent of girls, giving a national average of 64 per cent.”
In particular, it is boys from white, working class families that are falling behind:
- “Just 36 per cent of white boys eligible for free school meals because of low household income achieved the target level.
- “Among Indian boys from similar backgrounds, the figure rose to 50 per cent. For Pakistani boys it was 37 per cent, for Bangladeshi 42 per cent, for black Caribbean 44 per cent and black African 48 per cent.”
Ofsted is clearly concerned, especially over the home environment in which many children are raised:
- “Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, warned that thousands of children – particularly boys – were being raised in families that failed to set proper boundaries.
- “‘We still have failure which largely resides in the poorest communities,’ he said.
- “‘Schools in these areas have to counter generations of failure and a culture which is often anti-school and anti-learning. We must show how that is tackled.’”
But who, ultimately, is to blame for a culture that is “anti-school and anti-learning”? Bad behaviour may be tolerated in some homes, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be tolerated in the classroom.
Unfortunately, all too often, the educational establishment has failed to tackle the issue head-on. In fact, it can’t even discuss the matter without resort to obfuscation. Thus instead of talking about bad behaviour, pedagogical officialdom prefers to use an absurd euphemism: ‘challenging behaviour’. A good example is an item of official guidance entitled Managing Challenging Behaviour, which was published in 2005 – by Ofsted, as it happens.
As a piece of jargon, ‘challenging behaviour’ has its origins in the care of people with severe learning difficulties or those suffering psychotic illnesses. In this context, it can be seen as a careful and sensitive choice of words. But its application to routine misbehaviour in the classroom speaks volumes of a socially liberal, official ideology in which the individual is never responsible for his or her actions.
Children aren’t to blame if they’ve been raised without boundaries, but to refuse to tell them that their disruptive behaviour is bad is to compound the harm done to them in the first place.