NZ parents want tougher stance on class discipline

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 20/05/2012

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Increasing numbers of fed-up parents want schools to get tough on discipline.

A recent international study ranked New Zealand students among the worst-behaved in the world, and Secondary Principals' Association president Patrick Walsh said there was a sea change in how discipline was perceived in schools.

"The public and parents are becoming less tolerant with the restorative justice approach, and want schools to get tough on serious offenders."

While a restorative justice approach had been widely adopted, research showed children's behaviour had grown worse in the past decade, with sexual and physical assaults increasing.

Almost three-quarters – 71 per cent – of respondents in a Sunday Star-Times reader poll, said discipline was lacking in our schools, and blamed the rise in bad behaviour on the loss of discipline at home and a lack of respect among young people.

Walsh said many of the worst-behaved students came to school with violence or sexual deviance learned at home, and it was a difficult balancing act between rehabilitating students and ensuring the safety of others.

Edgewater College guidance counsellor Mike Williams said he understood why parents wanted tougher punishments, but hardline approaches did not work. "If you're son or daughter is bullied, of course you're going to want the bully kicked out."

But that only pushed the problem on to another school. "The restorative justice approach is more effective at managing conflict than a punitive one."

A book he co-authored, Safe and Peaceful Schools: Addressing Conflict and Eliminating Violence, was published in December. It points to undercover anti-bullying teams, mediation, restorative conferencing, and anger management groups as solutions to classroom conflict.

An OECD report, which looked at how long it took teachers to control unruly children, was published last year. It ranked New Zealand 50th out of 65 countries for disruptive pupils. Many Asian countries ranked near the top, the United States was 22nd and the United Kingdom 32nd.

A teacher who has taught in Asia and New Zealand said there were always disruptive students, but there was a different cultural approach to education here, with teachers in Asia gaining immediate respect by virtue of their position where here they had to "prove themselves".

The respect a teacher gained depended on a number of factors, but the fact they had to do it at all was disruptive, he said.

Post-Primary Teachers' Association president Robin Duff said student behaviour had deteriorated over the past 30 years, but it followed the pattern of wider society.

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The association recently issued members with an instruction to report assaults on teachers to police. Statistics NZ figures show there were 567 assaults in schools last year. The number causing injury rose from 50 to 81 between 2001 and 2011, and sexual assaults more than trebled, from 33 to 116.

PUBLIC REACTION

Adequate discipline has been taken away from schools.

Students know it and run riot.

I am a year 13 student. I have seen the disrespect towards teachers. I have heard them sworn at and abused. I often feel my learning is hindered by those students who command a teacher's attention because of their misbehaviour.

As teachers, you have very little at your disposal for disciplinary measures and that is reflected in reduced learning.

Bring back corporal punishment and stop giving so much power to adolescents. Teachers are powerless because they don't have the support of parents.

Discipline needs to be fair, not the rigid way it was in the past.

I was a teacher, but gave up because of the ill-discipline. The lack of respect is unbelievable. We have become far too PC and as a result children lack respect for authority in general

- Sunday Star Times

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