Following widespread riots in major UK cities last week, Education Secretary Michael Gove came forward to suggest that one reason for the current culture of misbehaviour and rebellion might be a lack of discipline in schools. Head teachers across the country also made the same link, with the representative of the official School and College Leaders group claiming that school discipline is at an all-time low due to a lack of proper parenting. So should school discipline be tougher, and if so, just how far should it go?

Health and Safety ‘Gone Mad’

Gove suggested that one of the problems with school discipline was that measures to protect children had been taken to such lengths that teachers were effectively left with no sanctions to impose on trouble makers. From laws passed to prevent teachers touching students (even to separate them during fights), to recent rulings that 24 hours’ notice must be given before a detention could be imposed, 21st century red tape has increasingly been tying teachers hands. Gove claims he will now move to reverse some of those measures (the detention rule, for example, will be scrapped), giving power back to teachers and taking away the right of appeals committees to reinstate a child at a school from which he or she has been excluded.

Knife Crime

With the recent wave of knife crime booming amongst UK youngsters, it has been suggested that teachers should be given stronger powers to search children for banned items, with some campaigners even calling for metal detectors to be installed at the doors of inner city schools. There has always been an argument that the more forbidden and ‘contraband’ an item is made, the more of a status symbol it becomes, but with teachers feeling disempowered and vulnerable, powers to search and confiscate such items have never been more desperately needed.

Parental Responsibility

As head teacher Brian Lightman pointed out last week, a great number of disciplinary problems at school stem from poor parenting, with children arriving in the classroom never having been told the difference between right and wrong. He pointed to a growing reluctance on the part of parents to use the word ‘no’, in a consumer culture where young people are encouraged to believe that they deserve to have whatever they want. It might be argued that increasing the severity of school discipline will not have the desired impact until parents start to take responsibility for the moral education of their own children.

Social and Cultural Influences

In the modern world, teenagers and young pupils are exposed to a greater degree of violence, gang culture and ‘gangsta’ behaviour than ever before, through film, television and increasingly violent video games. With social networking sites used to boast and spread stories of conquests and misbehaviour and cyber bullying on the rise, teachers may feel they are fighting a losing battle against a wave of technology.

Responsible internet control and parental supervision of time spent online has never been more important if we are to begin to tackle the negative impact such influences are clearly exerting on Britain’s youth. Whilst the recent suggestion of age certificates for music videos was a welcome step in the right direction, the excessively violent nature of popular children’s video games must also be re-examined if we are to move towards a culture of greater student discipline.