Mandatory discipline codes suggested as antidote to classroom disorder


AN EXPLICIT, written code of discipline should be compulsory for every school in the country, according to a policy document on school discipline launched at the congress of the Teachers' Union of Ireland in Cork this week.

The document recommends that principals work with teachers to produce a code specific to the needs of each school and that this should be made mandatory by the Department of Education.

"It's certainly not the case that our schools are lawless and undisciplined, but there are certain problems on the increase in society and everything that happens in the family and society is visited on the school," said Ms Rose Malone, TUI education officer. "The day is gone when a teacher could just march into a classroom and assume perfect attention without any effort.

Ms Malone said that, where schools did not move forward with their disciplinary procedures, there was a danger that individual teachers could be blamed for discipline problems.

Bad behaviour by pupils reported to the TUI includes possessing weapons and drugs; making false allegations against teachers; destroying or stealing teachers property; pilfering school equipment; spitting; extorting from other pupils, and name calling of students and teachers.

According to the Health and Safety Authority, a total of 166 pupils at primary and second level were treated for assaults or other violence in 1994. Almost 500,000 students were surveyed.

In 1994, there were no reported incidents of violence or assault against a second level teacher and only five out of 20,000 primary teachers missed more than three days work because of violence or assault.

Lesser infringements, such as making unnecessary noise cheekiness and horseplay are more frequent and contribute to increased stress levels among teachers, the document says.

In her address to the TUI gathering yesterday, the Minister for Education, Ms Breathnach, recognised the increasing concern about growing indiscipline by a small number of pupils in the classroom which can have serious consequences for the work of students and teachers - alike."

She said her Department had just received an interim report on research commissioned into the range and extent of discipline problems in Irish schools and the models of best practiced in maintaining good discipline. This would be used to support teaching and learning in schools.

Family abuse or violence, unemployment and bad housing are all identified by the TUI document as factors which affect pupils attitudes and motivation. It recommends further investigation into the effects of violent video material and notes the high levels of alcohol use and abuse among Irish adolescents.

The document recommends smaller classes, the availability of, expert advice and support for schools dealing with disturbed pupils and the signing by pupils of an agreed code of discipline as possible ways of tackling discipline issues.

It also urges increased partnership between parents and teachers, the inclusion of motivation building in the curriculum and designing school buildings to minimise noise and create a clean, warm environment.