A class act

The best way to tackle bad behaviour in the classroom according to award-winning English teacher Phil Beadle is to make lessons engaging in the first place so pupils don’t get bored.

“In terms of improving pupils’ behaviour, teachers should probably focus a bit more on kinaesthetic approaches to learning,” Beadle enthuses. “Kids can’t sit at a desk all day. If you give them something to do that involves movement, quite often that diffuses behavioural issues.”

Contrary to popular claims from teachers and the teaching unions, Beadle insists teachers are not limited by the national curriculum – although admits this may be more true in some subjects than others. “We are a whingeing profession,” he says. “Certainly I have never found myself restrained by the curriculum.”

It is his propensity for less traditional teaching methods that Beadle is probably best known for following his recent appearance in the Channel 4 series The Unteachables, from which memorable moments include him persuading a group of children with challenging behaviour to read Shakespeare aloud to cows.

But equally he accepts that such techniques must be combined with structures that ensure pupils know where the line is – with appropriate punishments for those who cross it. “If a kid spat at me and punched me, I wouldn’t expect to see them in my class the next day,” Beadle says.

Responding to the recommendation by Sir Alan Steer’s Practitioners’ Group for a new single piece of legislation making clear the overall right of schools and teachers to discipline pupils, Beadle says this will do nothing more than re-state something that is already the case. However, he accepts that it would be useful to raise children’s awareness about teachers’ legal right to exercise restraint in certain circumstances.

He whole-heartedly agrees with the group’s recommendation that the National Training and Development Agency review the standards for initial teacher training. According to Beadle, existing training does little to help prepare those entering the profession to deal with behavioural issues in the classroom.

“I have never met a newly-qualified teacher who felt sufficiently well trained in terms of behaviour management,” Beadle says. “When I trained, we had just one day on it in a year. That isn’t sufficient.”

As well as more on behaviour management, it would be useful to include in teacher training lessons on body language, he argues.

Beadle condemns any attempt to link behavioural problems in mainstream schools with the opening of their doors to more and more children with special educational needs. “To blame children with special needs for the whole school discipline issue strikes me as a form of disgraceful discrimination,” he says. “I have seen special needs kids integrated in the most marvellous way where they have benefited the whole community.”

He also rejects emphatically any suggestion that pupils today are worse behaved than they were in the past, saying this is a myth pedalled by the media during slow news weeks. “As I read somewhere recently, education is the new middle classes’ porn,” Beadle says. “Everybody has an opinion on it.”

He is clear that such negative portrayals of the young are less about the children themselves and more about the current political climate and its creation of an inward-looking society that craves security. “We are left feeling xenophobic and have decided to target that hatred towards our children,” he says. “We may become the first generation to institutionally hate the young.”

Phil Beadle is an English teacher at Crofton School in Lewisham, south London

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