Progressive-Left Teaching Methods Behind Surging Discipline Problems in UK Schools — Govt Expert

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‘Child-centred’ teaching methods championed by the progressive-left have been “maximising misbehaviour”in UK schools, the Department for Education’s (DfE) behaviour tsar has warned.

Tom Bennett, who has been appointed by the government to lead a taskforce into behaviour problems at British schools, said traditional methods of education such as having a teacher stand in front of the class to impart information have been phased out, while bad behaviour in the classroom has gone unchallenged.

Progressive-left pedagogy has seen tried and tested teaching methods — derided by figures such as former PM Tony Blair’s education advisor Sir Michael Barber as “chalk and talk” — gradually replaced by ‘child-centred’ learning approaches which encourage children to learn from doing ‘group work’ and other activities with their peers, with the idea that knowledge is mainly acquired through exploration and osmosis.

“There was a massive assumption that children would behave if you simply planned lessons correctly, if you allowed them to do lots of independent work, project work, group work and so on, and that these teaching methods would create great behaviour,” he told The Telegraph this weekend.

“I think that the failure of these methods to automatically create great behaviour has resulted in a lot of people in the education system pretending behaviour wasn’t an issue.

“Progressivism rests on the idea that children want to behave and they want to learn, the teacher needs to step back and allow the child to explore their natural curiosity, which will motivate them and keep them engaged,” he added.

While such methods can work for children from middle-class families, who have “been taken to museums, [and] taught how to shake someone’s hand and say hello”, liberal-left teaching methods tend to let down children from poorer and troubled backgrounds, to whom applying “progressive” pedagogical techniques is a “very good way to maximising misbehaviour”, Bennett said.

Many children instead require “support, they need really clear boundaries”, the behaviour tsar argued, adding: “If you are used to shouting out to be heard, no one has ever taught you how to wait your turn or share, you’re not going to change suddenly in a classroom. You wouldn’t think that is wrong, you would think that is normal.”

He said that these children need “support, they need really clear boundaries, and they need to be taught good behaviour too”.

Some commentators have been sounding the alarm over the consequences of so-called progressive education models for decades, including conservative journalist Melanie Phillips, while teacher Matthew Hunter has linked the 2011 London riots to “chaos” he said was wrought by such policies.

Lamenting figures which showed that one pupil in five was leaving secondary schools functionally illiterate, Hunter traced the problem back to teacher training for UK educators, which he said fosters “a pedagogical outlook which renounces rigour, embeds underachievement, and dominates the state sector”.

With rising violence at UK schools, including towards teachers, alongside surging knife crime and youth homicide figures, discipline problems have become a growing issue for UK institutions in recent years.

Most policy-related discussion on the topic has been initiated by NGOs and politicians on the liberal-left, insisting “alienation” caused by tough disciplinary measures such as exclusion were the “root cause” of Britain’s youth violence epidemic — which civil society groups characterise as an issue of “health inequalities” rather than of criminal behaviour.

However, figures show only a tiny proportion of young knife crime offenders had been recently excluded from school, according to Ministry of Justice research which determined that the punishment was not a “significant driver of youth knife possession offending overall”.


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