- By Clare SestanovichClare Sestanovich and Sylvie Stein are researchers at Foreign Policy.
If you think a day in the life of a British school kid is all about matching knee socks, "smart" ties, and a good dose of old-fashioned law and order (just think Professor McGonogall and those no-nonsense glasses) — think again. Last year alone, 2,230 students were "permanently excluded" from school (a punishment that sounds worthy of Azkaban) for physically assaulting their teachers or classmates. In light of these statistics — and increasing grumbling from the bruised and battered professors themselves — schools minister Nick Gibb has proposed a four point plan to make British classrooms the decorous and disciplined places they once were (at least in our imaginations).
The proposal includes measures that would permit more knuckle-rapping and ruler-wielding in schools: the new standards would "encourag[e] teachers to make greater use of physical force to ‘maintain good order.’" As British law currently stands, there’s nothing stopping fed-up teachers from (forcefully) putting know-it-alls back in line, "provided pupils are not injured." But, according to Gibb, teachers have grown wary of exercising their well-enshrined right to move beyond time-outs, fearful of lawsuits or even, as the harrowing saga of Peter Harvey persistently reminds them, the possibility of a life behind bars. (Harvey, on trial for lobbing a dumbbell at a student’s head while shouting "die, die, die," was ultimately acquitted — but not before prompting tirades from fellow teachers about the injustices of not being able to smack those ungrateful little brats.)
Gibb contends that the newly proposed standards — which would also provide greater leeway to search students and grant accused teachers anonymity when under investigation — will help to erode this atmosphere of fear by "removing red tape so that teachers can ensure discipline in the classroom and promote good behaviour." By his account, it’s all just one big misunderstanding: students simply became too "aware of their rights." Once that confusion gets cleared up, it’s only a matter of time before Snape-for-Principal posters start popping up….