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Rights Based Legislation for Teachers


[I just want to move to the top the challenge to Irish blawggers to open a debate on rights based legislation in ireland, I mention it below so read on]

Last night on Questions and Answers, the TUI raised the issue of their recent survey of pupil behaviour among secondary teachers.
[from De Paper]
Half of the 1,200 teachers who took part had seen unacceptable bullying or cruelty to students by their peers in the past week alone, and one-in-five had seen it in the shape of unacceptable physical violence.

Teachers themselves are under constant threat of being victimised, with the survey finding that about one-third had very recent experience of their property being damaged or being verbally abused by students.

It shows one-in-five teachers are at the receiving end of threatening or intimidating behaviour on a weekly basis and 8% said unacceptable sexual innuendo or harassment had been directed at them by students in the past week.
On the show representatives of the TUI called for "rights based legislation" for techers, which would guarantee the safety and authority of the teachers to some extent. While the government has a record of being reluctant to put up rights based legislation, on issues which might be of far greater importance, there is always merit in tackling an issue like this case by case.

Ive got no experience in the legal framework of rights based legislation, though I would like to see some of our legal commentators throw a few cents into the jar on the need for rights based legislation in Ireland (in general and also for the disabled, teachers and minorities e.g.)

However, I wonder about the current state in which teachers find themselves in. The Irish Times and Examiner carry the news that the forthcoming task force report on education looks likely to stop short of radical legislation to curb behavioural issues.

The TUI are demanding minimal considerations from the state it seems, last night on Q and A (above), the TUI representative wanted to have teachers affirmed in their work, mandated the power to act fairly and proportionately and codes of behaviour. Im guessing this stems from the fact that nearly 80% of students can get a suspension overturned and with each success the teacher sees their standing diminished further. Rights based legislation in this case is needed (according to the TUI) to redress the balance in favour of the institution against the onslaught on the misbehaving hoardes.

It seems fair enough, we might agree that teachers get afforded rights based legislations (leading to cementing of status, recognition of roles and entitlements etc), they are facing serious problems in controlling classes. Perhaps, but for the government and governments in general, rights based legislation is suspiciously viewed as a slippery slope.

It was only last year that the government decided that there was no possibility of rights based legislation for the disabled which would enshrine in law the entitlements of the disabled and the responsibilities of the state toward the disabled community. OF course the TUI are not only calling for the rights based legislation, they want to see some new disciplinary measures brought in with the task force report.

A "sin-bin" or school within school (depending on your stance) is top of their list, basically getting the trouble makers out of class and cooling them down while preparing them for reintegration. Many would find such a notion worrying ("school ghettos") and agree with the task forces failure to recommend the idea to Hannifan. So what is to be done?

The unfortunate thing about this is that the teachers are caught up in the middle of a wider phenomenon, one that Blair, Fine Gael and the Mail like to call anti-social behaviour. The debate about school behaviour slots into this wider template of youth out of control in our society and what to do about it. The response to school discipline has to be an integrated and educated response to the needs of our youth.

While perhaps the Magill editor and his cohorts might prefer to see increased parental responsibility and discipline, even hinting last night at a regret at the loss of old school discipline, I dont think any solution can be seen in such a myopic fashion. Parental discipline is no longer the byword for a good slap and lockdown in your room. From a younger and younger age, parental control is going out the window.

Of course we flirted for a while with the notion of ASBOs to keep kids off the streets and out of our hair, a band aid tactic intended to take the heat out of the then looming crisis in "respect" another of Blairs buzzwords.

Tony Gregory was talking the night before on the Week in Politics (here), he made the case for community based programmes in the estates that were thrown up without a thought to facilities or youth in the last 30 years. The creation of programmes which help to channel some of the energy and frustration is not only desirable but essential in the broader response to school discipline and social discord.

Im pretty sure that at this stage Ive digressed all over the shop. A single blog post is not the place to begin to solve some of the largest issues to face Irish society. Youth from certain socio-economic backgrounds, certain sectors of our community and certain areas of the country are being cast adrift. Dealing with discipline in schools can take the usual route of bolting stable doors, legislating away the problem from the front pages of the Irish Media or it can get to grips with the issues on the ground, the expanding sense of social nihilism (hattip: Copernicus) and the ongoing erection of the barriers between us and them.

All children have the right to be educated, education has to be the best and surest route up the ladder. This requires a motivated and protected group of teachers, given the right tools for the job and the necessary support to help kids out, but it also requires that kids end up in school without a massive nihilistic chip on their shoulder. Its hard to get rid of the feeling of being cast adrift in your own country once it decends upon you.

There are many different strands that feed into what is manifesting itself as the next Daily Mail crisis. Any serious response must recognise not just a role for the parents but a role for the state, media and broader popular opinion in recognising the need for enabling attitudes and projects to get our support. Parents have a role, as it is with all these situations, but the bigger picture needs to be taken account of also.

Returning, finally, to the initial issue of rights based legislation for teachers, the argument for their protection and valuation is great. Teachers ought be affirmed in their work since it is of paramount importance to the development of an inclusive and progressive society. Rights based legislation has the potential to be a great enabler on the way to such a society, but it cannot afford to be overused, or misused.

I wonder does the recourse to rights based legislation for teachers set the bar too low for the enactment of the legislation to protect groups within society? If there is no other way then im sure I wouldnt have a problem supporting it. However I must say that issues of school discipline need to be seen in a wider context. Youth are all we have and irish youth in an era of unrivalled prosperity ought be able to expect opportunities and facilities among the best in the world.

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  1. Blogger Editor | 4:27 p.m. |  

    I'll happily give a mull to the question of rights based legislation.

    You're going to get it in a month's time, I warn you.

    It will have to queue up behind work, reading the Lourdes report and making dinner.

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