The scholastic year ended some weeks ago, with it, some disturbing reports received at Panorama regarding school discipline, perpetuated by acts of violence primarily at Bayside Boys Comprehensive School.
We put questions to the Department of Education and the RGP, and in an extraordinary develolpment, the Education department tried to play it down, while the police provided statistical evidence that confirms the concern over violence and other incidents, including drugs, at Bayside school.
The Department of Education & Training said that they can confirm that the Police have not been called to the Comprehensive Schools during the course of last term to deal with incidents involving violence, aggressive behaviour or disturbances. Any type of violent incident will be of concern to teachers and the Department of Education and Training. The Department of Education and Training, that is in daily communication with schools, does not have evidence to support the notion that there is growing concern about violence in our schools.
However, the RGP said there have been in the past year starting as from April 2010, six incidents of assault at Bayside Comprehensive School that have been reported to police, there has been one incident at Westside School also of assault.
A spokesman added: "We have also dealt with other incidents which do not fall under incidents of Violence, Aggressive Behaviour or Disturbances involving students, these incidents range from minor thefts, setting off the fire alarm and students found in possession of drugs. Due to Data Protection issues I am unable to give you any further details as to the said incidents." We understand that the teaching profession is concerned with the level of aggressive and violent conduct of some students particularly at Bayside school. We are also informed there have been incidents where teachers have been either physically or verbally assaulted, fights amongst students themselves has also increased. The seriousness of the matter has seen the presence of police outside the school gates on a number of occasions in order to prevent any violent behaviour amongst students breaking out!
PANORAMA has been investigating. We have been informed that another concern, apart from the violence factor, relates to matters of drugs, here again we are informed there are similar concerns and where some parents who fear the general drug abuse problem currently affecting Gibraltar has spread to senior schools.
The lack of discipline in some students, again at Bayside, has seen some of them expelled due to their behaviour, although details of these expulsions are not known, but our understanding is that during the course of the year there have been some students sent home for contravening school rules.
Of all the issues connected with the education system, the one that causes most concern for educators and parents alike, and the one over which most doubts exist, is the effectiveness of school discipline, an issue that’s never really surfaced on the rock! Are schools worse off today as regards discipline than they were, say, 20 years ago? Have children become more difficult to handle and teach? Is the school environment peaceful enough to allow teachers to teach and students to learn? What, exactly, does discipline imply? In fact do we really have a problem that needs addressing?
The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines discipline as "the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behaviour, using punishment to correct disobedience". School and classroom discipline is both preventive and remedial and schools make use of their sticks and carrots to create a safe and orderly atmosphere in which students can learn and interact with each other.
In today’s society teachers are finding maintaining order in class hard and exhausting, which makes teaching those who want to learn difficult and those who refuse to learn almost impossible. Teaching today is not an easy task. Not that it has ever been so, but today there are added constraints that make a teacher's life that much more taxing.
Taking a brief look at our society, one can note certain rapid changes, especially over the last two or three decades, which hinder the task of the teacher.
The respect for people in authority has been weakened to the extent that some our children think nothing of challenging and even ignoring all forms of authority in school at home and out in the streets. They think they have a right not only to question all orders and regulations coming from any source, but also to reject what does not appeal to their way of thinking.
The so-called 'youth culture' is changing very rapidly and drastically, to the extent that young people cannot keep up with its demands - on their time - in their style of dress and in the type of music they listen to and in the quality of relationships they engage in.
Some teachers have recognised a lack of disposition and motivation to learn in some students, especially on Fridays when they are gearing up for the weekend and on Mondays when they start unwinding after a hectic weekend. And all this time, the poor teacher is expected to teach his or her subject regardless.
Despite the popular impression that being a teacher is all about pleasantries such as longer holidays and shorter working hours, the reality of their situation tells a different story. Teachers are by no means enviable part-timers. In fact they have one of the most demanding jobs of all - particularly in terms of the mental strain that is part and parcel of their profession.
Of course, not every teacher suffers stress. But there is concrete evidence that teaching is one of the most stressful jobs possible. Many surveys (not in Gib) assessing the stress levels of various jobs constantly indicate that teaching came out top
While policy-makers do their job we all have a social responsibility towards all children. We all have a moral obligation to guard children from the transmission of harmful behavioural patterns, to keep their environment morally healthy, even if it is not easy to clean our surroundings.
Society has changed greatly we constantly hear of rising crime and violence in Gibraltar fueled by drug and alcohol abuse, youngster at 14 years being sent to prison for supplying drugs, others as small as 12 years arrested for burglary and so on. Sadly more and more of these disturbing stories of young people getting involved in crime are being heard, mostly with drug or a drug and alcohol connection.
Many people think, including some teachers, that these negative social issues in society have made there way into the school classroom. There’s no doubt that something effective has to be done to eliminate it or at least get it under control!
Government for their part have reacted to the growing concern of crime and anti-social behaviour stemming from youth behaviour, with a piece of new Criminal Legislation it is proposing, known as an "Anti Social Behaviour Order" more commonly known in the UK as (ASBOs) the new legislation will allow prosecutors to apply for ASBO orders which in the UK can be used against anyone who is 10 years of age or over and has behaved in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to someone or some people who do not live in their own household.
An ASBO stops the young person from going to particular places or doing particular things. If they do not comply with the order, they can be prosecuted. This proposed new legislation is to be included in the New Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, it is yet to be debated and approved by Parliament.
Our understanding is that there are some students who have serious problems, whether at a social or psychological level. These students have to be taught and have to be supported. However, their right to education and their integration in our schools cannot occur at the expense of the safety and well-being of fellow students and teachers.
Let’s hope that proper processes are put in place to improve matters before the next academic year. The sinister signs are there, the evidence has been confirmed - the Government must not try to sweep these serious problems under the carpet because the problem will simply snowball and Gibraltar will be the loser on a bigger scale.