Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Ofsted report - odd, innit?

That’s O-D-D – Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ‘described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as an ongoing pattern of disobedient, hostile and defiant behavior toward authority figures which goes beyond the bounds of normal childhood behavior.'

According to Wikipedia, that is. The article goes on to clarify:

'Temper tantrums, stealing, bullying, and vandalism are some of key symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder. ODD children may present as negative, defiant, unable to take "no" for an answer, deliberately annoying others, easily annoyed themselves, or blaming others for all that goes wrong.’

See anything familiar here? The examples are too numerous to link to; almost every day turns up news stories of court cases featuring one or more of these characteristics in a sort of antisocial behaviour bingo. Once upon a time, it was blamed on parents who failed to instil a sense of right and wrong; these days it’s a diagnosis.

ODD – and its badly-behaved siblings ADHD* and Antisocial Behaviour Disorder – may well have a place in the professional evaluation of otherwise inexplicable personality traits, but exercises to increase awareness have opened the floodgates for assuming a medical explanation for all bad behaviour.

If Jack swears at his teacher and throws his books around the classroom, is he a spoilt, rude child whose single mother can’t or won’t make him understand what is acceptable or does he suffer from a behavioural disorder? It’s far easier to put him on the SEN register than undo fourteen years of indifferent parenting.

And when his mother arrives on the scene, guns blazing, demanding to know why he was given a detention, do his teachers try to establish with her what she should be doing with him or sympathise that she has to cope with his condition? Thus the school establishes its caring credentials and Jack and his mother are accorded the status of victims struggling against the odds.

So Jack and his mother go home satisfied that his poor behaviour is not his fault – or hers – and Jack ends up on the school’s special needs programme. In time, if he doesn’t swear or throw anything for a while, he may even be rewarded with that old standby, a trip to Alton Towers.

Everybody’s happy – except, perhaps his class teachers, who are warned not to damage his frail self-esteem with criticism of any kind and are thus rendered virtually impotent in the face of deliberate provocation. And there's a lot of it about; nearly a quarter of special needs pupils have emotional, behavioural or social difficulties.

When Ofsted blames poor teaching and pastoral care for needless SEN registration, this should not be forgotten. Everyone knows that there are inadequate teachers out there (everyone, that is, except NUT general secretary Christine Blower;

“Teachers do a great job in often very difficult circumstances to meet the needs of all their pupils, and for Ofsted to suggest otherwise is both insulting and wrong.” )

but a bigger problem is the school policies which have led to over-zealous SEN registration crowding the system and muddying the waters for those with real needs. The sooner the numbers are reduced and teachers can concentrate on helping pupils with real learning difficulties the better.

Wiser bloggers than I have also taken up this issue today - readers who haven't yet done so might like to visit Subrosa and the Quiet Man.

*The advent of Audio Description and High Definition in broadcasting mean that 'Skins', rather appropriately, now appears in the TV listings accompanied by the letters ADHD.


  1. Excellent!

    - Aangirfan

  2. A teacher friend of mine told me that if pupils misbehave, it means there are 'problems' at home. I tried to dig a bit deeper and get him to caveat that, but he said, no, it's as simple as that and there is f- all that teachers can do about it.

    'Problems' means exactly what you think it means - absent Dad, bullying elder sibling, cramped housing, not enough money, parents getting divorced, whatever.

  3. MW, a wise teacher friend says teaching is rather like driving someone else's car.

    The owners buy it, maintain it, garage it and fill it with petrol. You drive it for a few hours a day.

    Breakdowns and mechanical failure are the responsibility of the owners, but if you crash it or break something through incompetent driving, the damage is your fault.

    Some cars are beautifully maintained and run well; others are barely safe to drive and break down with depressing regularity.

    Your responsibility, as the driver, is to drive as well and safely as you possibly can - some breakdowns will inevitably occur, but you can, by and large, avoid causing accidents.


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