Behaviour and truancy: why are they getting worse?

Although, over the last 7 years, ministers have spent £885m of taxpayers' money on initiatives to improve behaviour and reduce truancy,  their policies have been a dismal failure.1  Behaviour and truancy are getting worse and unruly behaviour is frequently cited as a reason why teachers become demoralised and leave the profession.

In Cambridgeshire, a five-fold increase in the number of girls excluded from school because of violent behaviour has recently been reported as part of a national trend.2 National rates for 'unauthorised absence' from school remain stubbornly high, though this problem is much more prevalent in some areas than others.   

Mixed messages

Government ministers, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), local education authorities and other branches of the state educational establishment all claim they want to improve behaviour and truancy rates. But many of the practical measures they promote undermine and contradict their stated aims. Neither politicians, nor the educational establishment they control, are consistent. Indeed, they bombard everyone involved, from teachers and parents to toddlers, with mixed messages.

Surrender of authority

Adults are encouraged to surrender their authority to immature children on the grounds that, because a  few parents act irresponsibly, parents generally don't care about their children.  Children's Rights are routinely taught in schools, though the right of a child to do as he or she pleases often conflicts with the right of a parent or teacher to maintain discipline.3

Instead of reinforcing the authority of parents and teachers, the state erodes it. Ministers expect support from parents over their policies to reduce unwanted teenage pregnancies, yet they negate parental authority by ensuring that parents are not told when their under-age children are given free contraceptives or an abortion.  (A schoolgirl was recently prosecuted and found guilty of a criminal offence with the prior knowledge of her teachers. However, her parents were deliberately not told because, it was claimed, telling the girl's parents would have been an abuse of her right to privacy.)   

Classroom organisation

The absence of structure, especially in primary schools, plus the general chaos of many 'child-centred' classrooms, where children are seated and work in groups, is detrimental to good discipline and effective learning. Teachers are increasing encouraged to become 'facilitators' (in the psychological sense) rather than teachers of subjects of which they have expert knowledge.   

Circle Time

Circle Time, where children and their teacher or 'facilitator' form a circle to discuss controversial issues, also undermines responsible adult authority.  Circle Time gurus Jenny Mosley and Marilyn Tew advise teachers/facilitators: "You must accept any contribution, however 'offbeat', with great respect" and 'value all opinions equally'.4

Actions divorced from consequences

The general ethos of state education divorces actions from consequences. Punishment for wrong-doing has largely been replaced with praise or reward for normal behaviour. And why should youngsters make an effort, when marks for academic work are not given and non-competitive games and sport mean there can be no winners and no losers?  

Qualifications at a particular level are no longer required before youngsters are allowed to move up to the next higher level. Education Maintenance Allowances, when youngsters are paid to stay on in school or college whether or not they have previously achieved anything, reward the feckless.

Confused professionals

There is widespread confusion among professionals about their primary purpose.  The system encourages teachers to neglect academic or 'cognitive' study in favour of 'affective' areas of the curriculum  such as  Personal, Social, Health Education and Citizenship (PSHEC). But how can anyone realistically expect teachers to raise standards and produce a new politically correct society? 

Personal, Social, Health Education and Citizenship

PSHEC is designed to de-sensitise children and remove what many people (with good reason) consider taboos, such as anal or under-age sex.  PSHEC undermines individuality in order to ensure future generations share 'common', politically-correct values. In order to do this, the nanny state must, as far as possible, divorce children from parental influence and traditional family values.

Issues-based curriculum

The school curriculum, as specified by the DfES and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), is increasingly 'issues-based'. Not satisfied with issues-based PSHEC, the ideologically progressive DfES and QCA move inexorably towards discussing 'controversial issues' in academic subjects such as history, geography and science.5

Pupils are led to believe that discrimination is wrong, whilst relativism, non-judgementalism and cooperation are promoted as virtues. But having learnt that discrimination is a sin, can small children properly differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable discrimination? Don't we discriminate when we choose between tea and coffee?    


From primary school onwards, children are now subjected to dialectical argument, which is a major tenet of issues-based teaching. It works as follows. First someone puts forward a thesis: perhaps a principled position about the right way to behave in a particular situation.   Then someone else, often the teacher/facilitator, puts forward an antithesis: the suggestion that something generally accepted as wrong is acceptable in certain circumstances. Finally, because no-one wants to offend anyone or appear extreme, the group reaches synthesis: a 'progressive consensus', somewhere in the middle.  Needless to say, at the end of the process, it is always the one who, at first, took a principled position who has given ground.

Values clarification

Values  clarification is another powerful psychological technique used on children to undermine generally accepted norms and values. In most societies, responsible adults transfer their values from one generation to the next. Values clarification offers those subjected to it a range of moral dilemmas from which to make their own choices.6 Children are encouraged to reject the values of their elders and form their own moral code. As in the case of dialectics, values clarification is rarely directly identified as such in curriculum documents. But 'informed choice' is one of its key components and the recommendation that children should make their own 'choices' frequently appears in curriculum guidance.   

Law is undermined

The law, too, is undermined by ministers and the educational establishment.  The government's approved 'Values for Education and the Community' dictate that the law should be 'respected', not necessarily obeyed.7 By implication, this especially applies when politically correct values indicate that the law is  'unjust'.  Meanwhile, inspections and surveys  have shown that up to 70% of schools are failing in their statutory duty to offer a daily act of worship. Does this set a good example to pupils?    


All this use of psychological techiques, often combined with New  Age ideology, leads children and young people to believe that there is no higher authority than 'the self' which, incidentally is listed first among the 'Values for Education and the Community' mentioned above. When 'self-esteem' is paramount, whether it is earned or not, should anyone be surprised that self-interested behaviour predominates?

Drug and sex education

PSHE is described by its proponents as education 'about real life', as though English,  maths and science have nothing to do with real life.8 But drug education is usually based on 'harm reduction' rather than the prevention of drug abuse. Sex education promotes 'safe' or 'safer' sex. Instead of teaching that young people should abstain from sexual activity, at least until they become adults, the law on the age of consent is routinely ignored by educationists and other, supposedly responsible, authorities. Again, why should anyone be surprised that since drug and sex education became compulsory in schools, drug abuse and sexual activity among young people have grown exponentially?   


More than a decade ago, Dr (now Professor) Dennis O'Keeffe  and Patricia Stoll carried out large scale research into why youngsters truant or 'bunk off' school.9 The main reasons, they found, were:  inappropriate curricula, bad teaching, and poor school ethos. Many youngsters hated particular subjects, or felt they were not gaining any benefit from attending lessons. The researchers also found that institutional factors to do with the school, such as irrelevant lessons or coping with coursework,  have more influence on truancy rates than home background. Yet many ministerial initiatives have been directed at punishing parents rather than considering the detailed causes of truancy. 

There are no publicly available figures giving the proportion of truants who have not properly learned to read and write; or the proportion of those involved in juvenile crime who cannot read and write; or  proportions of truants who 'bunk off' because they see no benefit in attending school or particular lessons.

Right and wrong denied

Whilst seeking to undermine the concept of right and wrong,10 the 'progressive' educational establishment is using a multi-pronged approach which worsens behaviour instead of improving it. Meanwhile, most parents assume that schools are kind, caring places. Parents, and often teachers themselves, have little understanding of what is actually happening in schools, or that much of it is quite sinister.  Isn't it time for a serious re-think?   


1. The wishes of parents should be paramount over all 'affective' areas of the school curriculum.  Schools should ensure closer co-operation with parents from a much earlier stage. 

2. The establishment should stop mixing its messages and promote an ethos that values education for its own sake.

3.  Neither Circle Time nor values clarification should be allowed in schools

4. The establishment, especially teacher trainers, should refrain from deliberately  confusing  teachers, governors and parents about the primary aims and purposes of education. 

5. Dialectical discussions and issues-based teaching should not be allowed for the purpose of changing attitudes and values.

6. Educational institutions should be made to obey the law and encourage others to do so.

7. Drug and sex education, if they are provided at all, should aim at prevention, not harm reduction.

8. Precise reasons for current levels of truancy should be determined and ministers should recommend    research-based measures to reduce it. Better controls and compulsory registration before each lesson may offer solutions.  

Notes and references

1 Daily Telegraph, 19 January 2006.

2 Daily Telegraph, 14 February 2006.

3 Psychologist Maggie Mamen, author of The Pampered Child Syndrome, Jessica Kingsley, 2006, explains that when adults say 'we want our children to make their own choices', what children actually hear is:  ' No one should be allowed to tell me what to do. I should be allowed to make up my own mind.'

4 Quality Circle Time in the Secondary School: A Handbook of Good Practice by Jenny Mosley and Marilyn Tew, David Fulton Publishers, 2002 (p50). See also Quality Circle Time in the Primary Classroom  by Jenny Mosley, LDA, 1996.

5 See, for example, Alex Standish's work on geography teaching  reported in The Sunday Telegraph, 24 November 2002 and at

6 See Passport: Framework for Personal and Social Education by Jane Jenks and Sue Plant, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1988 (p47). This was a government sponsored report which was used to  develop PSE. 

7 The National Curriculum: Handbook for primary [and secondary] teachers in England, DfES/QCA, 1999  (pp147-149).

8 Key Stage 4 PSHE: The Study Guide/The Workbook, Coordination Group Publications, undated. The Study Guide (p4) for 14-year-olds says: "It's natural that your parents will feel, at the least, a bit 'icky' about the idea of you having sex. But it is up to you so don't let them make you feel ashamed..."  Anal sex, incidentally, is presented purely as a matter of personal choice. The medical dangers are ignored apart from a recommendation to use a condom.  

9 Issues in School Attendance and Truancy: Understanding and Managing the Problem edited by Dennis O'Keeffe and Patricia Stoll, Pitman Publishing, 1995.

10 Jane Jenks and Sue Plant (op cit) write: 'It is not a major aim of PSE to transmit knowledge from the teacher to the pupils...PSE is not about teaching values, but enabling pupils to clarify their own values.'  

/Campaign for Real Education, 22 February 2006


Chairman: Chris McGovern.  Tel: 07757 715145.  Email: [email protected]
Vice-Chairman: Katie Ivens.  Tel: 07990 997215
Treasurer: Dr WAD Freeman. Email: [email protected]
Secretary: Alison McRobb. Email: [email protected]