Gavin Williamson’s claim that “out-of-control behaviour” could destroy the atmosphere in England’s schools has been rejected by teachers and children’s advocates, with experts saying there is no evidence pupil conduct has worsened since lockdown.
The education secretary made the remarks as he announced the start of a national network of “behaviour hubs” designed to spread best practice among schools and teachers.
Williamson said some children had been slow to readjust to the classroom because “the lack of regular structure and discipline will inevitably have had an effect on their behaviour”. He added: “Out-of-control behaviour will also destroy the wholesome and happy environment that every school should be, leading to bullying, and turning the playground from a place of joy to a jungle.”
Williamson concluded: “There is nothing Dickensian about a classroom that is a well-ordered, disciplined environment, where firm and fair teaching gives every child the chance to learn and develop at their own pace without fear of distraction.”
But Mark Russell, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “The pandemic has been harmful to children and young people in so many ways. It has left many feeling isolated, missing friends and family and more exposed to risks both inside and outside the home.
“Despite this, we are not aware of any evidence that their behaviour is worse, and our practitioners report that on the whole young people have been relieved to get back inside the classroom.”
Wes Streeting, the shadow schools minister, said Williamson was blaming parents for lacking discipline when his own leadership “has been a chaotic shambles”.
Mary Bousted, a joint leader of the National Education Union, said: “With all the challenges currently facing schools, playing to the gallery by talking tough on behaviour is the least useful approach the education secretary can take.”