WP128 Change in urban classroom culture and interaction (2010)

Rampton & Harris
Collection: Key word


The UK Government?s Department for Education has recently issued a discussion paper entitled ?School behaviour and attendance: Research priorities and questions? (March 2014), saying that ?poor behaviour in the classroom, particularly low level disruption, still persists in too many schools? (p.8). In doing so, the document emphasises the need to communicate a ?clear, strong message? to teachers, pupils and parents about the need for good behaviour, and it states that the ?Government?s ambition is for pupils to use the benefits of a military ethos (ME), such as self-discipline and teamwork, to achieve a good education? (p.9).
But successful change and intervention generally require a good understanding of practical possibilities on the ground, and we must ask how far a military ethos can be expected to succeed with students growing up in a consumer culture where authority relations at large are now a great deal less formal than before. Indeed, it is worth temporarily setting judgements of ?good? and ?bad? to one side, in order to develop a clearer picture of how interaction in contemporary secondary classrooms actually operates, and to grasp what the teachers who work there think of it themselves.
This is the task addressed in this paper. It draws on ESRC-funded research that produced close-up case-studies of classroom discourse which were then discussed with urban secondary teachers. The working environment it describes certainly isn?t either easy or ideal, but ?poor school management?, ?incompetent teaching? and ?disaffected pupils? aren?t adequate as explanations. The paper places the difficulties facing teacher-led class discussion in a larger historical context, together with the relatively recent separation of deference and learning, and it argues that teachers need space to reflect free from feelings of failure and shame.
Originally published in 2010, the paper fed into a set of professional development materials for teachers ? ?Urban Classroom Culture: Realities, Dilemma, Responses?. These can be downloaded free at: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/sspp/departments/education/research/ucc/ucculture.aspx.