Are TV Comedians Creating A Generation Of School Louts?

Children are bringing the loutish behaviour they see on TV into the classroom, say teachers. They believe shows such as The Catherine Tate Show and Little Britain are contributing to indiscipline in schools.

Some pupils had even re- enacted violence towards teachers they have seen in TV dramas. In her comedy programme, Catherine Tate plays an unruly teenager who repeatedly says, ‘Am I bovvered?’ and ‘Whatever’. Pupils are using the catchphrases to answer back in class.

‘Computer says No’, a phrase beloved of David Walliams’s apathetic character in Little Britain, is also used to be rude and disrespectful to teachers.

Staff believe an increase in aggressive and confrontational behaviour among children is ‘directly linked’ to TV viewing, according to a poll from The Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

One scene from Channel 4’s school-based drama Teachers appeared to have triggered copycat attacks. “Their behaviour directly reflects what they see on television,” one teacher said. For example, when on the Teachers programme a member of staff was slapped, we had two examples of this in our school the next week. We had never had this before in 30 years. Where else would this have come from? They acted as though it was acceptable.”

Another said: “Comments like “yeah whatever”, are used to insult. There is also too much swearing on television. It is used so much that it has no dramatic impact in a programme so children use swearing in everyday language as if it is normal.”

Primary teacher Ralph Surman is a member of the Government’s School Behaviour Task Force whose recommendations led this week to further powers for teachers to discipline and restrain pupils. He will tell the association’s annual conference tomorrow, that pupils are now so ‘saturated’ with images of violence and selfishness from TV, that they are losing sight of the difference between fiction and reality.

He said last night that characters in TV soaps “always have low aspirations, they are uncaring, they don’t treat individuals very well – you’ve got anger and domestic violence”. Children particularly cannot separate fantasy from reality – that’s why I call it soap opera syndrome. They don’t know what is real and what is not real. They all carry on like they are in Big Brother.”

He will call on the union to highlight the ‘over-stimulation’ of children by the media. The association warned that disruptive behaviour had become a ‘rampant problem’. It said more than 56 per cent of staff had considered quitting the profession because of it.

The poll found that 54 per cent knew of a colleague who had resigned because of the levels of misbehaviour, that more than one in three had been attacked by pupils, and that one in ten had been injured and gone to the doctor.

Sixty-one per cent had been verbally abused or threatened and 26 per cent subjected to ‘intimidation’. Heads too often failed to back up teachers challenged by recalcitrant pupils.

Staff believe that parents expose children to inappropriate TV by allowing them to watch shows after the 9pm watershed, the survey found. Pupils who stay up late also arrive at school tired and unable to function.

The majority think that lax parental control is a ‘major factor’ behind problem behaviour in schools. The influence of TV was also clearly seen in children’s choice of future career. Twelve per cent of staff taught students who wanted to be crime scene investigators. Other popular choices included interior design, cooking and modelling.

Britney Spears – and even the TV character Ugly Betty – are more widely recognised by pupils than Tony Blair or Prince Charles, the survey said. Only two per cent of respondents believed TV had an entirely positive impact on children.

Those who believed its influence could be good for children, said that the row between Shilpa Shetty and Jade Goody on Big Brother had led to classroom citizenship debates.

One teacher complained that schools were forced to be ‘jack of all trades, and master of none’ because pupils with behavioural problems were kept on instead of being educated in special units.