THE leniency shown by referees to foul-mouthed footballer Wayne Rooney is undermining the authority of teachers trying to discipline children, a union claimed last night.
On the day that head teachers met to discuss bad behaviour in schools, one Welsh union said that the example set by the Manchester United star was "gnawing away" at society.
In his team's recent match against Arsenal, Rooney was warned he would be sent off for his foul language to the ref, yet remained on the pitch despite a tirade of four-letter words.
Chris Howard, South Wales regional representative for the NAHT union, said the star set a poor example to young children.
Dr Howard, who is head teacher at Lewis Boys School, Pengam, near Caerphilly, said in his role within the union he had heard of some "quite horrific stories" from colleagues.
The former president of the National Union of Head Teachers Cymru explained that bad behaviour today can include assaults on teachers or extreme verbal abuse of a teacher, including flagrant use of the "F" word or sexually explicit language.
Behaviour was so bad that children in one Welsh school had even been expelled for making pornographic films during lunch hours. Yet appeals were made and they were reinstated.
"Young people behaving like Wayne Rooney does on the football pitch are increasingly finding themselves in front of an exclusions panel," said Dr Howard.
"In a recent Manchester United v Arsenal game, seen on TV by more than 10 million people, the referee told Wayne Rooney to stop swearing at him or he would be sent off. But Rooney used a tirade of four-letter words and kept doing what the ref had told him not to do - and yet he stayed on the pitch.
"He's an 18-year-old role model for millions of youngsters."
Dr Howard said children see Rooney getting away with yobbish behaviour and believe they can do the same themselves.
"Teachers face it in the classroom and police face it on the streets. It's gnawing away at us," he said.
Dr Howard said that when parents appeal against permanent or temporary exclusions it is the head teacher's judgment which is called into question.
"The obvious point of contention is the wisdom or appropriateness - and sometimes the sanity - of the head teacher, so it becomes not a trial of the pupil's behaviour but a trial of the teacher or head teacher's competence," he said.
And while the Government was tackling teachers' workload, it is now the "constant questioning of authority and the assumption by young pupils that they have a right to be incredibly poorly behaved" that is eroding staff morale, said Dr Howard.
At a conference on bad behaviour in schools yesterday, David Hart, general secretary of NAHT, said we were now facing a "culture of challenge" where the competence of heads in dealing with poor behaviour is called into question on a regular basis.
Mr Hart told the conference, "Notwithstanding the fact that discipline policies are well publicised to the parents of all maintained schools, the NAHT is becoming increasingly concerned at the growth of "the culture of challenge".
"This is evidenced by a rise in the number of cases where parents challenge the decision of heads and/or make extreme use of available procedures in a manner that "puts the head teacher in the dock".
"Not only does this undermine schools' policies to the detriment of other pupils and staff, but it diverts the head and the staff concerned from the core "business" of improving the quality of the teaching and learning for the law-abiding majority.
"It may be that this is part of the increasingly litigious nature of society. It is certainly allied to the growing tendency to "pray in aid" human rights legislation as the weapon by which battles against heads' decisions can be fought.
"Too often LEAs are intimidated by lawyers, barrack room or real, or by self-appointed pressure groups, waving the civil libertarian flag and threatening damages or other mayhem. This spreads to Independent Appeal Panels which are still reinstating on flimsy grounds."