Aggressive, struggling to talk and still in nappies

Union conference to debate problems among Welsh primary pupils

Darren Evans

With a ban on league tables, the absence of Sats and a play-based early years curriculum, it might seem as if primary school teachers in Wales have it easy. But motions being debated at a teaching union's annual conference this weekend suggest that things for the principality's primaries are tough - and the problem lies with pupils.

According to Welsh union UCAC, its members are increasingly dealing with underdeveloped and aggressive pupils.

Indeed, one of the motions under debate in Cardiff states that more children are starting school without having mastered basic personal skills. Some are still in nappies, have not developed speaking skills or are unable to eat using a knife and fork, it says.

Teachers are often unsure of how to deal with some of these issues. Rebecca Williams, UCAC policy officer, said: "We are getting a growing number of calls from members asking for advice on changing nappies. They don't know what their responsibilities are because their school or local authority has no specific guidance."

UCAC is calling for the Welsh government to commission urgent research into the cause of the problems.

Anna Brychan, director of heads' union NAHT Cymru, agreed with the concerns. "Our members regularly report that children are coming to schools with significantly lower skills than they were five to 10 years ago," she said. "It means that schools and teachers have to do more to help them catch up and then progress. There is a case for more involvement with parents."

The charity Children in Wales backed UCAC's call for more research and said that more should be done to support families. "For a long time we have been acutely aware of the differentials between children on entry to school," said chief executive Catriona Williams. "There is clearly an issue in terms of financial and social pressure on families and how much confidence parents have in raising their children if they are under pressure from other sources, such as financial sources."

The Welsh government said it wants parents to play their part in their child's learning, but that if children are not getting the stimulation or development they need it will step in to help. Last year it put an extra #163;55 million into its early years Flying Start programme, doubling the number of children it can assist in households on income benefits.

Another motion states that teachers are also growing concerned about aggressive and unruly behaviour from pupils and the lack of specialist support and training to deal with it.

UCAC general secretary Elaine Edwards said that it is a growing problem in the primary sector, with more frequent reports of younger pupils "lashing out" physically at their teachers.

Dilwyn Roberts-Young, UCAC deputy general secretary, said: "The reaction from some younger children is very concerning. It can be physical or verbal aggression directed at staff, which has a detrimental effect on their morale. There needs to be more guidance because there is a lack of confidence among teachers about how to deal with this, especially in younger children."

The fear is backed up by statistics that show an general upward trend in the number of primary pupils permanently excluded in recent years, although there was a slight drop last year.

The Conservatives have accused the government of failing to get to grips with classroom violence, and recently published figures showing that the number of attacks on teachers in Wales has risen by more than a third over the past three years.

A government spokesman said: "We do not tolerate violence and aggression in schools and colleges, against teachers or pupils."

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Darren Evans

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