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'Another empty gesture'

Opposition reaction was predictably caustic. Fiona Hyslop, the SNP's education spokesperson, condemned "yet another review" in the wake of an 800 per cent increase in violent incidents since 1998.

"In 1998, when there were 743 reported incidents of violence in schools, the Government announced a review. In 2000, when the number of incidents had more than doubled, the government announced an action plan," Ms Hyslop said. "A year later, when the figure had climbed to 3,083, the Government announced a discipline battle plan."

"By 2002, the problem had risen to 4,501 incidents and another action plan was announced. Last year, 5,412 incidents had been recorded and a discipline task group was announced."

Ms Hyslop suggested Mr Peacock was blaming schools for mis-reporting. But she added: "If some areas don't fully report incidents, then all that tells us is that these figures may actually underestimate the extent of the problem. To blame the schools is the last resort of a minister whose policy has patently failed."

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Tories' spokesman, said the "alarming truth" was that a member of staff in a Scottish school was attacked every 12 minutes.

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