Ban unruly parents from schools, urges union

Leading unions have launched their customary fare of festive cheer with broadsides against the forces of darkness, in statements issued today.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association has directed its fire at "unruly parents", whom it wants banned from meetings in schools if they indulge in threatening behaviour more than once. It has taken the forceful step of preparing guidance for heads, partly aimed at avoiding incidents during parents' meetings.

The SSTA claims some parents can become "abusive and unruly" when meeting staff, and is demanding a policy of zero tolerance. It has noticed a "significant rise" in reports of such incidents.

According to David Eaglesham, the SSTA general secretary, the union has become aware of incidents during the last year of teachers being subjected to prolonged harassment, verbal abuse, threats of violence and physical assault. It wants schools to be able to call in the police, which it alleges some education authorities are resisting.

The association says it is particularly concerned about repeat behaviour after parents have been warned about their conduct. Such people, Mr Eaglesham said, should be banned from general meetings of parents and supervised contact set up instead.

Alan Smith, president of the Scottish School Board Association, dismissed such moves as "burning down the house to kill a flea". He said that, while the safety of pupils and teachers should be paramount, the police already had powers to charge what is a tiny minority of parents with breach of the peace if necessary.

Ewan Aitken, the local authorities' education spokesman, condemned the SSTA's "gross over-reaction at a time when we are trying to engage parents."

A spokesperson for the Executive said it had set up a working group to promote more effective work with "harder to engage" parents. Building relationships to avoid conflict was one solution.

Mr Eaglesham acknowledged the issue was a general one of protecting employees at work. But, he added, "a consistent line on such matters is essential".

The SSTA's leaflet stresses that intimidation should be widely defined beyond physical violence to cover cases involving verbal abuse, gestures and innuendo. The union will tell its headteachers that staff must report all incidents. It should not be up to them to decide whether an incident merits reporting on the basis of "well, it wasn't that bad". Schools should have a written policy on the matter, and it should extend to include harassment of staff at home, such as abusive phone calls.

Meanwhile, the Educational Institute of Scotland is calling on local authorities not to be tempted to cut costs by replacing nursery teachers with other pre-five staff.

Ronnie Smith, the EIS general secretary, said the union had decided to step up its opposition to the "false economy" of increasing recruitment of pre-five staff instead of teachers, after evidence that education authorities are planning to do so on cost grounds.

The union plans a campaign on the issue, and will distribute 5,000 copies of a leaflet to schools in January setting out the case for "quality nursery education with fully qualified teachers".

The EIS draws particular comfort from a research study south of the border indicating that teaching is the key to high quality nursery education.

Pupils in schools which have "staff with higher qualifications" make more progress, according to the Effective Provision of Pre-school Education project in England.

This reinforced findings from HMI in Scotland that "a higher proportion of local authority nursery schools and classes perform consistently well or very well than do private day nurseries or voluntary playgroups," Mr Smith pointed out. He said the Executive's success in providing universal education for three and four- year-olds would be "diluted" if nursery teachers and classes were to be reduced.

This threat, Mr Smith added, may be a cheaper option for education authorities but would not guarantee quality. "Local councils should think very hard before going down this path," he said.

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