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Discipline dominates union agenda

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association has unanimously backed tough action on disruptive pupils, described as one of the greatest difficulties facing classroom teachers, but stopped short of supporting binding contracts between school and parents to enforce good behaviour. Delegates at the annual congress at Aviemore rejected a binding contract by 51 votes to 47.

Douglas Campbell, chairman of the headteachers' advisory panel, said: "To go out of this congress demanding binding contracts is macho professionalism ". Legal contracts were "unrealistic and unenforceable" and jeopardised the principle of parent partnership. Delegates backed a softer stance on home-school agreements, a position closer to Labour's proposed "compact".

John Gray, Aberdeen, said: "We do not want Shyster, Shyster and Shyster coming into the school asking why their son or daughter never got their Higher." Resorting to the law was a sign of failure for schools.

Bill Walker, Inverness, said teachers were already running into trouble over exclusions and there was no need to introduce further unworkable complications.

But Gordon Elliot, Fife, vice-president, insisted that to water down the recommendation would send the wrong sign. "Out of all the concerns of teachers, discipline - above salaries, above early retirement - is the thing that makes or breaks the job of teaching. We have people who are seriously concerned about the state of discipline in our schools. They are looking for our support."

Ian Goldsack, Highland, a past president who chaired the working party that proposed the contract, stated: "We want parents to know what is expected of them and we want them to live up to expectations." Alternative provision was needed for the minority of disruptive pupils. "It is clear there is a worrying element, which for whatever reason, be it drugs, upbringing, congenital inadequacies, sheer wickedness, cannot be educated in traditional classrooms," Mr Goldsack said.

"Let's ban the term sin bins. Let's be constructive. We are talking about proper provision for those who need it," he said.

The working party's report sets out 22 recommendations for improving classroom discipline. Delegates backed the inclusion of references to early intervention in primary as a way of preventing problems in secondary.

Mr Elliot argued that a secondary teachers' organisation was "rather presumptuously" setting out strategies for primary colleagues but Marie Allan, Edinburgh, a past president, said the union would be seen as "isolationist and elitist" if it did not refer to early education and the 5-14 programme.

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