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An early start on the roads ahead

On May 13, two conferences in Scotland addressed key issues facing Scottish schools - how to raise achievement and tackle social exclusion.

At one, the president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association spoke of young people out of control, violent, promiscuous and addictive, and he suggested that punishment, sanctions and exclusion were the solutions.

At the other, a Tapestry conference (see page five) on "creativity, music and the mind," Rafi Feuerstein from Israel argued that we need to identify the gaps in learning and cognition which underachievers have and, through an intensive programme of instrumental enrichment, address the gaps in their learning, thus dealing with impulsivity, low feelings of competence and lack of concern for others.

In addition, Professor David Perkins from Harvard suggested that we need to take a long hard look at the curriculum and ask which is more important - that we teach content, some of which will be irrelevant to the lives of learners or that we teach them how to learn.

So which perspective is correct? Well, both and neither. We cannot ignore the views of teachers about inclusion and indiscipline, but neither can we blame the pupils and rely on punishment.

We need to equip all teachers with the skills to meet the needs of the majority of learners in ways which will equip them for life in the 21st century.

We also need to provide intensive programmes, of which the Feuerstein approach is one, over a number of years to address the learning needs and thus the behavioural problems of our most challenging young people.

The place to start is with children in their earliest years and with their parents. It may take a generation and there may be more than one way of going about the task. But, if we work together constructively, across Scotland and internationally, we are more likely to succeed.

Brian Boyd Professor of Education University of Strathclyde

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