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Enough is enough

In his farewell presidential address to this weekend's annual general meeting of the Educational Institute of Scotland, Douglas Mackie commented (extract):

Wherever one visits or talks to teachers, whether it be in Scotland or elsewhere, the challenges are the same; too much formal assessment, pupil indiscipline, teacher recruitment and retention, social inclusion, crumbling schools, their variable replacements or the plans to replace them, falling school rolls in some areas, overcrowded schools in others, and curricula full and overflowing as politicians everywhere succumb to the temptation that schools and teachers can be a quick fix and cure all society's ills.

Social inclusion, workload and discipline have all been features of my year. The strain imposed by social inclusion in some of our schools is in danger of becoming a time bomb waiting to explode unless properly resourced.

No one will argue against the benefits that inclusion will bring to Scottish society. The EIS has a proud record of being at the forefront in the campaigning to promote inclusion, justice and fairness in our society.

In the EIS itself we held, last November, our first conference for our own disabled members and, despite the difficulties so many of them faced, it was heartening to hear of the many positive things that were happening to them and the important contribution they were making to education in Scotland.

That is why we all want inclusion for all young people in Scotland, including asylum-seeker children, so that they too can look forward positively to the future.

However, that future inclusion which all politicians are happy to sign up to and pay lip-service to comes at a price. And in too many schools at the present time that price is the health and well-being of Scottish teachers.

Unless the resources and structures are in place, unless teachers are informed and consulted beforehand, and unless class sizes are reduced, inclusion will not work. And it is equally vital that the inclusion is appropriate.

We cannot ignore the valuable contribution made by our special schools and units, some of which I visited this year, sometimes working with children from very harrowing backgrounds and with very severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. It was a humbling experience to see the work being done in these schools and units, work I freely confess I could not do myself.

Nor can we consider issues of inclusion without ignoring the other changes that have taken place in our society. The pupils of today are in many ways different from the pupils that I started teaching over 25 years ago.

Rightly, they are aware of their rights and what to expect from the adults with whom they come in contact. However, with rights come responsibilities; and an increasing number of young people seem unaware of their responsibilities or recognise the need for them.

I make no apologies for saying again that there is no place for unruly behaviour or foul and abusive language or violence in our schools. Teachers are there to teach and pupils to learn. And out of school as well, particularly in rural areas where teachers and pupils work and live together in the same community, teachers too have a right to lead a normal life free from hassle and intimidation.

Yes, disruptive pupils may be a minority, but they are a growing minority.

Now is the time to say enough is enough. This trend must be reversed. These pupils will not be included in mainstream provision unless their behaviour can be guaranteed. All schools must be given the ability to exclude the disruptive. Violence and indiscipline will not be tolerated in Scottish schools.

However, let us remind ourselves. There is a way in which the issues of inclusion, workload and indiscipline can be addressed. It is a way where no radical changes are required, no revolutionary new methods, no out of the box or blue skies thinking. That way is simple. Reduce class sizes - not just in selected classes, welcome though that commitment is, but in all classes, in all schools, in every part of Scotland.

Douglas Mackie

Past president

Educational Institute of Scotland

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