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Fear in the classroom

TEACHER union conferences inevitably tend to hype classroom issues for effect, portraying them in black and white rather than shades of grey. To borrow an old newspaper metaphor, don't let the facts get in the way of a good story. However, it is clear that teachers who attended the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association and National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conferences in the past two weeks have genuine concerns. The education of the majority of pupils is reported to be at risk from the behaviour of a minority. Teachers are forced to spend more time settling classes and focusing on perhaps two or three individuals at a cost to the pace of lessons. These are not isolated voices.

One of the first tasks Jack McConnell undertook as Education Minister was to set up a discipline task group which produced the comprehensive report Better Behaviour, Better Learning. Only now is that being worked through at local authority and school level. At the same time, councils and schools are expected to cut exclusions and integrate many more young people into the mainstream - policies many teachers claim are in conflict with the raising attainment agenda. The classroom is biting back with some harsh realities and those in power should pay heed.

But how do you measure so-called rising indiscipline and its effect on the quality of learning? What is acceptable behaviour to some is unacceptable to others. Some teachers and schools tend to exclude more than others. Then again it is beyond dispute that more families are in meltdown. It may be luck or misfortune that decides whether you face difficulties and confrontations behind the closed doors of the classroom.

Two weeks ago ScotlandPlus featured East Lothian's attempts to strike a sometimes difficult balance between social inclusion and raising achievement, particularly in secondaries. Resources are essential. Classroom assistants and learning support staff must be in place . Curricula must be flexible and staff fully committed. The ethos, as HMI is fond of repeating, has to be strong. Where teachers feel shortchanged by senior managers, integration will struggle and discipline will suffer.

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