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Minister in discipline U-turn

Controversial Scottish Executive ambitions to slash the number of school exclusions are being abandoned in favour of fresh targets for promoting positive behaviour and ethos as the Education Minister revises plans for tackling rising pupil indiscipline.

Jack McConnell launched Better Behaviour - Better Learning, the report of his discipline task group, on Tuesday at St Modan's High, Stirling, pledging a rapid shift in an exclusions' policy that has caused deep resentment in schools.

An action plan to counter indiscipline will be sent to schools and local authorities in the autumn.

"Teachers feel pupils are being kept in school to reduce exclusions but the policy is not reducing the numbers. What we want to do now is refocus on promoting positive behaviour and we will do that over the summer," Mr McConnell revealed.

The broadly representative task group, commissioned by the minister, took six months to report and produce 36 recommendations for action, some which will require extra Executive funding.

Mr McConnell said extra staffing for schools was already planned, along with additional cash for building programmes, but more would be available if necessary.

The existing excellence fund - welcomed but criticised for over-prescription - will be reconfigured to allow schools more financial flexibility, with the rider that projects support positive behaviour plans.

"We've got to get this right because it's the foundation of everything else," the ministe said.

Indiscipline was a problem in all schools some of the time and in some schools for much of the time. "Good discipline cannot be separated from effective learning and teaching. Where there is good discipline, there is good learning. And, where the quality of learning and teaching is high, there are fewer instances of indiscipline.

"Schools where expectations are consistently high in terms of conduct, participation, commitment, progress in learning, homework and dress are examples for others to follow," Mr McConnell emphasised.

Gordon Jeyes, Stirling's director of children's services and general secretary of the education directors' association, said: "This is a good report - comprehensive, coherent and common sense. It's another very successful piece of political management by a highly credible minister."

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, warmly embraced the findings with the customary warning about the need for extra funding. He also urged the removal of target-setting for exclusions. "It must be made clear that teachers have the unequivocal support of their headteachers, councils and the Scottish Executive in those rare cases where there is no alternative but to exclude an individual pupil," Mr Smith stated.

Mr McConnell replied that exclusions should remain the last resort.

For the Conservatives, Brian Monteith, their education spokesman, hailed the exclusions decision as a "major climbdown".


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