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'Morons' touch a nerve

Elizabeth Buie reports from the annual congress of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association

Those who describe the disruptive minority of pupils as "morons" and "nutters" have been warned by colleagues that, as members of a caring profession, they should have more compassion.

Alan McKenzie, president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, led the charge on discipline at the union's annual conference, declaring that society did not need the "pink, fluffy stuff like social inclusion and achievement awards". Mr McKenzie, who teaches at Greenock Academy, told delegates: "A whole classroom can deteriorate because of the presence of a few of these morons in it - that is the story that needs to be told."

But he was rebuked by John Gray, a former president from Aberdeen, who said: "I am not going to defend bad behaviour in class or minorities who, for whatever reason, make the learning of the majority very difficult. But I don't want to leave this conference where it is reported that reference has been made to 'morons' and 'nutters' and to other language which is intemperate."

In his presidential address, Mr McKenzie attacked the "institutional fabrications, the eternal lying and the never-ending distortions that vomit from the mouths of the great and the good when they are pronouncing on the issue of pupil misbehaviour".

Exhorting the SSTA to "tell it as it is", he said: "Tell them about the failure of pupils to do homework without being given two or three opportunities. Tell them about the failure to bring books, jotters, pens and pencils. Tell them about all the corrosive low-level stuff that grinds you down on a daily or even hourly basis.

"Tell them about the violence, the real actual violence as well as the threats of violence, the feelings of constant physical intimidation that are always there for some of you. Tell them about the braying, insensate adolescent subculture, the drug-taking, the alcohol abuse, the sexual promiscuity. Tell them that and tell them more."

Mr McKenzie complimented Peter Peacock, Education Minister, for making pupil indiscipline a priority but warned that as a member of an informal working group on the issue, he had visited a number of schools within Scotland and south of the border, where problems had been turned around and had reservations.

"It struck me that most of the places that we visited were led by and had within them inspirational teachers. I have to admit that I am not an inspirational teacher - I am just an ordinary Joe trying to get on with things," Mr McKenzie said.

"I question whether we should be looking for inspirational leaders in this because, at the end of the day, it is the ordinary Joes who have to live with this."

Bill Fitzpatrick, East Ayrshire, called on delegates to count up how many minutes were lost from each lesson while teachers dealt with the disruption of a minority of "nutter" pupils.

Mr Gray's objection to such terms was echoed by Bob McGarrill from Glasgow, who riposted: "I hope we can go away from this debate with a recognition that all pupils have a right to be educated in a situation which encourages and helps their education, and that those who can't benefit from that education are not excluded but included, maybe included elsewhere and in a different situation.

"But if we label them, how on earth are we ever going to make any progress with people who have things done to them and don't generate that themselves."

Mr McGarrill said that teaching only deserved to be called a caring profession if they cared for everyone in their schools.

Delegates unanimously backed a better resourced guidance system and supported a motion calling for an "audit of the amount of time consumed by a small minority of badly behaved youngsters impairing the learning process of the great majority of motivated and interested pupils".

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