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Pack away the rowdy pupils?

Where does the truth lie in the classroom indiscipline row? Ministers, researchers, inspectors and some teachers say classrooms are better places with more pupils on task, committed to learning. Teachers' unions beg to differ, and quite significantly. Can both be right? Yes.

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers have blamed social inclusion policies, the failure of exclusion policies, lack of parental responsibility and Margaret Thatcher's reign for their problems. They claim many young people lack respect, are driven by self-interest and are more abusive than ever. Many emanate from profoundly disjointed families, living in a drugs culture in disadvantaged communities.

In another two weeks, the Educational Institute of Scotland will reiterate the classroom concerns. So something is going on, even if teachers have for decades protested at the breakdown of discipline. Who remembers the Pack report report of 1977, with its references to "day units" for miscreants, more meaningful provision for non-certificate pupils, improved teacher training, social work involvement and more parental responsibility? So we have not moved on that much in terms of solutions.

Jack McConnell, the First Minister, dismissed NASUWT claims "as exaggerating the position". Better buildings, better facilities, better training for teachers, more staff, better liaison with other agencies and changes to exclusion guidelines are helping, Mr McConnell said. That does not appease critics who say they have yet to see evidence of improvements following on from the Better Behaviour, Better Learning report.

Both the First Minister and unions are correct. Schools are much superior places of learning and achievement. An estimated 5-10 per cent of schools still have difficulties, HMI says. That means 90 per cent do not. Unions say they are wrong. What their leaders do admit is that the problems are centred on a small number of pupils who cause repeated difficulties and they want them booted out to special units. That is the challenge to inclusion and that one is not resolved.

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