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Peacock vows to act on indiscipline

The Education Minister is to step up his high-profile drive to improve discipline in schools, enlisting the help of one of Scotland's senior academics. But the unions continue to press him to do more.

In the run-up to the annual war of words which ritually accompanies the release of the statistics on violence against school staff, Peter Peacock says he wants to "get behind the headlines" to ensure everyone has a much clearer idea about the exact nature of indiscipline in schools.

Pamela Munn, dean of education at Edinburgh University, has been asked to report by May on behavioural issues in a sample of more than 400 primary and 100 secondary schools, canvassing the views of 1,600 primary and 1,000 secondary teachers. The schools will be broadly those that Professor Munn's team studied in surveys carried out in 1990 and 1996.

And in the latest initiative which the minister hopes will demonstrate to teachers that he is taking the issue seriously, the Scottish Executive will today (Friday) announce the appointment of a national development officer to promote better behaviour and spread good practice.

Shannon Bigham, who gives her first interview to The TES Scotland this week as the "discipline tsar", was formerly pupil support manager in East Lothian.

Speaking to The TES Scotland this week, Mr Peacock admitted that he expects the latest figures on violent incidents in schools, which will be published on Tuesday, to have risen "quite significantly".

He insisted, as most of his predecessors also have, that encouraging a culture of reporting such incidents has made increases inevitable. "But I am not complacent - one violent incident in a school is one too many as far as I am concerned - and I hope the measures I have already taken show that I am determined to do all I can to support teachers.

"I can assure people I intend to keep a close weather eye on this and discipline will continue to be at the top of my personal agenda."

Anticipating a repeat of last year's Tory gibes that the figures mean "a teacher is assaulted every 15 minutes" and that schools are "a battleground resembling the Beirut of the 1980s", Mr Peacock went on to stress the importance of keeping a sense of proportion.

Last January's statistics, covering 2001-02, recorded 5,412 violent incidents against school staff compared with 1,898 in 1998-99, the first full year of the survey. Mr Peacock said that this was the equivalent of fewer than two incidents per school per year.

"We need to know whether an incident is the use of foul language, throwing something in class, punching a teacher, and so on. The same challenging behaviour from different pupils might also have very different causes."

Professor Munn echoed the need to find out more. "In the absence of a breakdown of the figures for each education authority, the suspicion must be that there is wide variation about reporting violent incidents across the country, as there is with the statistics on exclusion. One is left to ask what counts as a violent incident and more work needs to be done to encourage consistency in the recording and reporting of incidents."

The unions have been grudging in their welcome for Mr Peacock's initiatives, and the Educational Institute of Scotland said last month that exclusion must be part of "a suitably robust discipline policy". Violent pupils "have no place in mainstream schools", it declared.

New tsar gets down to business, Scotland Plus 2-3

Road to better behaviour

* dropping exclusion targets

* new guidance emphasising "the rights of the majority"

* masterclasses for heads on good practice, which begin on February 24

* two expert groups on working with parents and managing behaviour in school corridors and playgrounds

* inclusion of classroom management in the review of teacher training

* extending the staged intervention pilot in East Ayrshire

* introducing restorative justice programmes

* establishing the pupil inclusion network

* appointing a discipline development officer

* ministerial fact-finding visits to schools

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