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Row over using teachers to 'finger' delinquents

THE Scottish Executive wants teachers of children from as young as three to report those who may be at risk of developing delinquent behaviour.

But its plans, which would involve putting information on databases, have run into strong opposition from the Educational Institute of Scotland. Ronnie Smith, the union's general secretary, declared: "The nature of the relationship between the teacher, parent and pupils is based on trust. This might be difficult to foster if the teacher is being viewed as someone who is monitoring every move for indicators of factors contributing to criminal tendencies."

Mr Smith warned of "stigmatisation" and "self-fulfilling prophecies", branding the move as "Orwellian".

He accepted the need for teachers to be alert to critical warning signs but said: "It has not been made clear where this information is to be held. Hitherto teachers' reports have always been made available to parents. Information on databases has legal implications if parents get access to them and find anything they think is damaging and defamatory."

In the face of these factors, local authorities are to be expected to put in place intervention measures such as family support groups, out-of-school clubs and specialised one-to-one teaching.

Tommy MacKay, a consultant educational psychologist and vice-president of the British Psychological Society, also expressed reservations. "Databases raise questions of privacy and confidentiality and intrusion into people's lives. This has to be looked at very carefully in terms of civil liberties."

Mr MacKay is currently conducting a longitudinal study involving 4,000 four to seven-year-olds in West Dunbartonshire aimed at proving how literacy levels can be raised using early intervention measures. "Those measures may be akin to those used to minimise the risk of criminal behaviour developing - but applied universally and not by singling out an individual in a stigmatising way."

The Executive's move was flagged in a policy statement on the integration of children's services, For Scotland's Children, published at the end of last year. It has been reiterated this year in the action programme to reduce youth crime. National standards are to be drawn up to ensure consistency in efforts to reduce offending behaviour.

But David Mellor, secretary of the general policing committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and Deputy Chief Constable of Fife, warned: "There is a risk of pulling children into the system when it is not needed. That would be counter-productive."

Mr Mellor added: "We need to look at the whole environment. One of the most effective things you can do to reduce youth offending is to put effective support in place for parents."

Leader, page 24

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