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Spot trouble early and avoid problems later

When the Behaviour in Scottish Schools 2012 report was published this month, it was hard to recognise it in much of the media coverage. Sensational headlines about the use of mobile phones concealed the fact that most teachers - primary and secondary - were positive about pupil behaviour. Good news does not make good headlines.

What is clear from the report, featured in this week's News Focus (pages 12-15), is that most behaviour issues in schools concern low-level, if exasperating, disruption, such as pupils talking out of turn, unnecessary noise, getting out of their seats or disturbing other pupils' learning. Incidents of violence or serious disruption are rare and decreasing.

Indeed, the atmosphere in schools comes across as congenial, with friendly pupils greeting teachers in corridors. The focus on developing a whole- school ethos, which has been encouraged over the past decade, along with the more recent rights-respecting schools and inclusive approaches to decision making that involves staff and pupils, appears to be paying dividends.

Child-centred government polices from the Early Years Framework to Curriculum for Excellence and Getting it Right for Every Child may also be starting to reap rewards, as schools tailor their approaches more to individual pupils' needs and develop nurture groups at primary and secondary to help children who are seen these days as having problems rather than being bad. But it is, as the teachers say, too early to assess the impact of CfE and many of them have always endeavoured to support pupils and recognise their various needs and achievements.

There are warning signs, however, that must be heeded. In particular, there is a clear divide between the views of heads, teachers and support staff who have to deal with the most challenging pupils day in, day out. Support staff are essential for helping to alleviate the pressures on teachers in the classroom, but they struggle to attend twilight training courses and their jobs are at risk in councils that see them as easy targets at times of cuts.

There is also, they report, a growing number of young children coming up to primary school with complex difficulties including nurture and attachment issues, and there is an increase at primary and secondary levels in autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mental health problems arising from broken homes and parents with alcohol or financial problems.

So yes, mobile phones may be an issue in secondary schools where pupils flout the regulations and there is an increase in "abusive" or potentially abusive use of them. But there really are more serious issues that need to be addressed now, in the early years, before they cause a reversal in the steady careful progress that has been won.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor

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