Battered by storms in the family

17th September 2004 at 01:00
The findings of the South Ayrshire survey on secondary school pupils'

experience of domestic abuse make grim reading (page one and Scotland Plus). If that particular geography is a microcosm of modern Scotland - and there is little reason to believe otherwise - the daily realities of life for possibly thousands of school pupils are painful indeed. In their circumstances, school must come close to an irrelevance. On the other hand, it may be the only positive feature of their lives.

The implications for teachers are no less alarming. The obvious point hardly needs making, but it needs reinforcing: how is it possible to make a teaching impact on youngsters where as many as 10 pupils in a class of 30 may live in such blighted circumstances? Schools will really have to give that serious thought. The training for professionals in domestic abuse being provided through the Executive has never seemed so urgent.

But it is not just children's behaviour that has to come under the microscope. Teachers' own behaviour is an issue too, as the comment from one of the South Ayrshire pupils forcibly illustrates: "Some teachers shout nearly as loud as my dad does." If pupils' family circumstances are adversely affecting their behaviour, they do not want the classroom to replicate home.

The statistics which show that one in four women has experienced abuse from a partner suggest that an increasingly female profession such as teaching may well be more sensitised to the issues than we imagine. That, at least, is a starting point. Despite the survey, however, a sense of proportion has to accompany a sense of awareness. The last thing schools need is to be hit by the kind of uncontrolled hysteria that assumes domestic abuse - like paedophilia - is everywhere.

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