Call for bluntness makes sharp exit;Union Conference;ATL;Association of Teachers and Lecturers

17th April 1998 at 01:00
Sex, violence and drugs were all on the agenda of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, reports Dorothy Lepkowska.

Be "assertive, even blunt" urged resolution 43 on the conference agenda. Special needs teacher John Franks went further still.

In fact his candid account of teaching youngsters with severe emotional and behaviour problems - and the implications of putting such pupils into mainstream schools - led to allegations against the media of sensationalism and "spin", not least from the union's guest speaker, Lord Puttnam.

How anyone can add "spin" to a story which included murder, stabbings, rape, drugs and paedophilia - all in a five-minute speech - is hard to imagine. But the subsequent publicity resulted in a refusal by many to speak to journalists, and a warning to delegates from the union's senior lawyer, Philip Lott, to watch what they said.

The claims of hype, sex and drugs - always guaranteed space in the newspapers - were prominent on the Bournemouth agenda, as teachers expressed fears at the many social perils facing young people.

Delegates called for greater drugs-awareness education, while providing anecdotal evidence that some counselling seemed to be encouraging young people to experiment.

Peter Smith, the ATL's general secretary, said drugs education should be a compulsory part of initial teacher training, as few teachers were sufficiently aware to recognise drugs or to know their street names.

"Certainly our primary school teachers are very conscious of the fact that they have had no training, that there is very little opportunity for drug education to take place, and that there is a problem," he said.

Pornography and racism on the Internet were also a major concern, with teachers demanding "firewall" software which blocks access to certain websites. The ATL fears schools could face legal action or censure from parents if children are accidentally exposed to offensive images.

Michael Moore, head of IT at Little Hulton Community School in Salford, told delegates of a case where sixth-formers with e-mail addresses had fallen prey to paedophiles who tried to recruit them to a "friendship ring".

In another incident, a teacher attempted to download material for a music lesson, only to find images of naked women.

Mr Moore said: "A teacher cannot possibly stand over each child, all the time and watch what they are doing. A lot of students know more about computers than teachers and when using the Internet are tempted to look for this sort of titillation."

The debate on personal safety yielded accounts of teachers who were forced to take refuge in cupboards or who had to be smuggled out of school under blankets to escape the wrath of drunken parents, amid claims that the profession had become "society's punch-bag".

Mr Smith said teachers were not looking for a licence to thump people. But, he added, "if they defend themselves they run the risk of being prosecuted".

The union wants the right to use restraining techniques employed by the police and hospital workers to protect themselves from attack, and for the Crown Prosecution Service to treat violence against teachers more seriously.

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