Confrontation cannot be good for discipline

1st November 1996 at 00:00
It was only a matter of time. The increasingly artificial and confused debate on the role of schools in fostering morality and "family values" was always bound to claim a few scalps. Nobody will be surprised that the caring professions are emerging as the very embodiment of meddlesome outsiders whose values are presumably felt to be amoral and certainly not those of the family.

Monday's Daily Mail duly obliged with a fierce attack on counselling sessions mounted for primary pupils in Glasgow's east end (page seven). Surely, it added, "the armies" (there's value laden for you) of educational psychologists, social workers and guidance teachers can cope without help from "the burgeoning counselling industry".

Any sensible teacher, or indeed outside observer, comparing the chaos that has enveloped the Ridings school in Yorkshire and the preventive measures Lamlash primary in Easterhouse has bought from "the burgeoning counselling industry" would not require much time to decide which of the two is giving pupils, staff and parents the better deal.

And if any teacher believes that a project has led to major improvements in concentration and attention, as Fiona Craig at Lamlash has been able to conclude, who cares whether "relaxation and anger management" involves massaging pupils' hands and feet. Extreme conditions sometimes require extreme solutions, as the Mail should know.

When headlines are being created by teacher unions understandably protective of their members in the face of classroom disruption and policy-making takes place on the hoof in response to those headlines, a period of calm and reflective discussion is essential. Last week's conference in Aberdeenshire (page five) on improving the climate in schools by accentuating the positive in pupils' behaviour was therefore perfectly timed. There is, of course, nothing new under the sun: the central importance of "praise and recognition" for children's efforts and achievements was stressed repeatedly 20 years ago by Mia Kellmer Pringle during her leadership of the National Children's Bureau.

But the measured and reflective discussion at the conference is surely the kind of atmosphere which should inspire effective policy-making. Flailing around in all directions and losing the head when everyone round about is also losing theirs, as Labour appears to be doing in England with its proposals for home-school contracts, is a recipe for disaster and bad law. Labour in Scotland would be well advised to hang on to what is left of its devolutionary credentials, in this respect at least, and continue with its fine but essential distinction between voluntary compacts and legally binding contracts.

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