Directors join fight against classroom anarchy

12th May 2000 at 01:00
David Henderson reports from the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association in Aviemore

A TEACHER fightback against growing classroom indiscipline, abuse and violence has won the support of directors.

As the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association placed the issue at the heart of its annual conference in Aviemore last week, Keir Bloomer, president of the Association of Directors of Education, acknowledged the depth of feeling and the difficulties facing teachers.

In a keynote address, Mr Bloomer, director in Clackmannan, said: "Teacher unions have been unduly reticent over a couple of decades in drawing attention to this particular concern."

His comments follow the findings of an SSTA survey, completed by 2,000 members, which revealed that almost half think indiscipline is very or extremely significant, although twice as many believe workload to be a greater problem.

Seven out of 10 say it has increased substantially over the past five years and almost half put this down to changing pupil attitudes. Almost one in five say anti-exclusion policies are to blame.

David Eaglesham, the union's general secretary, said there was no single answer. Excluding more pupils or setting up "sin bins" would not solve the problem. There must be a "cessation of arbitrary targets such as the 30 per cent planned cut in exclusions".

Mr Eaglesham urged teachers to be honest about the extent of indiscipline and not to cover it up. "We have to have zero tolerance of violence in schools. The figures are simply appalling and are not acceptable in any way. It's changing pupil attitudes that are at the heart of indiscipine. It's not Government policies, it's not lack of parental support, it's not the lack of provision of one sort or another. By a very large margin, it's the attitude of pupils."

The issue was one of "hearts and minds". Around 750 teachers in the survey reported that they were being interrupted once or twice a lesson, 500 three or four times and 300 five or six times.

Principal teachers were dealing with more than 4,000 discipline referrals a week, and Mr Eaglesham warned that even this figure was grossly underreported.

Morag Wilson, East Ayrshire, said there was little evidence of Government money to back ministers' social inclusion policies. "We are seeing stress being imposed on more and more teachers who are having to teach seriously disruptive and potentially violent pupils at the same time as being required to produce better exam results. As things are, mainstream schools are not able to cope with these very disruptive pupils."

Most teachers were not receiving suport in the classroom and a Scottish Executive CD-Rom with 100 handy hints for dealing with disruptive pupils was unacceptable. In a message to the Children and Education Minister, Ms Wilson said: "Sorry, Mr Galbraith, we've been there, done that, got the T-shirt.".

George Hayton, Fife, said that forcing badly behaved pupils into the same building did not make for meaningful social inclusion. "We all know there are some pupils who have rejected education and whose disruptiveness and lack of co-operation is beyond the power of a class teacher to overcome in a 40 or 60-minute period while attempting to teach the rest of the class."

Bill Walker, depute headteacher at Inverness Royal Academy, said his school was no different from any other and he found himself dealing with more and more incidents in which children confronted teachers and ancillary staff with offensive and abusive language.

"They do not appear to believe this is any form of harassment and there is little acceptance of contrition. There is increasing frustration that teachers in school are becoming limited in their actions and there is little or no hope of action being taken elsewhere," Mr Walker said.

He had to keep almost verbatim reports of meetings with parents to avoid threats of litigation. Harassment was not limited to the classroom. "There is vandalism to cars, cars scratched with nails, windscreens smashed by bottles and malicious phone calls made by mobile telephones."

For some pupils, mainstream school was not appropriate, although there was "much that was laudable" in the Government's social inclusion policies.

Mr Walker said teachers were often reluctant to report incidents in school and out for fear of being labelled unable to cope. "Psychologically, what is more serious is to experience malicious and frivolous allegations. Teachers were often suspended pending investigation. Accusations should not be swept under the carpet but the process of investigation has to be quickened," Mr Walker argued.

He also warned that there was little recourse for teachers when allegations proved unfounded.

Bob McGarill, an assistant head in Glasgow, said he had to deal with up to 600 written disciplinary referrals a year. Most of his interventions were successful but a minority of parents wanted to force a confrontation.

"I have had to sit through meetings with parents lying, accusing and slandering individual teachers and the school. The staffroom talk in a school of 600 or 700 pupils is about six or seven pupils. These are the pupils for whom the inclusion policy does not work," Mr McGarill said.

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