Doing justice to discipline

16th January 2004 at 00:00
You cannot accuse the Education Minister of failing to keep his word. Peter Peacock pledged to put discipline at the top of his agenda when he took up office, and he has. The Executive has also put its money where its mouth is, investing pound;10 million a year on the discipline task force recommendations and pound;11 million on supporting alternatives to exclusion. The question posed by the plethora of initiatives ushering in behaviour co-ordinators, a national "tsar", a pupil inclusion network and masterclasses for heads is whether these are tackling the right issues or tinkering at the edges.

The latest kid on the disciplinary block is restorative justice, which will form part of a major feature next week (see also Scotland Plus this week).

It is, of course, only a new kid on the Scottish scene: a search on the web produces 95,600 items on the subject. Schools from Colorado to Queensland, as well as those south of the border, report major successes. Even in Scotland, aspects of restorative justice are familiar in many schools, such as peer mediation to deal with bullying and circle time allowing feelings and fears to be expressed.

These are worthwhile initiatives which ought to be given time to prove themselves, or otherwise. No doubt cynics will protest they are sops which go out of their way to avoid punishment and retribution. But, as Brian Steele of North Lanarkshire's education psychology service points out (page five), these are tried and tested policies which have not been notable for their success in the past. Perhaps, as CJ of Reggie Perrin fame might have said, they may well be the reason we have got to where we are today.

It is significant that in a survey published last May the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association reported that 43 per cent of 2,500 members who took part attributed the major cause of indiscipline to changing pupil attitudes, some distance ahead of the 24 per cent who blamed the Executive's inclusion policies.

The response to changing attitudes surely therefore has to focus on changing behaviour.

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