Neil Munro reports on the figures behind the changing line on enforcing school discipline
Tackling discipline problems in schools must be a high priority if the post-McCrone agreement is to be successfully implemented, the vice-president of the Educational Institute of Scotland told union members in Paisley last night (Thursday).
Sandy Fowler cited the latest figures which showed that pupil assaults on teachers nearly doubled to more than 3,000 last year as evidence of the urgent need to create a "safe environment" for teachers and other pupils. The figures were "the tip of the iceberg", Mr Fowler suggested.
The EIS vice-president warned the Government that it would have to proceed cautiously in implementing its social inclusion policies, although he stressed the union was committed in principle to them.
"Implementation of this policy, for example the presumption that children will be allocated to a mainstream school, the growth of community schools and Government attempts to reduce the number of exclusions, require careful planning, an increase in resources and staffing, support in individual classrooms and a cut in class sizes," Mr Fowler declared.
"There must also be an explicit recognition that mainstream education will not be appropriate for all pupils. This must include an unambigous acceptance that repeated pupil indiscipline in class will mean that, for the sake of other pupils and the well-being of the school, teachers must have the right to exclude certain pupils."
Mr Fowler said that ministers should not take for granted the 80 per cent endorsement of the post-McCrone agreement in a ballot by EIS members.
If teachers were to be convinced that improvements are likely, "a central element of that will be a real, substantial, measurable decrease in the number of incidents of pupil indiscipline in Scottish schools".
Mr Fowler went on to welcome the incorporation of human rights legislation into Scottish law, although he warned that teachers' rights and protections were less clear.
"Teachers, just as pupils, have the right to be able to work in a safe and well-disciplined environment. Teachers have the right to be protected against assault, whether physical or verbal, against false and malicious accusations from pupils and sometimes parents and against any attempt to disrupt the work of the school or classroom," Mr Fowler said.
He further welcomed the setting up of a task group on discipline by Jack McConnell, the Education Minister. But he warned that it had to have teeth and must be able to make clear recommendations for cutting classroom incidents.