Exclusion isn't the answer

26th May 2000 at 01:00
Schools have to do more than just cope with violence. They have to tackle the causes, says Danny McCafferty.

VIOLENCE in schools has been highlighted as a growing problem, not just for pupils and parents but also for many teachers. We need to recognise and acknowledge that fact. I have seen mounting evidence of the problems it can cause, both as education convener in West Dunbartonshire and in my role as spokesman on education and children's issues with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Aggressive and threatening behaviour is not only confined to schools. Housing staff, social workers, youth workers and residents in many communities face violent and anti-social behaviour day in and day out. Many of my fellow councillors come across incidents involving anti-social behaviour and vandalism with depressing regularity.

This is not to say that the specific problem of violence in schools is any the less because it happens more widely. What it does say is that it cannot be tackled in isolation.

Teachers on their own cannot resolve every ill of society, nor be held responsible for everything that goes wrong. Yet part of the problem may be that the teaching profession is still not truly child centred. Teachers work too often as an isolated profession and not as part of an educational team with other professionals and support staff across disciplines.

Recognising the problem of violence in schools is one thing. Doing something about it is another. Work has already been done in a number of areas to analyse the causes of anti-social behaviour and possible solutions. That work needs to build on initiatives already in place to tackle bullying, to reward achievement and in other ways to address violence and foster a positive ethos.

At the start of this year, Cosla and NCH Action for Children set up a think-tank on ways of working with young people who offend. The group of 29 was drawn from many walks of life. Its report last month has been widely praised and a long list of recommendations has been submitted to the Scottish Executive.

Cosla is also encouraging the sharing of good practice among councils in tackling violence wherever it occurs. In that context, I can cite the experience of one local authority which has put in place a programme through one of its new community schools to bring together teaching staff, social work staff, health service staff, pupils, parents and others.

Each of the professionals involved is having to learn about the values and targets of the others. Needs differ from child to child and family to family. Only by joining together will we deliver the support to meet those needs. P> Local government is committed to social justice. That means doing the best for each and every child and young person, regardless of their background.

Cosla supports the Executive's alternatives to exclusion programme and individual councils have done much good work to reduce the number of children excluded from school. But that is not to so say that we have addressed all the problems.

I am aware of anecdotal reports that a few schools may have succeeded in reducing exclusions by bending the rules. I am equally aware of the concerns among teachers, and also pupils and parents, that having disruptive or violent children in a classroom can upset the whole class and cause more problems than it solves.

Again, let us recognise that more needs to be done. That may mean setting up special facilities and support mechanisms within schools to cater for disruptive pupils, building on existing good practice.

Simply isolating and excluding damaged young people will reinforce social exclusion, and society as a whole will pay the price. The disenfranchised, cynical, apathetic and alienated do not "disappear". They react to a society in which they have no place by creating their own culture and living according to their own values and standards. Problems become cyclical revisiting schools generation after generation. It is not a new phenomenon and it cannot be wished away .

In the constant flux of society today, teachers and others feel the strain. So do young people, particularly those who lack self-esteem and confidence, who feel inadequate or whose home life is difficult. They have to be helped to make sense of the world.

They have to be included in decisions which affect their lives. They have to be treated with respect in order to give respect. It is an integral part of a modern education system to take a holistic approach to young people's development.

Responsibility for addressing problems of violence lies with the person encountering it in the first instance. Tempting and understandable though it may be, standing aside because "it isn't my job" simply passes the problem on to someone else.

Far better to tackle the causes than constantly to cope with the effects. Expediency is no substitute for expertise .

That means everyone - Government, local authorities, teachers, parents, pupils and local communities - playing their part. Only by working together will solutions come about. Exclusion, however attractive it may be to someone on the receiving end, must be the last option.

Danny McCafferty is spokesman on education and children's issues for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

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