Guidance gap may threaten inclusion

21st January 2005 at 00:00
Two of Scotland's leading experts on mainstreaming children with behavioural difficulties have backed the Scottish Executive's attempts to make inclusion work in the classroom, as it comes under increasing attack from unions and opposition politicians.

But one of the academics, Dr Gwynnedd Lloyd, head of education studies at Moray House School of Education, Edinburgh University, has warned that the quality of pastoral care in secondary schools has suffered under the teachers' agreement.

With the Executive due to publish its review of guidance in schools within the next month, Dr Lloyd warned that the effect of job-sizing and management restructuring following the teachers' agreement had led to guidance slipping in status.

Dr Lloyd, an expert on children with social and emotional behavioural difficulties (SEBD) and children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), said that schools which had good pastoral care systems encouraged wider child support systems.

However, while in theory it was "a brilliant idea" that all secondary teachers should look out for children and have a pastoral role, in practice implementation had not always been effective. "Some teachers don't want that role and are not suited to it," she said.

It is understood the Executive is trying to find a way of presenting its recommendations from the guidance review to accommodate different models of guidance adopted across the secondary sector.

It is likely to be wary of being too prescriptive in its advice because, while sharing pastoral care duties across all teachers may not have worked in some schools, it has been highly effective in others.

Sheila Riddell, professor of inclusion and diversity at Moray House School of Education, will use her keynote speech at Enquire's annual national conference next month to debunk the myth that using List D schools and special schools for children with behaviour difficulties solved discipline problems in the past.

Professor Riddell said: "It has been suggested that, in the past, many pupils were put away in special schools and disappeared, but that was not the case at all. In Scotland, we have always had about 1 per cent of pupils in special settings, and that has not changed a great deal.

"And we have always had quite a high number of pupils temporarily excluded.

Permanent exclusions have fallen but not all exclusions."

She added that Professor Pamela Munn's recent survey of teacher views on discipline showed that 67 per cent of secondary teachers reported encountering general rowdiness during one week in 1990, compared with 82 per cent in 2004.

"That is a real and significant increase and we ought to be concerned about this. But the teaching profession is getting older and it could also be that people's awareness has been raised about what constitutes an acceptable work environment - so teachers are becoming more sensitive to unacceptable forms of behaviour in the classroom and are saying: 'We have got to do something about this'."

Professor Riddell added: "Nobody is saying that the majority of pupils are behaving very badly, but a small minority of pupils are not behaving very well."

She said that teachers as well as Peter Peacock, Education Minister, recognised that many of these children had experienced very bad times within families or homes.

"There has to be an understanding of where these children are coming from, but it is not acceptable for a small number of children to disrupt the education of the majority of children. Ways have to be found to deal with it," she said.

"The Scottish Executive is going alone the right lines - big investment in classroom assistants and a reduction in class sizes."

Professor Riddell also advocated the use of restorative practices along with other forms of positive behaviour measures where "lots of pupils get praised for good behaviour and bad behaviour is dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible".

She said: "In the past, if children were sent to the former List D schools they didn't disappear off in a puff of smoke. These are the parents of today, possibly not parenting their children very well."

Dr Lloyd reinforced many of her colleague's comments, adding that when she started teaching 30 years ago, some schools were already very difficult.

"But some things have happened that make things more complicated," she said. "Our fast-moving culture makes it harder for kids to settle to school work; there are large numbers of children whose parents are drug-users; large numbers of children whose families are poor and struggling.

"There is evidence of increasing violence across the public sector - it is not restricted to schools - and there is a general sense that people are less respectful of authority."

She backed plans to increase the numbers of classroom assistants and support staff, but warned: "With classroom assistants we are using not very well trained and paid people to support the most difficult children - there are no career structures for these people."

* A spokeswoman for the Executive has meanwhile rejected claims by the Sunday Herald that the pound;35 million announced last Friday to fund more support staff to improve classroom discipline was not new money and was not to be ring-fenced.

She said: "The money will be held by the Executive in the national priorities action fund and will be distributed to councils when ministers are content it will be used for the purpose intended.

"We will monitor the growth in the number of support staff in each council to ensure the money gets to where it is intended."

Leader 22

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