Include us out of indiscipline - please

28th January 2005 at 00:00
Shame on the Education Minister. Shame on his advisers. Faced with catastrophic levels of indiscipline, what does the Scottish Executive do? Predictably, it focuses on employing more learning support and classroom assistants. Classroom teachers suspect yet another big flop.

All schools have classroom assistants. They earn pitifully low salaries and often take abuse from the ill-behaved youngsters they support. Frequently, they receive little or no training to help them to deal with pupils with social, emotional and behavioural problems. So there is often little to distinguish them from any reasonably sensible adult invited in off the street, and it shouldn't be like that. Yes, some have real skills but without properly developed expertise, many of them are not much more than glorified baby-sitters.

The latest pound;35million dollop to tackle indiscipline reveals a great deal about the court of the Education Minister. Despite the evaluation exercise which apparently took place recently, what we have here is a superficial answer to the problem. OK, home-school link workers will be appoin-ted to liaise with parents in areas such as attendance and behaviour. These individuals, on salaries of pound;28,000, will be few and far between. How many will actually be appointed by the local authorities?

We have to get under the froth and rattle a few sabres. Our society is increasingly polarised in terms of wealth. We know that poverty and deprivation lead to disruptive and hopeless young people. The proliferation of low-income dysfunctional families (ask any guidance tutor) means that pupils bring all their emotional baggage to school. The pound;35million may be a winning sound-bite but it will simply scratch the surface of the problem. What we need is a radical exploration of what's happening in society. Health visitors now need to advise new parents (apparently from all sectors of society) that it's good for children's development to read to them.

Society is being deskilled in terms of being able to cook real food, with many kids eating only microwaveable garbage. Why else would the Scottish Executive need to run adverts at Christmas advising people that it's sensible to defrost their turkeys before cooking them? Given such scenarios, there is every reason to speculate that parenting skills are being lost. It's a significant part of the explanation for the epidemic of bad behaviour which is no respecter of social status, income group or whatever criteria one cares to use.

Could we delve just a bit deeper and start acknowledging the epidemic nature of the problem? Invite parents into classrooms, and not just the parents of the offenders. If parents had a bird's-eye view of many classrooms, they would be utterly appalled and would make their feelings known at the ballot box.

Back to classroom assistants. The inclusion policy means that we all muddle along together for better or for worse. Sometimes it can be very distracting having other "supporting adults" in the classroom. The teacher might be talking to the class and, all the while, a classroom assistant is trying to control her charge in not so hushed whispers. Pupil support bases are all very well but they are reserved for the most challenging cases. The disruptive behaviour which often hijacks the learning process is the low-level, less-in-your-face aggravation which is nevertheless, utterly damaging - deliberate pencil-tapping, for instance. I once asked an educational psychologist for the cure to this but I'm still waiting for the reply.

This is why I advocate a much more forensic examination of the causes of galloping indiscipline. Admittedly, this might simply confirm that far too many pupils are simply beyond anyone's control and what then? If I were the Education Minister, I'd be consulting a whole lot more classroom teachers.

Then, of course, I'm not the Education Minister - which is a blessing for us all.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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