Labour has it badly wrong in trying to make a hard core of disaffected youngsters fit into mainstream schools, a conference was told. Neil Munro reports.
FURIOUS denunciations of Government policies on social inclusion rang round the conference on school discipline organised last week by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, held in Edinburgh.
The title of the opening address from Nigel de Gruchy, its UK general secretary, made the union's mission clear - "discipline in schools - protecting teachers, pupils and education standards".
The NASUWT, which co-hosted the conference with The Scotsman, has long taken an uncompromising line on defending teachers who refuse to teach disruptive or violent pupils, taking strike action if necessary.
The union believes that the Government's policy of reducing school exclusions by 30 per cent by 2003, through developing alternative approaches which keep youngsters in school, is putting teachers and teaching at risk.
Mr de Gruchy said he accepted that special units within schools could be useful in the early stages to stop unruly pupils getting out of hand. But the Government, he added, "has got the balance badly wrong" in pumping millions of pounds into social inclusion for a core of youngsters who simply cannot be coped with in mainstream schools.
He cited the case of one pupil in an English school who had been given 10 "final warnings" for assault before being excluded after his 11th offence. This brought an incredulous response from Des Lesley, a specialist with the Lambie Law Partnership, who said no teache would have been allowed to remain in post if even one allegation was made against them.
Tino Ferri, the NASUWT executive member for Scotland, said the Government's policy "gives louts a massive signal that they can do and say anything that comes into their nasty little heads".
In a typically robust performance, Mr Ferri noted that "the House of Commons can eject unruly MPs, publicans can sling out disruptive customers, judges can incarcerate disruptive defendants, bus drivers can have unruly grannies thrown off the bus. But teachers are expected to turn the other cheek to yahoos and yobs who have decided that they are not interested in school and therefore ipso facto no one else around them shall be, so help them God."
Carol Fox, the union's Scottish official, distanced herself from Mr Ferri's descriptions of pupil misbehaviour - "as someone from a social work background".
But she none the less called on MSPs to recognise that teaching was imperilled not by incompetent teachers but by a hidden problem of violence and verbal assaults.
"Never mind disciplinary procedures for so-called incompetent teachers. What about statutory disciplinary procedures for pupils backed up by referrals to the children's panel system or courts?" she asked.
Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP education spokesman, agreed with the NASUWT demand for more specialist units outside schools. "I don't know of any headteacher who uses exclusion lightly," she said. "But I do know plenty who believe their professional judgement is undermined by having meaningless targets imposed on them from the outside."