An interesting conversation, while I was on holiday in a rainy Costa Blanca resort, fired warning shots across the bows of the Scottish Executive's policy on inclusion. Once my fellow tourist had established that I was a teacher, she presented me with the following real life scenario with a plea for advice.
Her daughter - a first-year pupil in a Scottish state secondary - has, since August, achieved virtually nothing in her English class. Nothing, I queried? Well, they'd read a short play but other than that, nothing, and no homework. How have they been spending the time in English?
Most of the time the class has been out of control. Nothing of an educational nature has been learnt and nothing has been gained. Significant numbers of the pupils, although not the majority, pay no attention to their English teacher. He stands amid this merry hell and shouts to little effect, while the throwing of missiles in the shape of pens, pencils and so on is commonplace.
The daughter of my holiday acquaintance was eager to speak about her experiences. Certain individuals in her class are badly behaved everywhere in the school but in this particular English class they plummet to the excesses of disruptive behaviour and consequently everyone else in the class is dragged down too. In the class are three adults - the class teacher, a support for learning teacher and a behaviour support auxiliary.
These adults spend their time remonstrating with about four extremely difficult pupils to little effect. Some parents have complained already and have been firmly told that they should be grateful that their children do behave themselves and don't have the behavioural and emotional problems of these other poor souls. So, what course of action should this despairing mother take?
I have been mulling this over for several days now and frankly I don't know what the answer is. Obviously, I am not in possession of the full facts and the account I have is but one interpretation of what is going on. However, it seems that the problem is at least twofold - a teacher who is not coping and the Scottish Executive's policy on inclusion, which gives disruptive children more rights than non-disruptive children. An environment which has to focus more on crowd control than on the engagement of learning fails everyone in it. In too many classes the well behaved children are bored and underachieving.
Ineffective teachers are still too protected by the system. Yes, if your misdemeanour is something of a sexual nature you will swiftly, and rightly so, receive your marching orders. But any other type of failure seems to be acceptable, sometimes even condoned by the establishment it occurs in. This can be a double whammy for the enthusiastic children in a class - an incompetent teacher trying to control very difficult kids, thus excluding the motivated pupils.
When I spoke about this problem to a friend whose children attend an independent school, he was stunned - disruptive children at his son's school are severely dealt with by the headteacher. He commented that it is his duty to do this: it is precisely what he is there for. Such antisocial behaviour is not tolerated, as indeed it would not be tolerated in the world of work outside the cosy congeniality of school. If you can't behave like a reasonable person, then you're out. But state schools are not allowed to adopt such a straightforward approach.
And the advice to Mrs Very Worried? Of course, I said that she should meet with the headteacher of the school and communicate her concerns. Will the school think badly of her, she speculated? I do fear for her because most secondary schools hate criticism. But the most dreadful thing of all is the policy on inclusion.
It has failed because it was driven by a political correctness which should be culled immediately.
Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.