'Lawyers target inclusion cases'

18th April 2003 at 01:00
THE educational equivalent of "ambulance-chasing lawyers" now see complaints against schools as a lucrative new source of income, Alana Ross, president of the Educational Institute of Scotland, told the STUC in Inverness this week.

Around pound;33 million has so far been shelled out by the Scottish Executive on measures to improve discipline, yet there was "no noticeable difference on the ground".

Headteachers were reluctant to exclude troublesome pupils because they were looking over their shoulders at their local authorities, which were looking over their shoulders at the Scottish Executive and "the legal eagles".

Staff and pupils were affected by the discipline breakdown.

Ms Ross, a Glasgow primary teacher, said: "More and more teachers are spending more and more time dealing with discipline rather than education.

Sometimes one child's inclusion can be at the expense of all the other children in the class."

Her views are in line with those of the reconvened national discipline task group, which last month accepted that some teachers are unaware of the initiative. Most efforts have focused on young people causing acute difficulties and on setting up support bases.

Stressing the impact of the Executive's social inclusion agenda, Ms Ross said: "Many children with physical disabilities and moderate learning difficulties have settled in well and have added a new, positive dimension to our schools.

"Unfortunately, the disability which is hardest to cope with within classes is the inability to conform to any accepted standards of behaviour."

She continued: "You may have noticed that figures were published recently showing a rise in incidents of violence towards staff in schools. This is unacceptable in any workplace but goes to illustrate the number of troubled and troublesome pupils in mainstream education."

Inclusion was causing many concerns. "Many children are leaving special schools to join classes of 30-plus. Also, because of the poor pay of support staff, many move on and inevitably this leads to a feeling of instability among the young people involved," Ms Ross said.

She accepted there had been many successes but this was only where resources had been made available. "It is not enough simply to open the door to children. Arrangements have to be put in place for support staff, transport, learning resources, play and many other integral aspects of a child's day at school. There is a cost to successful integration but it is a price which should be worth paying."

However, mainstreaming was not always the answer, a point illustrated by the Hamilton parents who were protesting about South Lanarkshire's plans to close a special school. "It has to be accepted that for some children mainstream education is simply not appropriate and alternative provision has to be made," Ms Ross said.

She paid tribute to the Scottish Parliament's contribution and the "open-ended" national education debate, which produced answers quite different to the agenda south of the border. There was now far more discussion with the unions.

On the downside, ministers still favoured the public private partnership (PPP) initiative which, for the next 30 years, would force councils to pay out millions each year in rent. "Who knows what the impact of this will be many years down the line," Ms Ross said.

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