Learning from past lessons

5th January 2001 at 00:00
I AM distressed to read of what, rightly or wrongly apprehended by me, seems to be the tone of the forthcoming inquiry into discipline and disruption in schools, especially when headline proposals mentioned seem to feature compulsory school uniform and "sin bins". Yet again the symptoms, not the causes, are being emphasised.

This is not to underrate the need for concern. Teachers and pupils alike must have their needs for a learning atmosphere in peace and quiet respected. Yet consider a few lessons of the past.

First, 15 to 20 years ago an education officer for one of the Strathclyde divisions quite often - though steering clear of naming and shaming - demonstrated that the rate of exclusions in school A differed enormously from that in school B set in an entirely comparable socio-economic area. Management and the attitudes it promoted, or failed to, was the key.

Second, reflect on the situation in many European countries (Norway, Switzerland and Germany at least) where there is no school uniform - and little bother.

Third, let us have a new evaluation of "removal". Partly on philosophical grounds, much more on financial, List D schools disappeared. Many children's panel members would have testified, not to ther 100 per cent success rate, but to the tremendous differences placements there made to many.

Fourth, look at the havoc created by the destruction of the regions in the Thatcher-Forsyth era. The essential services needed by the most difficult pupils were fragmented. Few of the new councils can even try to provide the multidisciplinary resources then available.

Fifth, in Strathclyde's closing years a significant report led by George Bain, depute director of education, pointed towards a holistic approach by different agencies to try to keep in the mainstream disruptive pupils. The recommendations ran into the sands of local government gerrymandering reorganisation. Yet that report's conclusions, aimed not at cosmeticisation (as the latest edition seems to be) but at root-and-branch treatment, still hold.

Finally, think back to a time of 15-year-old school-leavers, with three exit points a year, with uniform attempted to be enforced, with plenty of leather swishing around and with characters in the classrooms, streamed of course, paralysing the attempts of even experienced resourceful teachers to maintain a degree of order in which learning could take place.

John Taylor

Woodlands Terrace, Kilmarnock

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