Listening Jack's coup

22nd June 2001 at 01:00
After delivering bags of McCrone money for teachers and their support services, Jack McConnell is fast becoming the most effective Education Minister of recent times - exams permitting. He appears to have pulled off yet another coup in gaining cross-spectrum support for his craftily-engineered report on tackling classroom indiscipline. He responded quickly to teachers' repeated concerns when others could have turned away, and then acted quickly to produce solutions.

The discipline task group report (page three) was produced by representatives of the major interest groups and has been widely endorsed as a model of common sense within a coherent strategy. Not so long ago, unions were shunned at national level, but now they are central. The report hits the right notes in its 36 recommendations, ranging from greater curriculum flexibility to on-site provision for transgressors who simply need time out. Critically, the minister is ready to ditch what appeared at school level as a hardline policy on reducing exclusions.

It may have been well-intentioned but the centrally-imposed target-setting agenda to cut exclusions and promote social inclusion failed to convince those in the frontline ho have complained bitterly about rising indiscipline and the lack of available sanctions. As Mr McConnell points out, exclusions have actually risen since the policy was introduced. In other words, it failed. The new policy to be unveiled in the autumn term will focus on the positive, picking up the agenda of school improvement in the national priorities. As ever, there are no quick fixes, although the headlines will always concentrate on the punitive.

Mr McConnell promises to produce extra cash from a reconfigured excellence fund to back the promotion of positive behaviour strategies and free up the restrictions of the current regime. Schools will be able to tackle their own priorities. There could be money for support bases and staff to work in them. In return, teachers will be expected to examine their classroom practice as part of their continuing development and ensure they are doing everything within their professional capacity to improve learning for all pupils.

Such strategies will assist over the long-term but they exist in a climate where respect for authority and teachers has diminished. Pupils and their parents will still rage at schools and their staff.

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