Rivals battle over disruptive pupils

4th April 1997 at 01:00
The two biggest unions clashed over handling unruly pupils at their Easter conferences. Clare Dean opens a three-page report

Sharp differences between Britain's two biggest teaching unions over where disruptive pupils should be taught were underlined at their Easter conferences.

There was no meeting of minds between the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers on the issue although the NUT moved a little closer to its rivals this week.

While the NUT has traditionally supported the children, the NASUWT has put the teacher first. The NASUWT's hardline stance has led to high-profile battles during the past year at Glaisdale, Hebburn, Manton and The Ridings schools.

Differences surfaced as the NUT's Harrogate conference heard criticism of the NASUWT's "right-wing" approach amid claims that excluded pupils with serious problems were being dumped on the streets.

However, concern over mounting discipline problems is now so great that even the NUT backed a motion calling for a ballot on refusal to teach violent pupils if all other avenues - such as legal advice, counselling and compensation - fail.

NASUWT general secretary Nigel de Gruchy made no apology for his union's stance. He said: "It doesn't mean that teachers' interests are more important than the children's interests but someone has got to look after the teachers.

"We don't accept that we have social responsibilities, family responsibilities for these youngsters. Our job is to teach."

He rejected claims that the NASUWT has made capital out of the cases. "We didn't release the names of any school or individual. In most cases they came from the families themselves who were eager to make a bob or so out of their problems.

"Every time you went into their house you found a new three-piece suite, every time they (the families) came out they were a little better dressed than before the problem arose."

This week the NASUWT said it could not accept the principle of unqualified inclusivity with Mr de Gruchy claiming that 100,000 pupils would be excluded if schools were stricter about swearing and violence.

It vowed to continue supporting fully members faced with indiscipline, called for independent appeals panels to be abolished and said that government and local authorities had to realise no cheap fix was available.

Roger Kirk, executive member for Nottinghamshire area which covers Manton school, said special schools had been closed in the county for ideological rather than cash-saving reasons.

Figures presented to Parliament by Cheryl Gillan, the junior education minister, showed that Nottinghamshire came way below neighbouring authorities on the percentage of pupils with statements of special needs.

In Derbyshire 3.42 per cent of pupils had statements, Lincolnshire's figure was 3.35 per cent, Leicestershire 2.78 per cent and Cambridgeshire 2.74 per cent.

Nottinghamshire, however, had 1.18 per cent and Mr Kirk said: "That meant there were more than 2,000 pupils in mainstream classrooms in my county without any proper support."

Dave Battye, from Sheffield, said a teacher in her first year in the city suffered a dislocated knee, broken wrist, black eye and heavy bruising at the hands of one pupil. She was off sick for three days and during this time the supply teacher received a black eye and broken finger.

Mr Battye said that child's mother claimed she was a "good" parent: "She gave him everything he wanted, not everything he needed.

She still thinks its right to go out and buy a new video, all the things he wants but she is the one who has got it wrong and he's the one who is suffering."

Conference rejected the notion of home-to-school contracts but he called for a children's charter identifying clearly what was expected from parents.

Meanwhile Steve Adler from London said Labour and the Liberal Democrats had to take their share of the blame for the closure of out-of-town, peaceful special schools used by inner-city pupils.

"They think city streets for city kids. We can't take these kids away to put them in a peaceful place where they can continue their education away from bad influence and later on return them to that environment.

"We can't do that because it is a betrayal of those children. I would suggest closure of those schools is a betrayal of those children."

Profile of a typical excluded pupil

* male

* has experienced major family breakdown or spent time in care or with social workers

* has had multiple moves in an area

* has been diagnosed as having special needs

* no one in his household works

* has suffered violence or abuse

Source: Lesley Whiston, deputy head of Wood Lane special school, London, an NASUWT delegate

Members say unity is strength, page 21

Colleges take unruly pupils, page 23

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