A strong correlation between levels of literacy and numeracy and pupil disruption has been identified by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. The association's evidence comes as Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, this week invited the teacher unions to talks on February 7 to discuss classroom discipline.
Mr Robertson told a Scottish Office-sponsored conference on attendance and absence on Monday that he wanted to banish the "menace" of aggressive and threatening behaviour from classrooms and pledged to work together with the unions.
Alan Lamont, the SSTA's general secretary, welcomed Mr Robertson's statement and said: "We are anxious to protect teachers from violent pupils but we cannot just chuck them out and forget about them. There is a feeling that we need to look at the educational causes and long-term solutions." If the minister was to set up a working group, he should concentrate on the serious levels of disruption caused by a small number of pupils and the "niggle factor" underlying general indiscipline.
Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said Mr Robertson had made a "tentative first step" in recognising there was a problem to be addressed. "But I do not think there is going to be any quick fix solution. It is deeper and more pervasive than that," Mr Smith said.
The EIS would focus initially on health and safety advice to ensure that all incidents were recorded and monitored. "We need to be honest and open about this. It is not a bad reflection on the school or teacher where there has been violence," Mr Smith said.
In his speech to the Audit Unit's conference on attendance in Glasgow, Mr Robertson said: "Parents cannot expect teachers to have sole responsibility for teaching young people about what is acceptable behaviour and what is unacceptable, about right from wrong. And I am not prepared to preside over a situation where teachers fear going into the classroom.
"This is intolerable to me as an ordinary member of society. It is intolerable to me as a former teacher and as a constituency MP and, above all, it is intolerable to me as Minister for Education."
Mr Robertson said that indiscipline was disruptive and damaging to pupils and teachers and that research had shown persistent low-level indiscipline, such as pupils talking out of turn, avoiding work or eating in class, "wearies and frustrates" teachers. Research carried out for the Scottish Office by Professor Pamela Munn of Moray House Institute showed that good discipline flowed from the ethos of a school. The strongest influence was teachers' expectations about pupils.
The most successful schools were associated with a positive ethos, high expectations and a readiness to take account of the views of teachers, parents and pupils. "In schools where these factors combine, I believe that pupils are more likely to attend regularly, achieve high performance, be less involved in indiscipline and respect the right of others in society," Mr Robertson said.