Sin bin politics

9th June 2000 at 01:00
IF William Hague was really interested in the best way to deal with problem children, his intervention in a debate that deeply affects teachers would be welcome. But the suspicion is that politics come first. He sees an opportunity to build on the support he received for his attacks on asylum seekers. Any support from hard-pressed teachers would be a welcome bonus and a signal that for the first time the Conservatives were beginning to re-establish credibility in education.

Mr Hague rightly condemns the constant disruption caused by serious behaviour problems. Pupils who want to get on with their work become as upset as teachers. The question is how best to deal with the intractable. Here the politician's instincts take over. Mr Hague wants such pupils excluded and educated in special units. That is one solution but it is not the only one. Educationists know that differing circumstances prompt a range of solutions. Where scools are able to set up and staff a unit on their own premises, pupils can remain on the roll, thus avoiding the stigma of exclusion and maintaining the possibility of early return to normal classes, while at the same time protecting the interests of other pupils and teachers.

In England that is the present Government's preferred option. But the parties should not be seen rallying to different banners, for there are no cut-and-dried solutions, nor does one have a monopoly of wisdom or the right to be called the custodian of good discipline.

Among Tories north of the border Mr Hague's initiative will strike more of a chord with Phil Gallie's law-and-order instincts than with Brian Monteith's efforts as education spokesman to recognise the complexity of issues such as special needs provision, ridiculed though he has been in the education Bill debates. The party has a long way to go to win back teacher support.

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