Swearing generally, and the use of the "f" word in particular, has been on the increase. Such behaviour is undoubtedly more prevalent in society but Forfar Academy has an automatic exclusion rule for swearing at staff. Crisis point was reached when we excluded four pupils in one hour.
The number of occasions when swearing was overheard in the dining-hall, corridors and playing-fields was also a cause for alarm. A recent inspection report commented favourably on the good ethos and high level of self-discipline among pupils. But the issue seemed to be a growing acceptance among young people that to swear is an automatic response to almost anything which inhibits their freedom to do or say as they wish.
In discussion with colleagues in the guidance team, we agreed to issue a note to all staff, setting out a consistent strategy. The campaign was to be phased over seven weeks.
* Week 1. The headteacher raised the issue with all year assemblies. Our ultimate aim was to have the pupils produce slogans for a poster campaign. For this reason, the head chose to focus on "notices", their purpose and likely impact. The message generally was that notices requesting no smoking or silence were issues that concerned other people. The theme of offending others led to the matter of swearing. Among other points, the head quoted the statistic relating to complaints to the broadcasting authorities: most are against offensive language. Pupil representative groups (school senates) also discussed the issues.
* Weeks 2-3. All classes in social education worked through a one-hour lesson prepared specifically for this campaign by myself as deputy head. The lesson involved pupils in a number of activities - card sorts, brainstorming, matching activities, role plays - to heighten awareness of the appropriateness of language in different situations and of the variety of means of expression we use. The lesson culminated in the class agreeing a slogan to use in the campaign against swearing. Some of the slogans offered were: "Fowl" mouths are for chickens.
Be respectable, swearing's unacceptable.
Start caring, stop swearing.
Don't be mean, keep language clean.
Take care, dinnae swear.
The list was impressive. The foreign language assistants, keen to contribute, produced: Les gros mots sont pour les idiots.
Las palabrotas son para los idiotas.
Fluchen ist bestimmt nicht gut, weil man anderen weh tut.
* Weeks 4-7. At weekly intervals, various slogans (on brightly coloured A4 paper) were placed in staff pigeon-holes for display in classroom areas. The janitors kept up a steady display of slogans in public areas. They were vigilant for any signs of vandalism; the temptation to add graffiti to posters opposing swearing would be almost irresistible for some of our pupils.
The counter-offensive was more sophisticated than anticipated but was limited to one "rogue" slogan of rhyming swear words, text-processed to be a near match to the "official" slogans. This was quickly removed and the campaign continued.
The final stage was an informal evaluation. Pupil opinion was sought through the school senates. They commented variously that the posters were "a waste of paper" and "could have been designed better" (their own work!). However, there was general agreement that the campaign had a valid purpose. A random sample of pupils in the lunch hall showed that, all pupils asked could quote at least one slogan and many could recite a list.
There was also a significant fall in the number of referrals resulting from the use of bad language. Guidance staff felt there was a need, in future years, to tackle the issue more directly through a broad topic on relationships, under personal and social education. Teaching staff commented favourably on the fact that the senior staff had taken the lead in tackling a problem which was causing growing concern. The presence of the posters in every teaching area allowed staff the opportunity on occasions to simply point to the poster when a pupil seemed to be in danger of speaking disrespectively - or worse - to a classmate.
Parents were informed of the campaign as it neared its end through the school newsletter. Among the issues raised by guidance staff following their social education lessons was the apparent frequency with which parents and children swear in their dealings with each other.
Does this indicate alienation between the values of home and school? As no exclusion for swearing has ever been challenged by parents, we assume there is still basic support for the no-swearing approach in school, regardless of what is heard or said at home.
Linda Wolfe is depute rector, Forfar Academy. Anyone interested in the teaching materials devised for this campaign may obtain a copy on Apple Macintosh disc by sending her a blank disc and stamped addressed envelope to Taylor Street, Forfar DD8 3LB.