'Tame the happy slappers'

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Elizabeth Buie reports from the NASUWT conference in Seamill

Discipline, discipline, discipline was the rallying cry from Ian Clydesdale, president of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers Scotland, as he opened the union's conference.

Picking up the discipline theme from last year's conference, Mr Clydesdale trained his guns on the Scottish Parent Teacher Council. It said that behaviour was no worse than in the past, just different and appropriate to the society pupils lived in, he told the conference in Seamill, North Ayrshire.

On the contrary, Mr Clydesdale insisted, indiscipline was growing worse. He cited cases of teachers being hit on the head, as part of the "happy slapping" craze, being spat on and furniture disappearing out of the window of one of Scotland's "flagship" schools.

"Some schools are experiencing a behaviour meltdown," Mr Clydesdale said. A pre-election BBC poll showed that the public were beginning to realise that. Instead of "education, education, education", politicians should be talking about "discipline, discipline, discipline".

"We want politicians, the management of schools and local authorities to be singing off the same hymn-sheet as us. If discipline and disruption are not tackled head on, we will lose more long-serving and long-suffering teachers. And even worse than that, we will lose the young ones coming in," he declared.

Three main issues had to be tackled: "school discipline meltdown", "middle management chaos" and the potential strike over pensions.

With a parliamentary election in Scotland in two years' time and what he hoped was "a slightly chastened occupant of Number 10", politicians should be listening to the union's messages.

"Teachers' health and welfare must be protected and parents must be held to account for the behaviour of their children," Mr Clydesdale said. "We want politicians and government to realise that putting teachers first is the recipe for success for this.

"They must be allowed to teach free from disruption. They need, and schools need and pupils need discipline, discipline, discipline."

Peter McLoughlin, the union's national president, warned that his experience of city academies in England suggested that headteachers and the private companies sponsoring these schools were trying to change nationally agreed conditions of service.

Privatisation had not moved as far in Scotland as it had in England and Wales, but there were huge dangers in putting private money in the hands of public providers - through public private partnerships and sponsored city academies.

"Although teachers south of the border have looked with envy at the McCrone deal, it is clear you still have some concerns." These included job-sizing, continuing professional development, the growing role of support staff, the winding down scheme for early retirement and the extension of the chartered teacher programme.

Lord James Douglas Hamilton, the Conservative education spokesman, told the conference: "Teachers deserve a better deal. This is not something we can afford to put off and we certainly cannot stand by and allow teachers to be attacked while trying to do their job.

"Indiscipline in our schools is making life a misery for teachers and for the well-behaved majority of pupils. I know this from anecdotal evidence, even though the Scottish Executive refuses to publish the statistics any more.

"Instead of supporting teachers and headmasters by allowing them to expel unruly pupils, this Labour-Lib Dem Executive undermines and ignores them.

The Scottish Conservatives will continue to fight for the rights of school staff.

"Teachers should be aware that they can influence the legislative process in order to try to improve their conditions and that we will support them 100 per cent in doing so."

On plans to raise the public sector pension age to 65, Lord James said: "If MSPs can retire when they want to retire, why should not teachers have the same opportunity? Teaching can, in certain circumstances, be, from all accounts, an arduous profession and this matter, in my view, should be treated by government sympathetically."

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