Things go better with an education minister

16th February 1996 at 00:00
Raymond Robertson is learning fast. Asked after his meeting with the unions on school discipline whether his tours of schools had revealed any worrying signs, the Education Minister replied: "When a minister visits a school, things go well. Let's be honest. I know that from my own experience" (alluding, presumably, to his experience as a minister rather than as a former secondary teacher).

Robertson's admirable insight puts us in mind of Frank McElhone, the estimable Education Minister in the last Labour government. McElhone was wont to go round schools in search of truants although he realised that, by definition, a school was the last place he might be expected to find any. It was, of course, the problem he was researching. But he was unfazed when asked if he managed to turn up a truant or two. "We have a saying in Glasgow," he once told reporters. "You dinnae show yer cracked cups tae the visitors."

Tino Ferri, "Mr Duracell" of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, was a member of the union delegation, but was worried that the media might gain the impression minister and unions were indulging in some cosy camaraderie.

Ferri declared he was "disappointed" at the outcome of the meeting. And, lest any misguided journalist thought the Educational Institute of Scotland, Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association or the Professional Association of Teachers was making the running on this issue, he stressed that the NASUWT had been campaigning against disruptive pupils for 20 years. Perhaps, therefore, not the most effective of campaigns, but as Ferri said (more or less), the NASUWT will have a stronger cutting edge with him at the helm.

The NASUWT, he thundered, favours "sin bins" for the most recalcitrant pupils. This is a phrase so rarely uttered in polite public company - the EIS calls it "off-site provision" - that Ronnie Smith, the EIS's general secretary, looked as though he wanted to be somewhere else, off-site perhaps.

But Ferri is not ferocity personified all the time. He acknowledged that some pupils commit "minor acts of impropriety" and the most terrifying punishment he could think of for those cases was that "the school guidance carousel should swing into action".

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