Together we can meet the challenge

8th October 2004 at 01:00
The majority of secondary teachers now believe indiscipline is a major concern - but most primary staff do not share that view.

* Peter Peacock put behaviour in a historical context in his address at the launch of the latest discipline initiative. Here is an edited extract.

In 1675, the Synod of Aberdeen asked its presbyteries to ask their headteachers whether they "chastise their pupils for cursing, swearing, lying, speaking profanietie: for disobedience to parents and what vices appeared in them".

Concern about school behaviour is not new, but it is taking new forms and presenting interesting challenges.

The Executive found it necessary in the past year to legislate for antisocial behaviour in Scotland. We estimate that more than 40,000 children in Scotland live in homes where parents misuse drugs or alcohol.

We know that more young people are experimenting with drugs and alcohol at earlier ages.

Each year some 30,000 children are referred to our children's hearings system, on offence or care and welfare grounds. Around 9,000 children under 16 run away from home every year. We see more family break-ups in our society affecting more children.

That is the context in which schools operate and they are not immune from the combined effect of all these trends. From my first day as Education Minister, I made it clear I regard behaviour to be a key priority.

What bothers the majority of teachers is low-level disruption: children eating in class, children leaving their seats, children talking out of turn, idleness, causing unnecessary noise. Thankfully the evidence shows that violent incidents toward teachers are not an everyday occurrence. That said, I have made clear that any violent incident is one incident too many - and that remains the case.

Three years ago, before Better Behaviour - Better Learning, we did not have a clear national strategy - today we do. Three years ago, not every school had reviewed and refreshed its discipline policies - today most have or are about to. Three years ago, few schools had discipline committees - today an increasing number do.

Two years ago, we did not have many schools engaged in staged intervention - today more and more are involved. One year ago, very few schools had heard of restorative practices - today we have a number of pilots.

A year ago, we did not provide headteachers with opportunities to share with each other what is working - today we are providing these opportunities. A year ago, the Executive did not employ anyone dedicated to sharing good practice on behaviour between schools - today we do.

A year ago, we were not engaging systematically with the voluntary sector in Scotland on the approaches they can bring to help with children at the margins - today we are. A year ago, heads felt under pressure to meet exclusion targets in schools - today we don't have such targets.

In all that we do, collectively, to address these issues, parents have a key role to perform in supporting schools and we will be emphasising that message.

Our schools are tackling the issues head on and they have an Education Minister who will back them every step of the way.

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