Top Tory calls for greater sanctions
The Conservatives have latched on to the West Dunbartonshire survey on school discipline, reported in last week's TES Scotland, to demand that schools be given more powers.
Brian Monteith, the party's education spokesman, misses no opportunity to return relentlessly to the theme of empowering headteachers and parents. The Tories want education removed from local authority control.
The survey, which was carried out by the local Educational Institute of Scotland, revealed that 88 per cent of the 421 teachers who took part blamed the Executive's social inclusion policies for the rising tide of indiscipline.
Jack McConnell, the Education Minister, has accepted that the pressure on schools to aim for a reduction by a third in the number of pupils excluded from school has not worked. He now plans to change tack and set fresh targets for promoting positive behaviour instead, following decisions by his discipline task force report.
But the West Dunbartonshire survey showed that teachers believe a great deal more must be done: almost all the respondents regard in-school sanctions as inappropriate and believe the education authority as a whole does not have adequate sanctions to deal with disruptive pupils.
Mr Monteith said: "Ministers have left headteachers without the sanctions they need to deal with the problems of persistently violent and disruptive pupils." Government policies benefited neither the well-behaved majority nor the disruptive minority.
He added: "The Minister must accept the policy has failed and give headteachers the power to rein in serious troublemakers so that they do not disrupt the education or endanger the safety of other pupils and teachers.
"Headteachers know their schools best and have the interests of their pupils and staff at heart."
Mr Monteith is also pressing Mr McConnell to clear up confusion over whether the Executive's previous target of reducing exclusions by a third still holds. The Conservatives claim that Sam Galbraith, the former Education Minister, confirmed that this was an aim for 2003.
The Executive subsequently said the reduction by a third should be seen as a gradual objective and the year 2003 was a target set for England only.
Following the discipline task force report, however, the idea of having a target at all seemed to be dismissed.
In a parliamentary answer last week, Mr McConnell confirmed that the Executive's social justice targets still include a "milestone" of reducing days lost through exclusions and truancy by a third. But he said he would be content with "year-on-year improvements."
HOW ALTERNATIVES CAN WORK
A more upbeat picture of school exclusions has emerged from Clackmannanshire, where figures from the secondary sector show the alternatives to exclusion policy making significant inroads into the problem.
Two of the authority's three secondaries have seen the number of exclusions drop over the past two years - from 10.2 per cent to 7 per cent in Alloa Academy and from 6.4 per cent to 4.6 per cent in Lornshill Academy; the third, Alva Academy, has the lowest exclusions but these have remained static at around 2 per cent.
Jim Goodall, the council's head of educational development, reports: "There is a clear reduction in exclusions for general and persistent disobedience. This reduction is likely to reflect the wide range of steps taken to identify and respond at an early stage to pupils vulnerable to exclusion for such behaviour."
In addition to staff development, behaviour support in schools, school-based youth workers and "cooling off" units, the authority has established the "CliCk centre" which tailors specific activities to pupils at risk of being excluded.
Mr Goodall made it clear his authority has no intention ofletting up on the drive to find alternatives to exclusion, but acknowledged that "thiscommitment places highexpectations and demandson all members of a school's staff".