Tories' day units are not a cure-all

30th July 2004 at 01:00
The recent announcement by the Tories that they plan to set up day units for disruptive pupils prompts the question: just how do they expect this miraculous cure-all to work?

Attendance at day units certainly cannot be ensured without the use of some kind of compulsion. And how exactly is that going to be applied? Burly police officers or truant officers turning up at pupils' doors and frogmarching them to the detention units every day?

Discipline in Scottish schools is at an all-time low. But it is in the interests of education authorities, headteachers and, to a lesser extent, teachers to brush all breaches of discipline under the carpet and hope that nobody will notice how bad the situation has become.

So bad is it that excellent teachers with first-rate academic qualifications, teaching ability and proven classroom control are retiring extremely early, whereas their predecessors were perfectly happy to work on to the age of 65 and were sometimes even reluctant to go then. Several more teachers of my acquaintance retired at the end of last session - and they are only in their early to mid-50s, still fit and alert and with another 10 years of first-rate service to give, but absolutely disgusted with the way their schools have deteriorated in every sphere, especially discipline.

I once mistakenly believed that the Conservatives, when in power, would reverse the foolish policies of the left which banished discipline, order and educational progress . Unfortunately, they did nothing of the kind.

They merely tinkered with school fees and other minor details and failed to notice the absence of the baby which had long since departed with the bath water.

The only way back for our schools is to tackle the problem from both ends - deal with indiscipline and truancy at one extreme and with the curriculum, staffing and teaching at the other. Day units for disruptive pupils have already been tried, as have so-called sin bins within the schools. Neither has worked.

Absentees, truants and disruptive pupils have to be shown that the authorities have real powers and can use them. The only effective method for dealing with such pupils is detention centres where the worst offenders and the most persistent truants can be held for periods of a week upwards.

If held for longer, there should be no nonsense about allowing them home for weekends. Detention should mean detention, with no exceptions.

The plus for the truants and the badly behaved is that they would receive an education in the centres and would normally return to regular schooling thereafter and offend no more. The great advantage for teachers and most pupils is that they would be given the opportunity to continue with teaching and learning without constant disruption.

Discipline structures within schools cannot be built on faulty foundations.

At the moment, they are. There is absolutely no point imposing more and more complicated structures of reports, consultations, rewards, punishments, school detentions and exclusions, if the ultimate sanctions are no deterrents for the offenders.

At the moment, these deterrents are exclusion and expulsion, both of which offenders welcome, especially the truants.

George K McMillan Retired assistant rector Perth Academy

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