Relationships with pupils are breaking down, a leading left-wing member of the Educational Institute of Scotland told the new North Lanarkshire local association last weekend. The association backed calls for tough action on classroom indiscipline.
Maureen Watson, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, proposed that staff refuse to teach pupils who physically or verbally abuse them. "It's in the classroom where discipline needs to be reasserted. Everybody saw what happened in St Augustine's last year. It was a real expression of failure of the system. "
Staff at the Glasgow secondary last autumn refused to teach a disruptive boy who was dubbed "the pupil from hell".
Ms Watson said her motion reflected "how badly things have gone wrong in schools". She did not accept that it was right for "what are called ineducable pupils" to transferred from one school to another. Neither was it right for classroom teachers to be forced to teach pupils who abused them.
Jimmy Keenan, the association's assistant secretary, said school discipline committees, which some secondaries were already running, could raise the issue of positive behaviour in development plans, open records of need, plan staff training, set up area day units, and monitor incidents of violence.
Smaller class sizes were part of the answer, Mr Keenan added, a point echoed by a succession of speakers. The conference backed, by 31-29 votes, a call for the union's executive council to mount a campaign of industrial action.
Malcolm MacIver, the institute's president, warned in his address: "You cannot keep stripping millions of pounds out of local authorities and pretend that the quality of education will remain the same."
The Government's plans for the Higher Still reforms would not happen without extra resources, Mr MacIver cautioned. After a recent meeting with Scottish Office officials, he noted that "the way the good and the great think does not bear any relation to the way teachers think".
Mr MacIver added: "We told them that you cannot begin to implement the curriculum changes without addressing the issue of class sizes and the only way to address the issue is to employ more teachers."
Underfunding was at the heart of the difficulties. "We have to put down a marker that we cannot go on with this level of funding. There is only so much goodwill," he said.
Mr MacIver, a Grangemouth assistant head, also admonished Bob Gould, leader of Glasgow City Council, for suggesting last week that teachers and other public sector workers should forego salary rises to avoid a budget crisis. "It is not our job to produce tax cuts for the Tory Government," he stated.
Councils were using the threat of unemployment to control workers. Teachers' jobs were already at risk through the casualisation of staff on temporary contracts.