U-turn call on teacher violence

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Peter Peacock is facing growing pressure from his political opponents to do a U-turn on his decision last year to stop publishing national statistics on violence against teachers.

Instead, the Scottish Executive plans to carry out two three-yearly reports. The first will be a survey of teacher and pupil experiences of school behaviour. The second is to be a detailed analysis of discipline issues, which will not include statistics, "to provide a robust picture of behaviour in Scottish schools".

Now that January has passed without the statistics being published, the SNP and Tories are gathering their forces to attack the Executive over what they see as a glaring omission in the battle against indiscipline.

In January last year, the Education Minister questioned the robustness of figures which showed a 27 per cent increase in such incidents, with the Western Isles reporting a rise of 22,900 per cent (the council said most of the increase - up from one incident to 230 - was accounted for by special needs pupils) and Orkney a fall of 83 per cent.

Glasgow, the largest authority with 29 secondary schools, reported 616 incidents compared to Falkirk's 756 (the highest figure).

Mr Peacock reacted to the statistics by commissioning reviews of discipline by Pamela Munn, dean of education at Edinburgh University, and Jim Martin, former general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland.

When these reviews were published in October, Mr Peacock announced in the foreword to his Better Behaviour in Scottish Schools policy update that the Executive was discontinuing its annual collection of incidents of violence and antisocial behaviour on the grounds that the figures were "insufficiently robust". The announcement went largely unnoticed, however.

Fiona Hyslop, SNP shadow education minister, has been pursuing the First Minister on the issue and plans to table further written parliamentary questions on the matter.

Ms Hyslop said: "From the accountability point of view, surveys on a three-yearly basis are not adequate; from the policy-making point of view of knowing whether initiatives are having an impact, you have to evaluate these trends and you can't do that on a three-yearly basis either."

"The main concern for teachers is that the Executive has used the excuse of variability in data for failing to confront the real issue of indiscipline."

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Tory education spokesman, said: "The minister is sticking his head in the sand over this. The statistics have to be published centrally; otherwise you can't keep a grip on the problem."

A spokesman for the Executive said that Mr Peacock had made tackling indiscipline one of his top priorities and just last month had announced an additional pound;35 million for classroom support staff.

Measures that were being introduced to improve on and replace the annual statistics included detailed discipline reports along similar lines to HMI's thematic reports, which are likely to be published in 2007.

A range of programmes was already being used to tackle indiscipline, including restorative practices, staged intervention and the "cool in school" initiative.

David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers'

Association, said: "By all means do something different, but the Executive needs to be doing something now - not in three years' time."

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: "We go along with the changed arrangements on the premise that there continues to be a monitoring at local level, and we would expect local authorities to continue to collate these statistics.

"What we think has to be given the highest priority is not the statistics themselves, but tackling the issues that are revealed by the surveys, however frequent they are."

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