Unions split on keeping order

21st April 2006 at 01:00
David Henderson reports from the education debates at the STUC in Perth

Teachers, not university lecturers, are doing the job of telling new teachers how to handle difficult pupils and classes, Ian McCubbin of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers told delegates at the Scottish Trades Union Congress in Perth.

Universities were failing to train teachers properly in handling discipline and spent far too much time on presentation and content and not "people managing skills", Mr McCubbin said.

One recently registered NASUWT member had spent just one hour a year over a four-year course on behaviour management. "It is not acceptable to expect young people to come to the job fully developed in these type of skills if their training is inadequate," Mr McCubbin said.

In an NASUWT study of new teachers, not one member felt they had been prepared adequately to tackle indiscipline. "Indeed only one in seven teacher training establishments - in the opinion of the members surveyed - paid more than lip-service to this. Currently it is largely the job of teacher unions to train, encourage and support new teachers in dealing with problem pupils.," he said.

"Many newly qualified teachers are afraid to report incidents of verbal abuse or violence and aggression towards themselves because of fears of being inadequate. The pressure they are under to achieve full registration is remarkable and the stress often results in them being unable to cope with basic strategies."

Without better training, more young teachers would leave the profession disillusioned. Mr McCubbin called on the Scottish Executive to ensure more effective behaviour management training.

But Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, replied that antisocial and sometimes violent behaviour was a societal problem. Many public service workers faced difficulties and it was wrong to see the problem as "some kind of deficit of skills among teachers".

It was also up to the General Teaching Council for Scotland, not the Executive, to monitor teacher training and set standards. Delegates supported the EIS position and remitted the motion to full council.

Mr McCubbin hit back with a further motion proposing "zero tolerance" of antisocial behaviour in schools and demanded that the Executive ensure off-site provision for excluded pupils.

Not all authorities in Scotland had specific, fully staffed provision for such pupils, Mr McCubbin said. Dundee had the highest exclusion rate but no permanent off-site bases. Teachers had no legal backing to act against antisocial and aggressive behaviour. Many pupils were not teachable in mainstream classes.

Exclusion was the only option available to schools but this merely meant transferring the problem to other schools. "I know. I've been on the receiving end," Mr McCubbin said.

Liz Morriss, EIS, said that last year 22,000 pupils were excluded on one or more occasion, 5,000 of them from primary and 1,000 from special schools.

Worst of all, she said, 270 pupils were permanently excluded or removed from school registers. That meant exclusion from education.

Excluded pupils were often left on the streets and became "isolated, vulnerable to predators, involved in petty crime and the drug culture".

Research showed that problems at school were often caused by deeper underlying difficulties. Children regularly faced trauma and abuse at home and their parents might have mental health problems or drug habits. "Pupils are excluded when they can no longer cope," she said.

The EIS rejected the zero tolerance approach of the NASUWT but backed improved alternative provision for all permanently excluded pupils.

Kate Ramsden, Unison, reminded congress that it was often classroom assistants who faced the first difficulties with pupils. Putting the debate in perspective, she said: "One person's minor irritant is another person's antisocial behaviour."

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