Vote among staff sought for exclusion

7th January 2005 at 00:00
Thirty years ago, the Educational Institute of Scotland wanted the right to exclude disruptive pupils on the basis of a staffroom vote.

If a headteacher had refused to exclude a "recalcitrant" pupil, then teachers should have a right of exclusion by a two-thirds majority vote, the union argued.

Meanwhile, William Ferguson, HM chief inspector, was saying: "It is chilling to read between the lines of some of the reasons for exclusion: refusal to take part; refusal to comply with school rules; refusal to obey a teacher's command; using obscenities in class; and assaulting a teacher.

"They give us some idea of the sabre-rattling, attitudinising confrontation and the divide between pupils and staff which exist in our schools."

Yet he was against the EIS proposal for special centres for these disruptive children, saying: "One doesn't know where it would stop."

He added: "Remove the disruptives from a school and a new level of poor white trash would tumble to the bottom of the heap."

In a memo to the Scottish Office, he questioned whether the rapid rise in cases of indiscipline in one session was not the culmination of other ills such as staffing problems, curricular chaos, inadequate buildings, and the "Romeo and Juliet juxtaposition" of age and youth in the classroom among staff.

He asked whether teachers were working to some new code of rules in which they disassociated themselves from the exercise of discipline. Were pupils playing up to "a good press"; and were headteachers similarly invoking exclusion because it was "in the air"?

For their part, in language uncannily reminiscent of today's debate on disruptive pupils, the country's largest teaching union wanted to send them to special units based in unused school buildings or country houses if their behaviour risked the education of others in the class.

The phrase used to describe the children deemed suitable for education in such day or residential centres was "emotionally disturbed or disorientated" pupils, perhaps the forerunner of EBD (emotional and behavioural difficulties). Ideally, said the EIS, these special centres would be staffed by four or five teachers with 10 to 12 pupils to a class.

The teachers would have special qualifications in art, PE and music and they should be given freedom to plan as wide a curriculum as possible with chances to visit neighbouring schools. These teachers should be offered an additional pound;200 per year and travelling expenses.

In too many cases, argued the EIS, either the director of education or the education committee would overturn a headteacher's decision to exclude and would reinstate an excluded pupil either in his own school or another school.

Therefore, the union wanted headteachers to be given de jure or de facto powers to exclude "recalcitrant" pupils from school without limit of time (sine die).

However, if the headteacher declined to exclude the "recalcitrant" pupil, a staff meeting would be called and the pupil could be excluded on a two-thirds majority vote. The parents and pupil would then have a right of appeal to a tribunal consisting of teachers.

The EIS justified this policy, saying: "It is essential that the decision to exclude should lie in the hands of professional teachers and that any appeal against that decision should be heard by professional teachers since only teachers are in a position to judge the effect of a pupil's behaviour on the work of a school."

The proposal went nowhere because the Scottish Office was concerned that the child would have no right of appeal.

In any case, the Government was not convinced that pupils would attend such schools and did not know how attendance could be enforced, 30-year-old Government papers now show.

An internal memo from Pat Cox in the Scottish Education Department said:

"We have pointed out to them that Parliament and the general public were most unlikely to accept a system under which pupils could be excluded from school indefinitely with no appeal other than to the teaching profession itself (in contrast to the safeguards which apply to the other two ways in which a child may be removed from the ordinary school system - either through the Children's Hearings or through ascertainment as in need of special education)." Notes from an EISSED meeting also show concern about the evidence of serious misbehaviour in primary schools, particularly the larger ones, which appeared to stem from the gang structure in the larger communities.

However, the conclusion reached was: "The indications were that the increase in in-discipline was part of the general malaise at present affecting society."

The note continued: "Violence and television programmes probably also played a part."

The discipline debate was in the wake of raising the school-leaving age to 16. The EIS was arguing for pupils to be able to leave school on their 16th birthday; the National Union of Teachers in England, however, wanted a single, fixed leaving date, and the Government was not prepared to have different policies operating north and south of the border.

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