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Violent weapon culture exposed

Teachers want more training to cope with aggression. Nicola Porter reports

Gloomy findings from a major survey reveal the extent of offensive weapons carried by schoolchildren in Wales. More than 50 per cent of secondary schools that gave evidence for a national review reported between one and five incidents involving illegal arms over the past two years.

Eight schools said they had been forced to deal with potentially life-threatening incidents. Despite this, half of schools said advice on training and behaviour management was inadequate or non-existent.

The damning results come after a string of high-profile stabbings across the UK, one of which led to the death of 15-year-old London schoolboy Kiyan Prince. In all, 35 secondary schools from 15 local authorities responded to the survey by the Welsh Secondary Schools Association (WSSA), which was commissioned by the Assembly government.

It indicates that teaching staff have to deal with increasingly aggressive and challenging behaviour by a small number of pupils. The findings will now form part of a review on pupil behaviour and attendance.

Most schools agreed that more than 90 per cent of pupils were well-behaved, with only two schools dissenting. The largest growth area, says the study, is among pupils who refuse to comply with any school sanctions.

But schools also believe a lack of respect, motivation and open defiance by a "disenchanted few" is rising. More than 90 per cent see drug or alcohol abuse as a growing problem, often fuelling violence. One school reported 20 or more incidents of parental abuse of staff.

Schools also hit out at inadequate alternative curriculum provision, a lack of behaviour support units, pupil referral units and on-site educational psychologists.

Neil Foden, head of Ysgol Friars in Bangor, said : "In many parts of Wales there is little back-up for schools which want help with badly-behaved pupils. There needs to be much more consistency across local authorities."

Elsewhere, eight schools reported 20 or more serious incidents of pupil violence to one another.

A similar number of extreme verbal abuses of staff were recorded in six schools. Nine schools dealt with one to five incidents of drug-dealing pupils. Almost all of them believed better parental co-operation was the key to improvement. But others see excluding disruptive pupils and blaming parents as counter-productive.

Barnardo's Cymru director Raymond Ciborowski said: "Excluding pupils can compound problems, rather than tackle root causes of behaviour."

Peter Walsh, an expert in bad behaviour, said: "The challenge for schools is to keep developing positive approaches and strategies which reward excellent behaviour. More consistent LEA support is desired in some areas, especially in alternative curriculum provisions.

"However I am convinced that in schools the establishment and consistent application of rules and routines, within a framework of respect for rights and responsibilities, and supported by assertive teaching, are fundamental to pupils behaving well."

Parents of excluded children also believe schools treat them as "bad" if their child misbehaves.

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