SCOTLAND'S secondary heads have issued one of the strongest warnings yet that discipline could be on the point of collapse unless they are given more help to deal with unruly and violent pupils.
The Headteachers' Association of Scotland says secondary schools are now having to spend such a disproportionate amount of time on disciplinary matters that they are unable to put as much effort as they should into the wider work of their schools.
"The reality is that senior school staff cannot cope with the demands of indiscipline and carry out strategic duties relating to curriculum, learning and teaching," the association said in a statement agreed by its council last Tuesday. "A high investment of time is required for discipline issues - without this investment there is a danger that well-ordered school environments will collapse."
The heads' decision to speak out follows a survey by the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association in May which revealed that seven out of 10 members believe indiscipline has increased substantially over the past five years and nearly half put this down to changing pupil attitudes. Almost one in five say the Government's anti-exclusion policies are to blame.
Gordon Mackenzie, the HAS president, feels the growing disciplinary crisis may put many off teaching as a career. There was a strong feeling that schools were left on their own to cope, often having to convene several case conferences "to satisfy the increasingly bureaucratic and inflexible reuirements of the system".
The statement calls for more support from parents, psychologists and social workers, although it recognises that other professionals are already overstretched.
Heads add their voice to the growing clamour for the Government to acknowledge that its social inclusion policies, which they support, are fuelling the crisis because of the failure to recognise that an increasing number of pupils are unlikely to benefit from mainstream education.
The Government has shown no signs of relenting, however, and only this week the first progress report from the Scottish Executive on its social justice agenda confirmed that it is sticking by its target of reducing the number of days lost through truancy and exclusion by a third by 2002. Some pound;23 million is being provided over three years to help schools develop alternatives to exclusion, but the HAS says this is not enough and also misses the point.
It observes: "In order to include, it may be necessary to exclude. If all attempts at effective intervention fail to keep pupils in our schools, their educational needs may be better met outwith mainstream, in small group settings supported by a range of specialised services to meet their needs.
"Progress would be subject to regular review and pupils would have the opportunity to move back to mainstream where a change in behaviour patterns makes this feasible."
Heads accept that pupil attitudes are changing and that defying authority is no longer seen as exceptional. This is undermining the best efforts of most schools.
Leader, page 14