Bad be­hav­iour soars as pupils no longer fear pun­ish­ment

Teach­ers blame poverty and bud­get cuts for rise in vi­o­lence

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE - ANDREW DEN­HOLM ED­U­CA­TION COR­RE­SPON­DENT

BAD be­hav­iour in Scottish schools has hit un­prece­dented lev­els amid claims pupils no longer be­lieve they will be pun­ished for dis­obe­di­ence, a teach­ers’ leader has claimed.

Kevin Camp­bell, pres­i­dent of the Scottish Sec­ondary Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (SSTA), blamed the im­pact of poverty and bud­get cuts for mount­ing cases of teacher abuse, drugs and vi­o­lence.

And he warned the trend of try­ing to re­solve issues through di­a­logue rather than ex­clu­sion had cre­ated a cul­ture where pupils felt there were no con­se­quences for their ac­tions.

The Scottish Gov­ern­ment said no teacher should have to put up with dis­rup­tive be­hav­iour, but stressed most pupils were well be­haved.

Last month, a sur­vey by the SSTA found ver­bal abuse had af­fected seven out of 10 staff mem­bers while one in five said they had been as­saulted by pupils dur­ing their ca­reer. In one case, a pupil threw a chisel at a teacher.

In De­cem­ber, re­search by Ip­sos Mori Scot­land found school dis­rup­tion was be­com­ing worse, with teach­ers blam­ing trolling on so­cial me­dia and poor par­ent­ing.

How­ever, it found the ma­jor­ity of pupils were well be­haved with com­mon com­plaints fo­cus­ing on low-level dis­rup­tion such as talk­ing out of turn as well as a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in manners and greater de­fi­ance.

Mr Camp­bell, who will raise the is­sue in his speech to the SSTA’S an­nual con­fer­ence in Cri­eff, said: “In my opin­ion be­hav­iour and re­la­tion­ships in our schools has reached an all-time low.

“The causes of this ever-bur­geon­ing is­sue are man­i­fold but, for me, chief among them is de­pri­va­tion. In the com­mu­nity where I my­self work, peo­ple are be­set with issues with drugs, al­co­hol and vi­o­lence and ev­ery day I see the con­se­quences.

“Pupils are ex­treme in their dis­re­spect for staff and each other, there are se­vere issues with drugs and many pupils are un­able to con­trol their vi­o­lence.”

Mr Camp­bell, who teaches in Fife, said staff faced with such dif­fi­cul­ties were no longer able to cope and said a “huge num­ber” of par­ents no longer en­gaged with schools. That meant issues which went un­chal­lenged could spread, im­pact­ing on all staff and pupils.

He said the con­se­quences of poverty were ex­ac­er­bated by “nev­erend­ing cy­cles of bud­get cuts” with a reduction in pupil sup­port staff.

And he crit­i­cised the Scottish Gov­ern­ment’s Pupil Eq­uity Fund, which targets money at schools in dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas, say­ing it “did not come close” to ad­dress­ing the prob­lem and was be­com­ing a bureau­cratic headache for staff.

“It has opened the door to free mar­ke­teer­ing in our schools with var­i­ous ex­perts and in­ter­est groups vy­ing to se­cure a share of the money,” he said.

“To do our job we need proper fund­ing in our schools, we need time to teach, we need re­sources and ex­perts to cater for the com­plex and di­verse issues our chil­dren can suf­fer.”

Mr Camp­bell called on school man­age­ment teams and coun­cils to deal more strongly with the most dis­rup­tive pupils and with par­ents “who won’t en­gage with the school”.

And he called for a na­tional frame­work to set out clear ex­pec­ta­tions of be­hav­iour, how to man­age it and how to record in­ci­dents.

A Scottish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: “Most pupils be­have well in school, but teach­ers should not have to tol­er­ate dis­rup­tive be­hav­iour. Our re­freshed guid­ance to pre­vent ex­clu­sions places greater im­por­tance on pre­ven­ta­tive ap­proaches.

“We are also com­mit­ting £750 mil­lion dur­ing the course of this Par­lia­ment to tackle the poverty re­lated at­tain­ment gap and en­sure ev­ery child in Scot­land has an equal chance to suc­ceed.”

BE­HAV­IOUR in schools has reached an all-time low, ac­cord­ing to Kevin Camp­bell, Pres­i­dent of the Scottish Sec­ondary Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. Pupils show “ex­treme” dis­re­spect to staff, there are se­vere issues with drugs and many pupils re­sort to vi­o­lence, he claims. Dis­rup­tion can dam­age the chances of all pupils get­ting the ed­u­ca­tion they are en­ti­tled to.

Re­cent sur­veys sup­port his gen­eral con­cern, with more teach­ers re­port­ing prob­lems and blam­ing so­cial me­dia for greater de­fi­ance among pupils, as well as more low-level dis­rup­tion.

Mr Camp­bell points out that de­pri­va­tion leaves many par­ents – let alone pupils – too stressed to cope with the de­mands of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. But this is noth­ing new. In any field it is all too easy to hark back to a golden age, when pupils were dis­ci­plined and at­ten­tive and teach­ing was eas­ier. Pupils have strug­gled to learn against back­grounds of need for gen­er­a­tions.

His pro­pos­als are con­tro­ver­sial. Few would dis­agree that im­prov­ing em­ploy­ment and self re­spect in com­mu­ni­ties would help raise a gen­er­a­tion of more en­gaged pupils, but these are chal­lenges which the Gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to wres­tle with and as Mr Camp­bell ad­mits, such re­sults are a dis­tant prospect at best. He calls for a more ro­bust ap­proach to mis­be­haviour and an end to what he de­scribes as a cul­ture of “no con­se­quences” – an ap­par­ent at­tack on prac­tices such as restora­tive jus­tice in schools. Al­ter­na­tives to ex­clu­sion are needed, he ar­gues, with more staff to help man­age dis­rup­tive pupils.

Ex­clud­ing pupils – even by the use of “al­ter­na­tives” – smacks of a re­turn to a failed ap­proach which has a hugely dam­ag­ing im­pact on the prospects of those af­fected.

Many teach­ers sup­port mea­sures such as restora­tive jus­tice which al­low pupils to dis­cuss dif­fi­cul­ties and find shared solutions. They are part of a more adult and ma­ture ethos in schools and should con­trib­ute to a bet­ter so­ci­ety in the longer term.

But Mr Camp­bell is right to say there is al­ways a bal­ance to be struck be­tween the rights of all pupils to an ed­u­ca­tion and the needs of the ma­jor­ity to learn with­out dis­rup­tion. If teach­ers feel at risk from a rise in vi­o­lent be­hav­iour among pupils, that is clearly un­ac­cept­able, and if some be­lieve that the move to­wards in­clu­sion in the class­room has gone too far then that should be looked at.

But it is clear that the abil­ity of teach­ers to re­spond ef­fec­tively to prob­lem be­hav­iour is be­ing un­der­mined by cuts to bud­gets and sup­port ser­vices, such as class­room as­sis­tants. Ini­tia­tives such as the Pupil Eq­uity Fund, while wel­come, are sim­ply not enough.

Schools in poor neigh­bour­hoods, some al­ready strug­gling with bud­gets that are too small are see­ing those bud­gets fur­ther re­duced and that can­not con­tinue.

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