Bad behaviour soars as pupils no longer fear punishment
Teachers blame poverty and budget cuts for rise in violence
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.