VIOLENT pupils who disrupt lessons in Scotland’s schools should be removed from mainstream education, the leader of one of the country’s largest teaching unions has argued.
The Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) has called on the Scottish Government to overhaul its policy on school exclusions, which currently sees the worst behaved pupils taken out of one school and moved to another.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, the union’s acting general secretary, Alan McKenzie, said children with a “history of violence” should be taken out of mainstream education altogether and taught at a special education unit. McKenzie, who represents more than 8,500 members, said in some cases removing a child completely was the only option.
“Headteachers are discouraged from using exclusions, which leads to the conclusion that things are getting better. Everyone is slavishly devoted to reintegrating them, but there are kids that simply have to be taken out of the system for the safety of everyone else.”
Figures from the Scottish Government show 26,844 pupils were excluded in 2010-11, with the number of secondary pupils excluded falling dramatically over the past decade.
However, 99 per cent of exclusions are for a fixed period, with pupils expected to return to their original school. Just 60 pupils were “removed from the register” in 2010-11, being transferred to another school or taught at a special educational provision.
Under guidance issued by the Scottish Government last year, local councils have a legal obligation to find alternative education provision for excluded pupils, either in their original school, a new school or, in rare cases, to make arrangements for the child to be taught outside of school.
“I think some kids need to go to a special provision where time is spent adjusting behaviour if there is a history of violence,” said McKenzie.
“I would like the government to give an honest appraisal the problem. Almost every school would have kids like that - you remove them from mainstream education and deal with them in a particular way. Otherwise, violent kids became violent citizens.”
Last year, Brigadier Hugh Monro, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons in Scotland, said pupils whose behaviour merited suspension or expulsion should be taught in “inclusion units”, similar to one at Dunfermline High School, which has reduced by 72 per cent the number of children suspended or expelled.
Government statistics detail the reasons for banning children from lessons, including attacks on teachers, stalking and drug abuse. However, while exclusion is one of the few tools at schools’ disposal, for dealing with disruptive pupils, there are markedly different approaches countrywide.
Schools in Dundee excluded more than 1,800 pupils last year, equivalent to 107 per 1,000, and two and half times the average. Meanwhile, more than a third of the 60 pupils permanently excluded were from Edinburgh schools.
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, stressed no child should be “written off”.
“It’s been demonstrated that excluding pupils simply shifts the problem. Alternative strategies have to be put in place to lead to changes in behaviour and outcomes.
“There is general agreement around this approach, but the practice in schools differs widely as does the implementation of non-punitive interventions.
A report on indiscipline published last month by the Scottish Government found serious disruptive behaviour has decreased but specific problems are on the increase, notably mobile phone abuse.
Overall, headteachers and support staff encounter worse behaviour than teachers, with 27 per cent of primary and 35 per cent of secondary heads experiencing some form of violence or abuse in the past year.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Violence and aggression have no place in Scottish schools. The Scottish Government published guidance on managing exclusions in 2011 that encourages early intervention. Exclusion remains an option available to schools as a last resort.”
‘We should exercise zero tolerance’
FOR: Alan McKenzie, acting general-secretary of the SSTA
THE fundamental problem with the exclusion debate is the existence of serial denial by all in the establishment of the extent of the problem.
Even one disruptive pupil destroys the learning and teaching of scores of pupils. That is why zero tolerance must be practised and schools and local authorities given a much less controlled mechanism for exclusion. There remain in schools groups of pupils who present behavioural problems that the most imaginative strategies and skilled, inspirational staff cannot manage. These pupils must be excluded from the mainstream.
Some of our members have described such pupils as “feral”, who run wild through schools. We are not claiming this is widespread. We are saying the problem exists. Headteachers are discouraged from contacting the police and are expected to deal with these matters internally. Our members have reported this to us. Similarly it is expected that Looked After and Accommodated Young People are never excluded, regardless of behaviour. This is not good enough.
We must attempt to capture the extent of this problem in an honest and open manner.
I believe the Discipline Task Force of a decade ago should be reconstituted and used to determine the real problem and consider strategies to deal with it. This needs to be done as transparently as before.
We really need to stop pretending the problem does not exist. We do need to face up to the unpalatable truth and be courageous enough to deal with it.
‘Inclusion’s a far more productive solution’
AGAINST: Philip Dunion, director of finance and business development at Apex Scotland
WHAT is glaringly obvious, yet is consistently overlooked, is that in most cases, exclusion does not work – the majority of excludees don’t “learn this lesson” and so continue to disrupt classes and be on the receiving end of repeat exclusions. Permanent exclusions would only shift the problem to the local community and dramatically reduce the life chances of these youngsters. Whilst exclusion remains the appropriate intervention for a very small number of pupils, we owe it to our children, our communities and all of our futures to design a better way of dealing with these young people. Apex Scotland, a charity, has shown that “inclusion” can be a far more productive solution to this perennial problem.
Apex Scotland has worked in Dunfermline High School for the past six years, contributing to a significant reduction in exclusion – in excess of 72 per cent. The Apex Inclusion Unit, run jointly with the school, employs an ethos whereby we “Engage, Inspire, Improve and Sustain” the young people referred to us in lieu of exclusion. Our service enables them to recognise the consequences of their actions, on themselves and on others, now and in the future. An integral part of our programme is the visit to a prison, which starkly brings home what the future could hold unless they achieve a distinct change in behaviour and attitude to life.
Our success in reaching pupils for whom school has in fact become a barrier to learning and development has resulted in inclusion units being set up in two further Fife schools, with enquiries coming from as far afield as Buckie and Blackpool for information on how to set up similar programmes.