Increasing school violence not issue that can be solved ‘overnight’ – Gilruth

Education Secretary says growing problem calls for ‘partnership’ and ‘working together’

Scottish Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth said violence in schools was a “really tricky challenge” and not an issue she could “solve overnight”.

In an interview with BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show, Ms Gilruth said solving the issue of rising violence in schools required “partnership” and “working together”.

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However, opposition politicians have said Ms Gilruth has “sought to wash her hands of the problem” by appearing to suggest it was up to local authorities to decide how to deal with violent pupils throughout the interview, admitting she had not read a report published earlier in the week showing a third of the 800 teachers surveyed in Aberdeen had been attacked in their classrooms.

Violence is growing problem in Scotland's schoolsViolence is growing problem in Scotland's schools
Violence is growing problem in Scotland's schools

Presenter Martin Geissler asked Ms Gilruth about the report released by the Educational Institute for Scotland (EIS), the country’s largest teaching union.

The Education Secretary, who herself was a secondary Modern Studies teacher prior to being elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016, said that it would not be “wise” to predicate the national approach to behaviour management in Scotland based on one local survey.

However, the EIS and the Scottish Government published research showing there was an increase in poor behaviour in schools since 2016 at the end of last year.

Ms Gilruth said she did not “shy away from the challenge” presented by the increase in poor behaviour and insisted the Scottish Government was working with local authorities to produce a national action plan to tackle the issue.

Mr Geissler then put it to Ms Gilruth that the EIS Aberdeen had not heard directly from her or the local authority.

The Education Secretary said it was “a bit strange” that Mr Geissler had commentary from the EIS in Aberdeen on the issue, adding: “It wouldn’t be for me as cabinet secretary for education to engage with local associations but I do engage with, very regularly, (general secretary) Andrea Bradley at a national level.

“What I would say is that this is a snapshot from one local authority area, we should look at the national picture.”

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Mr Geissler said the BBC was “completely overwhelmed” with responses from teachers, parents and staff about their report with some describing classrooms as “lawless”.

Ms Gilruth said young people should not be “demonised” and that care was required over the use of language, but Mr Geissler said what he was putting to her was “testimony”.

She was then asked if she believed the numbers in the survey, where she revealed she had not looked at the specifics from the research conducted in Aberdeen because it would be a matter for the local authority.

She said: “The appropriate response here is for Aberdeen City Council.

“However, I do accept the challenge on this matter.

“That’s why back in May I committed to a number of summits focused on behaviour and relationships in our schools.

“I’m also engaging with a number of key stakeholders on this issue.”

Liam Kerr MSP, Scottish Conservative education spokesman, said Ms Gilruth was complacent.

Mr Kerr said: “It’s disgraceful that she hasn’t even read the EIS report which revealed that one third of teachers in Aberdeen have been attacked, while also trying to pass it off as a ‘snapshot’ that wasn’t reflected across the country.”