School violence Scotland: SNP Government and wider society must act to curtail alarming trends
News that violence and aggression have increased in Scottish schools since the Covid-19 pandemic will surprise few.
Staff, pupils, parents and trade unions have been reporting this worrying trend for many months. But for a long time, Government ministers and some local education chiefs were reluctant to confirm the rise, often suggesting incidents had been sensationalised by the media.
Education secretary Jenny Gilruth and council directors have said they would have to wait for a clearer picture to emerge in the form of the Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research (BISSR), which was finally published on Tuesday. While the trends confirmed in the report may not be surprising, their prevalence and scale will alarm parents across the nation.
It is clear this is not just about pupils fighting, in the way they always have. Often this is younger, primary-age pupils acting aggressively and violently towards each other and staff on a regular basis, and increasingly using weapons.
But violence is only part of the story. The report outlines lower level disruption that has an “insidious” effect on learning and staff morale, including pupils constantly “talking out of turn” or checking their mobile phones.
Other concerning trends include rising drug and alcohol use, vaping, truancy, and misogyny among boys, linked social media influencers.
Ms Gilruth was criticised earlier this month for delaying a decision on radical reform of Scotland’s exam system to give schools time to deal with these kind of issues. Whatever the merits or otherwise of changing the qualifications system, there is little doubt that tackling violence and behaviour issues in schools is more pressing in the minds of parents.
Having finally received the “granular detail” she wanted from BISSR, Ms Gilruth will be under pressure to deliver concrete measures that protect children and staff when she unveils her “action plan” on Wednesday.
This is difficult to envisage without significant additional investment in staffing. Even if money is found, however, the problems in schools cannot be solved by the Government alone.
They involve complex societal, cultural and technological changes, combined with poverty and childhood trauma. Everyone has a duty to do what they can to make the future brighter for the next generations, and those guiding them.
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