Schools 'filling in gaps of fragmented society'

SCHOOLS are having to fill in the gaps of a society plagued by childhood obesity, mental-health problems, binge drinking, broken relationships and teenage pregnancy, according to the outgoing president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland.

Speaking at the association's annual conference in Cumbernauld yesterday, Charlie McAteer called on the Scottish Government to give teachers the training, and schools the facilities, needed to cope with the additional pressures.

He said: "The expectations which have been placed on Scottish education are enormous in a society which has grave problems of obesity in young people and in the population at large, in which one in ten young people and one in four in the population will experience mental health issues.

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"[A society] in which binge drinking in public and hazardous and harmful drinking in private are a growing concern. In which teenage pregnancy is among the highest in Europe, in which one in four young people can expect to experience family break-up.

"[A society] in which antisocial behaviour is a major issue in many communities and, in which, the gap between the most advantaged and most disadvantage members has never been greater, there are extraordinary demands on schools to fill the gaps in a fragmented society."

Mr McAteer said the role of education in bettering society could not be overestimated, but investment was needed to help teachers take this role on.

He added: "If the Scottish Government wants to enable us to play a full part in bettering our society, it is necessary that sufficient, fair funding is consistently allocated to schools."

He also called for better levels of staffing, both of teachers and non-teaching staff, appropriate training and pay to reflect the additional responsibility.

Judith Gillespie, development manager of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, said schools were under increasing pressure to solve society's ills.

She said: "If anything goes wrong, there are calls for it to become part of the curriculum. But we should do traditional school work at some point, and that is almost crowded out by these demands from government."

Ms Gillespie added that schools were now faced with a raft of government-generated initiatives on topics such as safe sex, financial education and the environment.

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A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland, the country's biggest teaching union, said schools did not have the resources to offer every youngster the individual support they may need, and could not be the only answer.

He added: "Schools will always reflect society, but that does not mean they can be expected to solve all of society's problems. While education on issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, sexual health and mental wellbeing are important, schools cannot be the only support for young people.

"Parents and other family members, as well as other support agencies, must work with schools to tackle these issues."


A RECENT study revealed children in the UK were the unhappiest of any of Europe's wealthier nations.

The Netherlands came out top in the UNICEF report, which ranked nations on the basis of material wellbeing; health and safety; education; family and peer relationships; behaviour and risks; and subjective wellbeing.

Britain came in the bottom third in five of the six categories, behind Greece, Poland and the Czech Republic.