School Discipline : Scottish Parliament speech 7 May 2009

I am not sure that I can follow Ian McKee's speech.
I think that I would be ill advised even to attempt to do so.
Dr McKee's last points were significant, although it is unfortunate that he dwelt on a false debate at the beginning of his speech, which I do not think anybody really wants to talk about.
The challenge for him is to square his view with what the SNP is doing in our local communities, and to understand the wider social issues.
I should declare an interest: I am a parent of children in late primary and early secondary school; I was a behaviour support teacher who, in an education support base, and as part of a broader team, latterly worked with youngsters to hold them in mainstream education; and I am someone who seeks to represent the views of constituents, such as youngsters who are bullied or intimidated in schools or who are struggling because they have not got the appropriate support in school.
I was concerned by what appeared to be the minister's tone of complacency.
Indiscipline is not just a problem now—it has always been with us—but the test for the Government is whether what it does makes the problem better or worse.
I contend that, at the moment, the Government is making it worse.
I find it frustrating that when we talk about school discipline, we want to separate it off and put it in a policy box away from the broader issues.
We talk about knife crime in schools, but it is disturbing that the Government is rolling back more broadly its policy on knives and the retail of knives.
We cannot separate those issues.
We ought not to talk about indiscipline in schools as if it were one issue.
There are issues to do with the appropriateness of the curriculum for some youngsters, and there is an issue around parents who mollycoddle their children so that the children go to school never having been told, "No."
That difficulty, which is not specific to poor communities, must be challenged.
Some children who come to school are living in the most chaotic circumstances.
We do not know—and neither does the Government, as it has not sought to find out—how many children are living with parents who have an addiction.
Do we imagine that those children, who have to learn to be resilient within their homes, somehow come to school able to stay calm and cope with what is demanded of them?
I ask the Conservatives to reflect on the fact that for those youngsters, school is sometimes the only security that they have, and the most remarkable journey that they make every day is to get themselves to school.
We should be hesitant about saying that we simply expect those children to learn somewhere else.
We should perhaps have to take them out of the classroom, but not necessarily out of the building.
Do we imagine that for certain young people, being on the fringes of a young male gang culture in our communities does not impact on what they do when they go to school?
I am troubled by the Government's approach to antisocial behaviour.
It somehow thinks that getting rid of antisocial behaviour orders for young people is a positive thing, when in fact those orders are about engagement and challenging young people about their behaviour at an early stage.
Some of what is happening in schools reflects the broader concerns.
We must ensure that our schools are confident enough to deal with poor behaviour, but we must also consider the causes of such misbehaviour and address it accordingly.
In the past, when young people from poor communities misbehaved, people shrugged their shoulders, tolerated it and said, "So be it."
That is unacceptable: those young people deserve to have us challenge their behaviour, and we must recognise the importance of early intervention, early parental involvement and engagement beyond the school.
We need to challenge the children's hearings system, the social work system and others to work with schools in addressing those difficult problems.
The Government must confront some of the consequences of its own actions.
The council tax freeze, which is a squeeze on funding, means the end of behaviour support, so that children who should be included in mainstream education are denied the support that allows that to happen.
There is a focus on bringing down class size numbers in primaries 1, 2 and 3, while our young boys are falling out of the education system in the first and second years of secondary school—and the numbers are going up as a consequence of that focus.
There is a freeze on recruitment and an increase in the use of supply teachers in our secondary schools, which makes life uncertain for young people, stops the continuity of their learning and has an impact on behaviour.
The direction project in my constituency, which in the past was supported by youth crime prevention moneys, is now ending its support for five to 12-year-olds because of funding decisions by the Scottish Government, which will have consequences for the ability of those youngsters to sustain a mainstream education and will impact on the quality of learning for young people who desperately need an education.
There has been a reduction in breakfast clubs, which have nothing to do with eating and everything to do with supporting children in the transition from their homes to school.
School and education involve tackling indiscipline, but the broader social programme of funding and resources that the Government provides for communities is critical to addressing the problem inside and outside our schools.