Friday, 9 May 2014

Councillor's concerns over violence in schools

A North Ayrshire councillor has called for “zero tolerance” of pupils who take weapons into schools.

Conservative councillor Tom Marshall spoke out in the week that a teacher was stabbed to death in a classroom at a school in England. Ann Maguire, 61, described as “an amazing, inspirational teacher”, was killed last Monday (April 28) at Corpus Christi Catholic College in Leeds. A 15 year-old boy has been charged with her murder.

Tom Marshall, a retired teacher, believes Mrs Maguire’s tragic death should be “a wakeup call to head teachers and Education Authorities”.

The councillor for the North Coast & Cumbraes used last month’s meeting of North Ayrshire Council to seek information on the number of times incidents of violence and aggression had occurred in North Ayrshire schools over the past year. Cllr Marshall also asked how many incidents were subsequently reported to the Police, and what remedial action is taken by the Council to “reduce the incidence of such aggression and violence to staff and pupils”.

Responding for North Ayrshire’s SNP administration, Council Leader Willie Gibson revealed there had been 342 incidents of violence and aggression in local schools between April 1st 2013 and December 31st 2013, with only one matter reported to the Police. The reported incident took place in a primary school and involved a pupil throwing an object that hit a teacher. Cllr Gibson added, “As a result of the incident, the pupil was excluded for two-days and a behavioural assessment [was] carried out.”

The Council Leader explained that a detailed analysis of violent and aggressive incidents in schools is provided to the local authority’s Corporate Health and Safety Group. Cllr Gibson noted, “A significant number of aggression and violence incidents within Education and Skills are due to Additional Support Needs children, where the aggression and violence is a result of an underlying condition. Such children have appropriate care plans and individual needs-assessments monitored and reviewed to minimise occurrence of episodes, where this is possible.

“Where an incident of aggression and violence is consciously conducted by non ASN pupils, the Council's aggression and violence policy fully supports employees in reporting such incidents to the police, where the matter is transferred for potential criminal charges. Additional management support is given to staff, such as reviewing workplace patterns, occupational health referral and counselling where required.”

Speaking to the3towns, Tom Marshall said, “When I saw the statistics quoted - almost 400 incidents annually of violence and aggression in North Ayrshire schools - I was concerned there was potential for a really serious incident.

“In the last three years, 800 pupils have been caught with weapons and police attended almost 11,000 incidents in Scottish schools - while only one incident was reported to police in the whole of last year in North Ayrshire. Are our children so well behaved?”

Reflecting on his own experience as a teacher, Cllr Marshall said, “I believe there is massive underreporting of these figures. As a former member of the Scottish Teachers Association, I agree with their comment that many councils and head teachers do not want adverse publicity. It is also reported that teachers say they are put off complaining by those who want to protect the reputation of the school rather than the safety of the staff. In my view, safety of staff and pupils should be paramount.”

The district’s only Conservative councillor advocates “a zero tolerance attitude to pupils who bring weapons to school, with pupils being instantly removed” if found to be in possession of a weapon.

Cllr Marshall added, “For pupils who assault staff there must be a similarly swift action to remove the pupil for a suitable time - unlike what happened recently in South Ayrshire where a pupil left a member of staff with broken ribs, only for the pupil to return to the school the next day.”

The Largs-based councillor said senior Education staff, “particularly those who have never been in a classroom , should be aware of increasing low-level disturbance in many classes and the difficulties some staff are experiencing .

“I am of the view that Curriculum for Excellence, by advocating ‘Learning’ rather than traditional ‘Teaching’, will in some ways exacerbate misbehaviour, especially in Secondary Schools. The latest Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy revealed that, across both Primary and Secondary schools, numeracy standards have declined markedly over the last three years.

“For example, Primary 7s slipped from 72 per cent doing ‘well’ or ‘very well’ to only 66 per cent now. The study also revealed huge gaps in attainment between those who lived in deprived areas and those in the wealthiest.”

Cllr Marshall believes poorly-performing pupils will struggle with Secondary Education and, as a consequence, “may be more prone to disaffection and misbehaviour”.

The Conservative councillor stated, “These statistics are further proof that all is not well in Scottish education when it comes to the crucial matter of improving behaviour and numeracy.”

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