A report released by the Sunday Mail in December last year revealed that teachers and staff in Scottish schools had suffered over 22,000 physical and verbal attacks from 2021 - 2022. The problem isn’t the ideology behind the nurture-based approach to behavioural policy, it’s the ineffective implementation of the nurture policy that has essentially left teachers vulnerable to potential attacks and unable to correct varying cases of ill-discipline.
The current Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland rightly prioritises the development of young Scots into “lifelong learners”. The nurture-based approach to behavioural policy throughout public secondary schools in Scotland is crucial to ensuring that pupils from all social and economic demographics can be successful both academically and in the workplace. It is because of this that this policy has to reflect the general code of conduct and expectations of the workplace.
A Peebles High School teacher I spoke to said that this was not the case at the school:
“There are very few workplaces that allow for staff to be verbally and physically abused with little consequence. Too few have any understanding on what the current behavioural policy is.”
The fact that this is the experience of any teacher in Scotland shows that clarifying the way in which the ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ is being implemented in schools is essential to maximising the quality of education in Scotland. In order to do this, the Scottish Government needs to reform the current flexible approach to the nurture-based behavioural policy so that it instead outlines specifically what the punishments are in cases of ill-discipline and how teachers and school staff have to respond to them. Not only would this better prepare Scottish pupils for starting work after school but would also eradicate the current confusion amongst school staff on how to properly enforce this policy, rather than persisting with a flexible approach that instead leaves significant and/or regular cases of ill-discipline by students going unpunished at the expense of the education of others. This should come with a mandatory training programme for all school staff in Scotland on the new implementation of behavioural policy. This would improve discipline throughout schools in Scotland on both a local and national scale.
Implementing the use of ‘Restraint and Seclusion into Scottish Law
Scottish Labour has been leading the discussion on this example of education policy with the consultation beginning on a new Members Bill by Daniel Johnson MSP to help protect school children and teachers from potential harm. The implementation of this Bill would ensure that the regulation and usage of the restraint and seclusion policy practices are outlined in law rather than being just guidance to teachers as they currently are. Physical restraint in a school is any procedure where one or more adults restrict a pupil’s physical movement or normal access to their own body. It is a method of last resort when all other de-escalation methods have been exhausted by the teacher if the specific case requires intervention to prevent the teacher(s) or student(s) from being harmed.
This policy would be beneficial in improving Scottish education on both a local and national scale, as aninvestigation by the Children’s Commissioner found that only 18 of Scotland’s 32 authorities were able to provide any sort of data on the use of restraint and seclusion in Scotland’s schools. Further aims of the proposed legislation include that training for school staff will be put on a statutory basis and data on the use of seclusion and restraint will be required to be regularly published by the Scottish Government and reported to Parliament. A statutory basis for standards and training for all school staff will ensure that every school in Scotland is sufficiently training their staff to respond effectively to varying levels of bad behaviour in and outside of the classroom and on school grounds, whilst ensuring that pupils worth additional support needs are not subjected to the physical restraint response unless it is needed.
The Absence of a National Behavioural Policy in Scottish State Schools; A Destructive Lack of Continuity
The key flaw to the curriculum for excellence that needs to be addressed is the principle of “child-led education”. Young people are being taught in a way that is not conducive with working in either the public or private sector. In some cases, this means that the challenging behaviour seen in schools are also spilling into the local communities which creates lasting damage and endangers the people living in them. An example of this happening was when a secondary school pupil was arrested for setting fire to the Peebles High School building in November 2019, forcing pupils to study either from home or elsewhere until February the next year. A similar case occurred when another Peebles High School pupil set fire to the swimming pool building in June last year, costing the Scottish Borders Council £1.1 million in repair costs and having a major impact on the 580 young people in the borders who rely on the facility for the Peebles ‘Learn to Swim Programme’. Cases like this are examples of a wider failure to support young people under the curriculum which directly leads to detrimental knock-on effects.
Overall, the Scottish Government should implement a national behavioural policy that is implemented in every secondary state school in Scotland. This approach to behavioural management needs to reflect the expectations and demands of the world of work. The fact that different senior management groups in different schools can enforce different behavioural policies and approaches has resulted in a complete lack of continuity and strategy whilst trying to establish what is supposed to be a national-wide curriculum. The proposed restraint and seclusion bill would also provide clarity for school staff whilst supporting pupils with additional support needs.
Harry Ness is a journalism student at Edinburgh Napier University who enjoys writing policy blogs and political campaigning. He is the U-19s Officer for Scottish Young Labour. He tweets @HarryNessLabour