BEHAVIOUR in schools has reached an all-time low, according to Kevin Campbell, President of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association. Pupils show “extreme” disrespect to staff, there are severe issues with drugs and many pupils resort to violence, he claims. Disruption can damage the chances of all pupils getting the education they are entitled to.

Recent surveys support his general concern, with more teachers reporting problems and blaming social media for greater defiance among pupils, as well as more low-level disruption.  Mr Campbell points out that deprivation leaves many parents – let alone pupils – too stressed to cope with the demands of the education system. But this is nothing new. In any field it is all too easy to hark back to a golden age, when pupils were disciplined and attentive and teaching was easier. Pupils have struggled to learn against backgrounds of need for generations.

His proposals are controversial. Few would disagree that improving employment and self respect in communities would help raise a generation of more engaged pupils, but these are challenges which the Government continues to wrestle with and as Mr Campbell admits, such results are a distant prospect at best. He calls for a more robust approach to misbehaviour and an end to what he describes as a culture of “no consequences” – an apparent attack on practices such as restorative justice in schools. Alternatives to exclusion are needed, he argues, with more staff to help  manage  disruptive pupils.

Excluding pupils – even by the use of “alternatives” – smacks of a return to a failed approach which has a hugely damaging impact on the prospects of those affected. Many teachers support measures such as restorative justice which allow pupils to discuss difficulties and find shared solutions. They are part of a more adult and mature ethos in schools and should contribute to a better society in the longer term.   But Mr Campbell is right to say there is always a balance to be struck between the rights of all pupils to an education and the needs of the majority to learn without disruption. If teachers feel at risk from a rise in violent behaviour among pupils, that is clearly unacceptable, and if some believe that the move towards inclusion in the classroom has gone too far then that should be looked at.  But it is clear that the ability of teachers to respond effectively to problem behaviour is being undermined by cuts to budgets and support services, such as classroom assistants. Initiatives such as the Pupil Equity Fund, while welcome, are simply not enough.  Schools in poor neighbourhoods, some already struggling with budgets that are too small are seeing those budgets further reduced and that cannot continue.