Violent Behaviour in Schools

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th March 2019.

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Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

3. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on whether schools should have a zero tolerance policy toward violent behaviour. (S5O-03078)

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Violence towards anyone is unacceptable, and the safety of our children, young people and staff at school is paramount. We, and our partners in the education sector, advocate an approach whereby schools and local authorities work with pupils on the underlying reasons behind inappropriate behaviour, which will enable them to re-engage with learning and personal development. We have published guidance for schools and local authorities that has a renewed focus on prevention, early intervention and response to individual need, which is in line with the principles of getting it right for every child.

Photo of Michelle Ballantyne Michelle Ballantyne Conservative

I was recently contacted by a teacher with 30 years’ experience, who is currently working as a supply teacher. She was hospitalised after a metal implement was thrown and damaged her eye. Violence in schools is causing teachers to think twice about their careers. We know that we are struggling, because we learned at Christmas that more than £60 million has been spent to recruit supply teachers. Does the cabinet secretary recognise that violence in schools is deterring some teachers from pursuing their chosen profession?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I assure Michelle Ballantyne that I take the issue of violence in schools extremely seriously. However, we have to look at the evidence. There are unacceptable incidents, but the overwhelming evidence, as demonstrated in the report “Behaviour in Scottish Schools Research 2016”, which was published in December 2017, indicates that teachers generally find pupils to be well behaved and that violence towards teachers is very rare.

We have to be careful about the narrative on Scottish education. If there are unacceptable incidents of violence, they will be dealt with, but, overwhelmingly, the behaviour of our young people in our schools is good. They are a credit to our country, and we should celebrate that while tackling unacceptable behaviour when it arises.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

That is undoubtedly the case, and it was certainly my experience when I worked in schools. However, I have been approached by constituents who work in our schools and who are assaulted by pupils on a daily basis—I do not exaggerate that point. Will the cabinet secretary give us some advice on how people who are in that situation should deal with that violence?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I reiterate what I said to Michelle Ballantyne a moment ago

. There are unacceptable instances of violence in our schools that must be tackled immediately by school leadership. However, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that teachers generally find pupils to be well behaved and that violence towards teachers is rare.

When there is unacceptable behaviour, we should tackle the underlying reasons for that behaviour as part of a programme of early intervention to address the behaviour of young people, so that staff can undertake their work safely and securely, and to ensure that other pupils are safe into the bargain. That approach should be being taken in all schools, and I am confident that it is.