Ending Violence in Schools

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 6 March 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-12389, in the name of Liam Kerr, on ending violence in Scottish schools.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Presiding Officer,

“Assaulted when 5 months pregnant—resulted in a bleed and hospital visit”;

“I had a mild concussion last session, due to being struck with an object”;

“PSAs are being used as punching bags and their and teachers mental health is awful.”

Those are just three of the many terrifying quotes in the recent “Violence and Aggressive Behaviour” report by the Aberdeen local association of the Educational Institute of Scotland. The report says that one third of teachers have been attacked in class, that two thirds have experienced assaults in the past five years and that more than 40 per cent see a violent pupil every day. It is a harrowing and sobering read.

A similar survey from November last year shows that incidents of low-level disruptive behaviour, disengagement and serious disruptive behaviour are taking place and are increasing across the country.

Indeed, there is plenty of qualitative data out there. Data from last year shows that three teachers were hospitalised after attacks by former pupils; that a primary school teacher was left with a life-changing disability and in severe pain daily, unable to hold her baby daughter, after being attacked in the classroom; and that teachers are reporting being spat at, head-butted, punched and kicked, and having furniture, including chairs, thrown at them.

Quantitative data shows that nearly four in 10 teachers reported experiencing violence or physical abuse from pupils in the previous 12 months; that more than 27,000 teachers and school staff have been signed off with stress or poor mental health in the past five years; and that the proportion of secondary school support staff who have experienced violence between pupils has risen from fewer than one in five to almost one in two. In survey after survey, huge numbers of teachers report that they are seriously considering leaving the profession. That is truly terrifying.

Such behaviour lies at the root of so many of the issues that our education system faces today, but I get from my conversations with many stakeholders the sense that people see little practical action being taken and are rapidly losing faith in the Government’s willingness or ability to solve the problem.

I cite as my authority the fact that, after last summer’s Conservative motion that demanded action on violence in schools, the Government called several behaviour summits that have yet to report. People need to know that the Education, Children and Young People Committee asked to have representatives at those summits, but the request was refused.

Shortly after that, Willie Rennie, Pam Duncan-Glancy and I jointly wrote to the Government and pleaded to be included. We explained that we wanted to put politics aside and help by bringing our own experiences and the testimony of our constituents to the table. Our request was refused. We learned in committee last week that one group that really understands the point about behaviour as communication and thus can really add value—the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists—has also not been engaged in the behaviour summits.

That sense of drift was reinforced in November. During a ministerial statement, it was suggested that the problem lies with teachers, in so far as they are not sufficiently well trained to deal with it. The statement set out plans to make an action plan. Months passed in which nothing meaningful happened until, on 20 February, the EIS published its report. The accompanying press release talked of teachers reporting broken bones and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I would have moved heaven and earth to get my hands on that report: indeed, I did—I have it here. However, six days later, the cabinet secretary confessed on live television that she had yet to read it. The following day, the First Minister confirmed that he had not got round to reading it, either.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

Liam Kerr has raised a number of issues that I hope to come to in my speech, but it is worth putting on the record that the EIS in Aberdeen had not sent me a copy of the report on that day. We have been able to obtain a copy from Aberdeen City Council. It is important that I engage the local authority on the issue, which is why, on Friday of that week, I travelled to Aberdeen to engage with the local authority on the substantive matters in the report. I hope that the member recognises that point.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I do, but I also point out that I managed to get hold of the report. What concerned people was the cabinet secretary’s statement that said:

“I don’t oversee education locally. That’s a matter for the local authority”; that

“The appropriate response here is a matter for Aberdeen City Council”; and that the report was merely a local “snapshot”. We know that none of those is the right response. I suspect that, on reflection, the cabinet secretary agrees.

This is absolutely a Scottish Government issue, and there is no shortage of solutions. The solutions are actually set out in the EIS’s “Stand up for quality education” campaign and the Aberdeen EIS report that I referred to, in the NASUWT’s “Better deal for Scotland’s teachers” campaign, and in the representations that we are all getting from Scotland’s teachers and educationists, including Professor Lindsay Paterson, as well as YouthLink Scotland and the General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Throughout this afternoon, members will articulate those solutions and, no doubt, their own. However, I will set out my overall thoughts. The SNP Government must take responsibility—this is a devolved matter and the responsibility lies four square at this Government’s door. There must be proper national data collation by the Government, which will stem from trusted consistent reporting by teachers who have been given faith in the system—something that has been picked up in the Labour amendment, which we will vote for.

There must be a proper strategy in place. In Aberdeen alone, the majority of teachers believe that their schools lack effective strategies to address violence. The strategy must start with real boundaries and proper consequences, including the possibility of exclusion. We must empower headteachers, and the Government must finally honour its promises, which were made 17 years ago, on reducing class sizes.

Finally, the Government must look beyond its siloed thinking on education—my colleagues will talk more about that—because behaviour is often a function of issues that are generated and experienced outside, and are unrelated to, the school or the environment in which people are schooled.

The time for talking is over: actually, it was over years ago. The time for real action is right now. There must be no more behind-closed-doors discussion groups that never seem to report, no more slopey-shouldering to cash-strapped local authorities and putting the blame on teachers, and no more ignoring powerful reports. For every moment in which nothing is done, our kids and our teachers are being mentally and physically assaulted. Our parents despair because they are sending their children to school uncertain of their safety and uncertain about what is happening in their classrooms while they are trying to learn.

Parliament—vote for my motion. For the sake of all in our schools, let us get on with it.

I move,

That the Parliament believes that no pupil, teacher or member of school staff should suffer physical or verbal abuse and that every child and young person has the right to an uninterrupted school day, free from violence and disruption; notes the impact that the current escalation of violence in schools has had on the teaching profession, especially in relation to retention and mental health; further notes, with concern, the alarming reports of instances of violence and disruption, and calls on the Scottish Government to support parents, teachers and staff, assisting them in promoting acceptable behaviour and tackling instances of violence and disruption; calls on the Scottish Government to support children and young people impacted by violence and disruption in schools and to facilitate an environment in which all young people are safe to learn, develop and grow, and further calls on all Members of the Scottish Parliament to work together in tackling the seriousness of this issue, diligently and without delay.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I am grateful to the Scottish Conservatives for securing this afternoon’s debate on ending violence in Scottish schools. The Government will agree to the Conservative motion, and it is in that spirit that I look forward to engaging with members throughout the debate. I have accepted the text of the Conservative motion because, in many ways, the parties that are represented across the chamber are not far apart on the issue. We are all striving for our schools and classrooms to be free from violence and disruption—for them to be places where our young people can learn and our teaching staff can work.

I am absolutely clear that our schools should be safe and consistent learning environments for all, and that no teacher or support assistant should face violence or abusive behaviour in their place of work. I also reiterate in the strongest possible terms my position on the need for more accurate recording of all incidents of inappropriate, abusive or violent behaviour in our schools, and I continue to encourage all schools to do that today.

It very much remains my view that we must continue to strengthen the evidence base that Liam Kerr spoke about in order to inform improvements at school and local authority level, even if that means that the number of reported incidents rises.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

Does Jenny Gilruth agree that there is a difference between the health and safety data on safety in schools and the data that she is talking about, which is the educationally environmental data, if I may use that phrase?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

There is, indeed, an important differentiation to be made in relation to that data. I agree with the member on that point.

I wish to reflect on some of the key findings at national level. Mr Kerr spoke about some of this data in his speech, and it stems from the BISS research—“Behaviour in Scottish Schools 2023”—that was published at the end of last year. It is worth pointing out that the previous time when data was collected was 2016, so we expected to see a change in relation to behaviour patterns. The evidence demonstrates that most children and young people are well behaved in class and around the school. It is important that we do not lose sight of that fact, but low-level disruptive behaviour, disengagement and some forms of serious disruptive behaviour have increased since 2016, including increases in behaviour such as violence and abuse between pupils and towards staff. Of particular concern is the fact that we are for the first time seeing more regular displays of violent behaviours among our youngest children—for example, in primaries 1 to 3.

Colleagues will recall that, back in November last year, I set out a five-step plan to respond to the BISS research. I will today provide to Parliament an update on that work. First, I committed to a dedicated approach in responding to issues related to misogyny, given the concerning findings in BISSR and in other research that has been provided by our teaching unions. Data that was produced by the NASUWT back in November showed that female teachers experience double the level of verbal abuse that their male counterparts experience. Furthermore, according to a national EIS survey among its branches, 51 per cent of teachers believe that boys are much more likely to exhibit violence and aggressive behaviours towards women teachers than they are towards their male teachers.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

I absolutely share the cabinet secretary’s concern about misogyny and its impacts. Regarding the response to that, I was really interested by the cabinet secretary’s remarks at the weekend that she would support a move away from restorative justice and would back teachers who are prepared to exclude the most violent and unruly pupils. Can she give us more details on that, and on when we might have standardised guidance for teachers?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

It is important to say that restorative practices are part of a relational approach that has been proved to have an impact in respect of the preventative action that teachers can take. I say in response to Mr Kerr’s point that we also need a modern approach to consequences, which is what the national action plan will set out. In that regard, I give Mr Kerr the undertaking that the wider work in which the Scottish advisory group on relationships and behaviour in schools—SAGRABIS—is involved, through the national action plan, will consider a review of the exclusions policy that is currently in place in our schools.

As is reflected in the BISSR report, concern has been focused on the increase in online personalities supporting forms of toxic masculinity that seek to degrade women. That shift in popular culture—normalising of abuse that was long thought to have been consigned to the past—should be viewed through the lens of understanding that teaching in Scotland continues to be a female-dominated workplace.

There is an inherent gendered aspect to behaviour shifts in the classroom, which I hope we will all reflect on this week. I was pleased, on Monday, to launch, with the First Minister, the action framework on gender-based violence in schools. The framework gives guidance to schools on preventing and responding to gender-based violence in our schools.

Photo of Pam Duncan-Glancy Pam Duncan-Glancy Labour

Will the cabinet secretary explain why no gendered analysis of that framework was done?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I am happy to write to Pam Duncan-Glancy with more detail on that. Given the number of stakeholders—including Zero Tolerance and Rape Crisis Scotland—that we involved in work on the framework, I would be surprised if we had not taken a gendered approach to it, but I am more than happy to speak to officials and to write to the member with more detail.

Liam Kerr touched on funding; I will touch on it in relation to staff training. It is important to say that the reason why the Government committed a limited amount of funding to support staff training is that it was one of the key factors that the BISSR flagged up. It was a call from Scotland’s support staff, who are often less well paid than our teachers, but bear the brunt of some of the most challenging behaviour in our schools.

I turn to Liam Kerr’s points about the Aberdeen EIS report. That report directly references staff support and training. It suggests that we

“Provide more support and training for staff, especially in managing aggressive behaviour”.

I listen to reports such as that and reflect that there is more that we can do in that space, given that that is a direct request from the profession.

It is important to say that progress is being made on the national action plan. I hope to come back to that in my closing speech; it is not the end of the road. Responding to the post-Covid challenges in Scotland’s schools is not just about behaviour; it is also about strong parental engagement, attendance, lifting heads and raising ambition for our young people. I look forward to contributions from members on the shared aspiration of us all to support our teachers and enable all our young people to flourish in their education.

I move amendment S6M-12389.2, to insert at end:

“, alongside local authorities, schools, teachers and young people themselves; recognises the work that is already underway to respond to these challenges, including the joint national action plan with COSLA, which will publish in the spring; welcomes the publication of the gender-based violence in schools framework, which it agrees is a necessary step in responding to the increase in misogynistic behaviours identified by the behaviour in Scottish schools research and reports by teaching unions, and reaffirms, in the week of International Women’s Day, the need to end misogyny in Scotland’s schools and wider society.”

Photo of Pam Duncan-Glancy Pam Duncan-Glancy Labour

I apologise for arriving a wee bit late to the debate, Deputy Presiding Officer.

Two weeks ago, the EIS survey of nearly 800 of its members in Aberdeen found that almost half had reported daily violence and more than a third had been physically assaulted. Those incidents are a warning that something has gone badly wrong in education at the hands of a Government that once said that it was its priority.

Back in December, the cabinet secretary came to the chamber to speak on the issue, and, during that exchange, I believed that the Government had finally recognised the scale of the challenge and I hoped that that was a signal that it was ready to act.

I have since come to realise that that hope was misplaced, because, since then, we have seen scant action. Teachers, school staff and pupils continue to be distressed. No guidance has been issued on consequences, data collection or support from senior management for staff who are affected. Despite questions from across the chamber, we have little detail of the national action plan that the Government promised other than that it is expected in the spring. By that point, we will be nearing the end of another academic year, and a whole year will have been wasted since we first debated the issue in the chamber. Worst of all, the Government has cut education and local authority budgets, leaving teachers facing job losses, support staff without much-needed additional resource and pupils without mentor programmes that help them to improve their life chances.

Last week’s report should have been the final jolt into action that was needed. However, the cabinet secretary not only said that she had not read it but tried to pass the buck to the council. The situation in schools is not isolated to one area of Scotland. It is systemic, and I believe that the cabinet secretary knows that. This was a moment to show leadership, to wake up, to turn up and step up, and to give the generation of young people who are being failed the respect that they deserve. However, I am afraid that the Government turned away.

We have had three debates on the topic in the chamber, and not one of them has been led by the Government. Yet again, the answers have been left to the Opposition. I accept the cabinet secretary’s acknowledgment that the situation is difficult and will not be resolved overnight, but the hard reality is that, if the cabinet secretary does nothing, it will not be resolved at all. As a teacher who wrote in

Tes at the weekend said, there will be no teachers or staff left to get it right for every child.

The stakes could not be higher. The future of our young people and their education is at risk. So, without the office of cabinet secretary or a civil service behind me, Scottish Labour has done the Government’s work again. We met pupils, parents, staff, teachers and unions. We listened and we showed leadership. We have made it clear that teachers must feel safe at work, that pupils must be able to go to school and feel safe to learn, and that parents must be able to leave their children at the school gate without worrying about their safety. We would take a zero-tolerance approach to violence and poor behaviour and to the impossible situation that the Government has created in schools, which leads to it.

Just as behaviour has consequences, so, too, do the Government’s cuts and actions. Its failure to deliver the promised non-contact time, to reduce class sizes, to end the burden of excessive workload and to implement the recommendations of the Morgan review have made things worse. The Government should start there. It should also gather national and anonymised data to create an inspection indicator for teacher wellbeing, so that we can properly understand the scale of the problem.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

Pam Duncan-Glancy and I are on the Education, Children and Young People Committee, and she will understand—as I do—that behaviour is communication. What would a zero-tolerance approach look like to a dysregulated autistic pupil who was lashing out and hurting somebody? How would a zero-tolerance approach deal with that?

Photo of Pam Duncan-Glancy Pam Duncan-Glancy Labour

I thank Ruth Maguire for her intervention. She is quite right. We heard only this morning that distressed behaviour is almost always a communication. We would have a zero-tolerance approach to a Government that keeps cutting things that would support pupils in that environment. If a child needs to move from a classroom but there is nowhere to put them, meaning that support staff have to spend time with them under staircases and in cupboards, and if no class is available for them to learn in or there are no support staff available to support them, how can we possibly provide the environment that young people in Scotland need? I think that Ruth Maguire knows that.

We have to empower teachers to develop and set rules of engagement in their classrooms and, importantly, to enforce them with clear guidance about the consequences, not as a punishment—this speaks to the point that has just been made—but so that pupils know what is expected of them. We need to empower teachers to set boundaries that create the conditions for pupils to learn best, so that they know that we want them to be safe and to succeed in classrooms where nothing distracts from the opportunity to learn.

A zero-tolerance approach also means ensuring that teachers and school staff can report incidents in the knowledge that senior leaders will support them, that they have a right to a debrief and to consider next steps, and, crucially—this is the point that Ruth Maguire made—to pick up on issues that might have caused the behaviour in the first place. That cannot be overstated. All behaviour is a method of communication, and distressed behaviour is a sign that things are not okay.

We will not tolerate a system that is so stretched that the root causes of poor behaviour are never picked up and never addressed. I, too, was taken aback when the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists confirmed in committee that the Government has not engaged with it on that matter. Getting to the bottom of the situation needs proper multi-agency work and a whole-community approach, but the system has crumbled to such an extent that support has faded away. There is now only one educational psychologist to 600 pupils who need one. Child and adolescent mental health services waiting lists are so long that children’s mental health is going unsupported, and only 0.2 per cent of pupils with additional support needs have access to a plan to address them.

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

Ms Duncan-Glancy, I have to ask you to bring your remarks to a close, please.

Photo of Pam Duncan-Glancy Pam Duncan-Glancy Labour

Support staff are providing help in corridors because there is nowhere to turn. Unions have solutions. Teachers have solutions. Scottish Labour has solutions. I hope that the Government will now act. If it does, I stand ready to support it.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

This is a human rights issue. It is often perceived that, if someone wants action to deal with behaviour, distress, violence or whatever we call it, they are somehow in favour of punishment and against understanding. That is not where I am. The minister has heard me say previously that there has been great movement since I was at school. There was lots of punishment then and there is now a lot of understanding, but perhaps we understand a little bit too much. It is about getting the balance right. We need to provide a safe place in school for learning purposes, but we also need to understand the root causes of distress and the variety of different reasons why it is sometimes exhibited in violence and poor behaviour.

It is often said that we need to get it right for every child—that is the slogan and the brand—but some pupils, parents and teachers think that we get it right for the subject child but not for everyone else in the class. That needs to be taken into account when we devise policies.

There is an interconnection between additional support for learning and factors such as absence, distress and violent behaviour—they are all interlinked. I have had two of the sort of cases that Liam Kerr pointed out. The most striking recent example involved a mother of a daughter in Edinburgh. She did not have much money, but, because her daughter was going through hell at school, she decided that she would pay to put her into a private school. She could not afford it, but she thought that she had to do it for the sake of her child. If we are getting to a state in which a state school cannot provide a safe environment and families are having to put their children into private care to keep them safe, something has gone wrong.

I think that we have made progress in that there is now an open debate and there is no shame in teachers saying that they have had enough and speaking out. That is a good bit of progress. The minister’s acknowledgement of the issue in her statement last year was also progress. Violence in schools is now recognised as an issue that we can openly debate and discuss.

The statement at the weekend about exclusions and the subsequent remarks today about consequences are a step in the right direction. The Government is sending signals to headteachers, education leaders, local authorities and teachers that the education secretary will have their back if they make a professional judgment that the right thing to do in certain circumstances is to remove a child from a school—to remove them not to nothing, but to other support. Exclusion should not be excluded but should be a consideration.

What is next? I think that we need to look at the nurture programme. If it is implemented badly, it results in an incentive for some people to behave badly. It should be more inclusive. It should not be seen to single out individuals who behave badly for special treatment. We need to look at that.

An interesting fact that came up at last week’s Education, Children and Young People Committee evidence session on additional support for learning was that the design of new school buildings needs to be taken into account. Sometimes, those large, open-space buildings are not designed to deal with additional support for learning requirements.

The guidance needs to be updated, and we have had an indication from the minister that that will happen. It needs to set out boundaries and clear consequences. If we can get all those factors in place to send a clear signal to teachers, that will be a step in the right direction.

The one issue that we cannot ignore is that of resources, although it is tough to address it, especially in difficult financial times. We need to implement the reduction in contact time and give teachers more space. We need to give them the resources, the additional speech and language therapists and the additional specialist support that allows them to upskill to be able to deal with the behaviours in their class. If we can do all of those things, we might make some progress on the issue.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to the open debate. Back-bench speeches should be of up to four minutes.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

I want to take a bit of a different tack and look at the issue through a wider lens.

On Sunday, I had the great privilege of being at the world championship coaches club, where I got to speak to and listen to some of the best coaches in the world. We got on to the topic of the impact of sport on our society and the common issues that we face. Sometimes, we look at such problems as though we are the only ones who are facing them. They talked about the reduction in access to facilities, the ever-increasing screen time that our kids have and the influence of social media, all of which are impacting behaviour.

One of the top coaches sent me the following email from a parent who encourages her daughter to participate. I will read it out, because it encapsulates far better than I could the part that sport plays in our children’s development. She said:

“People always asked ‘Why do you pay so much money for your kid to do sports?’ Well I have a confession to make; I don’t pay for my kid to do sports. Personally, I couldn’t care less about what sport she does.

So, if I am not paying for sports what am I paying for?

I pay for those moments when my kid becomes so tired she wants to quit but doesn’t.

I pay for those days when my kid comes home from school and is ‘too tired’ to go to her training but she goes anyway.

I pay for my kid to learn to be disciplined, focused and dedicated.

I pay for my kid to learn to take care of her body and learn how to correctly fuel her body for success.

I pay for my kid to learn to work with others and to be a good team mate, gracious in defeat and humble in success.

I pay for my kid to learn to deal with disappointment, when they don’t get that placing or title they’d hoped for, but still they go back week after week giving it their best shot.

I pay for my kid to learn to make and accomplish goals.

I pay for my kid to respect, not only themselves, but others, officials, judges and coaches.

I pay for my kid to learn that it takes hours and hours, years and years of hard work and practice to create a champion and that success does not happen overnight.

I pay for my kid to be proud of small achievements, and to work towards long term goals.

I pay for the opportunity my child has and will have to make life-long friendships, create lifelong memories, to be as proud of her achievements as I am.

I pay so that my child can be in the gym instead of in front of a screen ...

I pay for those rides home where we make precious memories talking about practice, both good and bad.

I pay so that my child can learn the importance of time management and balancing what is important like school and keeping grades up ... I could go on but, to be short, I don’t pay for sports; I pay for the opportunities that sports provides my kid with to develop attributes that will serve her well throughout her life and give her the opportunity to bless the lives of others. From what I have seen so far I think it is a great investment!”

When we consider solutions to escalating school violence, we have to stop talking about it as if it is an issue in isolation. Our education cluster—which is led by my colleague Liam Kerr—has been discussing how we can tackle a combination of issues at school, such as poor behaviour, poor physical and mental health, lack of attainment, hunger and malnutrition. Malnutrition can be a very different issue from hunger. All of those issues are linked. I put forward the idea that we should offer activity prior to the traditional start of the school day. It does not matter what that activity is. It could be physical activity, music, art, drama or even software writing for video games—anything that captures pupils’ imaginations. While pupils are participating, we could tell them, “By the way, there’s breakfast over there.”

I ran that idea past the NASUWT union on Saturday, at a fringe event that was hosted by my colleague Liam Kerr, and it agreed that it would be a significant intervention. Would it cost money? Of course, it would cost money. Would doing it prevent many of the issues that we currently have to foot the bill for? Absolutely. It is time to get out of the silos and start thinking about long-term strategic solutions. I am afraid that, without appropriate nutrition, activity and interest, it will not matter what we do in the classroom—issues such as school violence will prevail. It is the school environment that needs to change, not the curriculum.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

It is important to note that the majority of Scotland’s pupils are well behaved. However, there has undoubtedly been a marked increase in disruptive behaviour, and absolutely no teacher, member of staff or pupil should have to suffer abuse in our schools. All children and young people have a right to a learning environment in which they are protected and cared for and their rights and needs are respected. I welcome the opportunity to discuss and hear from colleagues about how we can achieve that.

My contribution in the previous debate on this topic focused on gender inequality and violence against women and girls in Scottish schools. I supported Zero Tolerance Scotland in its ask that the Scottish Government should recognise and prioritise violence against women and girls in all discussions about behaviour and violence in schools. I was not the only member to be horrified by the extent to which fear of violence was preventing girls from participating fully in education. It is therefore right that I welcome the Scottish Government publishing a dedicated approach for preventing and responding to gender-based violence in schools. The framework encompasses testimony from young people and staff and sets out how schools can use education, with an emphasis on compassion, to challenge societal views that normalise gender-based violence. Addressing gender inequality in education will tackle issues such as violence, bullying, attendance and attainment, and it will positively impact the experience of girls, teachers and boys in schools. The framework is a positive step towards that, and implementation of it will be key.

The Education, Children and Young People Committee is in the midst of an inquiry into additional support for learning in Scotland. Some of the evidence that we have recently taken can provide helpful points of reflection for the debate. We all understand that behaviour is communication and that speech, language and communication are crucial for attachment, relationships and learning. A young person developing good communication skills and their communication needs being met can act as a protective factor against mental health issues and are important for attainment and behaviour. The committee heard from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists that, although demand has increased since prior to the pandemic, a focus on waiting lists alone could be unhelpful and that a way forward in addressing unmet communication need in school could be taking a whole-system approach.

We heard from an experienced teacher in the same evidence session that there are challenges to being able to participate in training, including being able to obtain cover for classes. She shared that speech therapists being embedded in schools or school communities and being able not just to deliver training but to coach and model ways of working had felt helpful. It seems logical that the approach of having specialists closer to the population could work for a number of interventions.

The issue of time and resource is consistently raised. We cannot expect teachers to be experts on everything or to solve all society’s ills and any training will be more valuable and more impactful where there is space and time for reflective practice. That point was reiterated in an informal committee session with teachers only this week. In our conversations with both pupils and teachers, we are hearing that the impact of reductions in additional support staff is something that makes supporting all children within schools more challenging.

Addressing the issue of behaviour is not just for teachers and it is not just for schools. Creating the environment and conditions where children are protected and cared for and where their rights are upheld and promoted is a job for all of us.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

Broken fingers, stitches, and significant knee damage—those are some of the injuries reported by Fife teachers to their local EIS branch. Across Fife last year, over 3,600 incidents of violence and aggression were reported in schools—those were physical incidents, violence, aggression and threat. We know that many more incidents of that type go unreported. Teachers are not reporting incidents of abuse as they do not believe that anything will be done about them. The people we trust to educate our children are at the point where abuse has become part of their job, which is simply not acceptable.

Violence in our schools, of course, is not just directed at teachers; nor does it stop at the school gate. We have all seen the coverage of horrific assaults on school pupils that have been shared on social media, including an attack in a classroom at Waid academy, and a 12-year-old from Ladybank who was beaten up on a bus on her way home from school. Among support staff, a GMB report found that one in six were suffering violence on a daily basis—being punched, kicked and spat on as they did their job.

I am being contacted by constituents who are concerned about increasingly disrespectful, disruptive and violent behaviour across primary and secondary schools. I am hearing from families whose children have been victims of violence and from those who have witnessed incidents. Children are telling their parents about how their learning is interrupted on a daily basis; pupils, parents and carers are concerned that schools are not a safe place to be. That is part of the national picture that the Scottish Government has a responsibility to address. Whether in Aberdeen or Aberfeldy, each one of our schools is part of an education system that has seen violence and disruptive behaviour increase. The range of contributing factors is broad, as is the required response, which must be underpinned by proper resources.

The Labour amendment draws attention to some of the wider context, including the lack of support for pupils with additional support needs. Figures from last year on the number of pupils in schools with ASN show that they represent well over a third of the pupil population, and the number has almost doubled in the past decade. However, during that time, related support provision has not increased. There have been budgetary cuts and a lack of on-going support not just for those with ASN but for the school staff working with them.

The Government amendment wants us to recognise the action that is being taken, but plan after plan does not mean that the necessary support is being delivered. Acknowledging the scale of the problem is only the first step, and, although the summits are a positive move, they took too long to happen and it must be demonstrated that they are more than talking shops. The publication this week of the framework on gender-based violence is welcome, but it highlights the importance of addressing underlying causes as well as demonstrating that instances of violence and abuse are not tolerated and should not be seen as part of school life.

Local councils are seeking to take steps where they can but they are doing so within budgetary constraints. In Fife, we have seen some positive action around increasing pupil support assistance time and through personal and social education on behaviours. The piloting of a model basing a social worker in secondary schools to work with young people who need extra support and plans to recruit more guidance staff are other examples of local action.

Peer work in schools is important. Although the publication of the framework on gender-based violence is welcome, we should recognise that the mentors in violence prevention programme has been working with young people to help them to challenge attitudes and behaviours safely in their schools and other parts of their lives. I know that many young people have found the programme valuable. In a recent meeting that I had with Fife Rape and Sexual Assault Centre in Kirkcaldy, it was very positive about the impact of the programme.

The steps that can be taken by local authorities and by schools need to be set within a national action plan. We need the creation of clear national guidance setting out that violent and abusive behaviour is simply not acceptable, that it will not be tolerated and that schools will be supported in dealing with those behaviours. We need to ensure that our schools are a safe place for learners and teachers to be and to thrive.

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party

It is one of those rare days in the Parliament when we all agree on the fact that no people, teacher or member of school staff should have to suffer abuse in our schools. Indeed, I also find myself in broad agreement with elements of the Conservative motion. I can see a few eyes rolling at that. However, it is also important to put on record that the majority of schoolchildren are well behaved, diligent and hard working.

Last week, we debated the recommendations of the independent review of qualifications and assessment. The debate highlighted the fact that the hard work and dedication of pupils and teachers is producing positive results for Scotland’s school leavers, with another record high for pupils who are moving on to positive destinations. In 2022-23, more than 95 per cent of school leavers were classed as having moved to positive destinations, which includes higher education, further education, employment, training, personal skills development and voluntary work. That figure is the highest since records began in 2009-10. I believe that it is important to acknowledge that achievement in the debate, not to distract from the importance of the impact of violence in schools but simply for balance and perspective.

The impact of any violence in schools on learners and teachers can, as the motion notes, have a huge impact on all those who are affected. I agree with the motion that parliamentarians and those in government must all work together to tackle the issue, which I believe that we are doing, because we all take it seriously. As we have already heard in response to the behavioural issues in Scotland’s schools research, the Government has established a five-point plan to address the issue. First on the list is a national plan for action, developed in partnership with key stakeholders and informed by headteachers from across Scotland’s schools.

Although I welcome that action and others in the Government’s approach, last week’s debate also highlighted the fact that Scotland’s children and young people hold the biggest stake in our education system and, as such, they should be heard just as strongly across our reform programme. It is my understanding that the recent behaviour in Scottish schools report did not consult widely enough with children and young people, which is something that needs to be more in sync with the Government’s overall approach to put the rights of the child at the centre of its decision making.

As the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently recommended, we should

“adopt a child rights-based approach to addressing violence or other disturbances in schools, including by prohibiting the presence of police in schools and providing regular training for teachers and relevant guidance for addressing such disturbances in a child-sensitive manner.”

What does that mean in practice? It means placing children’s participation and their best interests at the heart of policy and practice. Children and young people, both those who are harmed by and those who are responsible for violence, must be involved in the solutions to youth violence, both locally and nationally.

I invite the cabinet secretary to expand on the steps that the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that the voice of Scotland’s children is being heard and to commit to exploring ways to ensure future participation for everyone in our schools.

Photo of Tim Eagle Tim Eagle Conservative

I declare an interest as a former councillor on Moray Council. I will look at the matter from that perspective.

I start by acknowledging the fact that many pupils in our schools are well behaved, which I agree with the cabinet secretary about. That is stated in the report “Behaviour in Scottish Schools 2023”. Although I cannot ignore—and most of us are not ignoring—the worrying rise in disruption across all areas surveyed in the report, we must remember that we have many exceptional young people across Scotland. I am glad that my colleague spoke about sport and the young people who are doing so well in it.

As others have said, the report highlights that low-level and more serious disruptive behaviours, including physical and violent aggression, are increasing in Scottish schools. That view is shared by people who I have spoken to in recent days in Moray and in Argyll and Bute.

The cabinet secretary held a number of summits on behaviour in schools, but the summary of those summits, which was sent as a guidance note to councils in January, does not fully correspond with the discussions that I hear on the ground across the Highlands and Islands, or with the worrying survey on violent and aggressive behaviour by the EIS’s Aberdeen local association.

Let me be absolutely clear about what I am hearing now and what I encountered when I was chair of the children and young people’s services committee on Moray Council. Teachers are feeling traumatised—many fear for their safety and many are scared to go to work. Although I accept Willie Rennie’s point about the complexities of additional support needs and social and emotional behavioural needs, that does not take away from what teachers are experiencing on the ground every day. The sharp rise in disruptive behaviours since 2016 is deeply troubling, and a contact told me earlier this week that things are getting so bad that more and more emergency meetings of leadership groups are being triggered over the issue.

Turning briefly to the EIS Aberdeen local association report, it bothers me, as Liam Kerr said, that the cabinet secretary implied that it would be for Aberdeen City Council to respond, not the SNP Government. I can imagine the collective dismay—

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

The recommendations in the EIS Aberdeen report, which are really important, are all for the local authority. It is important that the national action plan sets out the responsibilities for the Government and, equally, the responsibilities for local authorities. That is not to not engage with the substantive points from the report, but it is important to say that local authorities have a role in the issue. I hope that the member understands that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Tim Eagle, I will give you the time back.

Photo of Tim Eagle Tim Eagle Conservative

I was about to come to that point.

I accept that the Government and the local authority, and, for that matter, potentially the community, need to work together on the issue, but there was an implication in the cabinet secretary’s interview that it was being passed to Aberdeen City Council. I can imagine the collective dismay of teachers and education staff across the whole of the north-east—in fact, the whole of Scotland—at her remarks. Those were not great remarks to make. Although education delivery sits with local authorities, be in no doubt that the implications of the Scottish Government’s policy decisions and budgets are exacerbating the on-going situation.

COSLA has said that council leaders want to protect education and

“improve the attainment and achievement of children and young people, whilst also retaining the teachers and support staff that are required to do this.”

I am sure that we can all get behind that, but, again, it is the decisions that we make here that are putting those aims at risk. It is neither right nor fair that the Government is passing the buck to local authorities. At the very least—and this is the cabinet secretary’s point—it is a shared responsibility.

Exclusions are increasing across Scotland, which we do not want to happen. The number of teachers who are considering leaving the profession is increasing. No employee should feel scared in their workplace or be a victim of intimidation or physical abuse.

The cabinet secretary needs to address the concerns, and the Government needs to take responsibility and address these issues by working with local authorities and local communities and bringing forward meaningful solutions now, not tomorrow.

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

I will use my time to focus on gender-based violence. Last summer, Zero Tolerance Scotland sent a report to all MSPs that illustrated how horrifyingly commonplace it is for young women and girls to be survivors of sexual violence at school. Two in three had experienced sexual harassment in school in the past year, a third knew another girl who had experienced rape or sexual assault and one in five did not feel safe in school. The most recent surveys from the NASUWT and the EIS show that staff also experience some levels of gender-based violence.

This by no means explains the whole issue, but one of the causes of violence against women and girls in schools is that generations of boys and young men have received some kind of sex and relationship education that did not focus on the principle of consent and, in many cases, did not include education on consent at all. The inquiry that the Education and Skills Committee in the previous parliamentary session did on personal and social education in schools was the first piece of work that I proposed when I was elected. Our report concluded that it is clear that consent is not covered consistently in PSE across Scotland.

If we want to eradicate rape culture and gender-based violence from our schools, it is essential that every young person—especially young boys and men—learns about the principle of consent. I am glad that, in response to that report, the Government initiated its review and commissioned refreshed guidance for the delivery of relationships and sexual health education. That refreshed guidance is almost ready. The current guidance, which has been in use since 2014, makes only one minor reference to the importance of consent, whereas the first draft of the new guidance starts with a substantive section dedicated to the principle of consent, boundaries and healthy relationships. Age and stage-appropriate education for boys and young men is essential to tackling gender-based violence in schools.

A firm approach to violence in schools, especially gender-based and bigoted attacks, is not mutually exclusive from recognising that children and young people who are responsible for those attacks are often in desperate need of help. Too often, it is easy to use zero tolerance as a soundbite in the absence of policies that would address the cause of a pupil’s violent behaviour. We know the link between adverse childhood experiences and social, emotional and behavioural issues. We recognise that precarious housing, living with adults who are suffering from addiction issues, poverty and plenty of other situations in childhood are adverse experiences.

Photo of Brian Whittle Brian Whittle Conservative

Does Ross Greer agree that it is not just what we teach but how we teach it and the environment in which we teach it that is crucial?

Photo of Ross Greer Ross Greer Green

I am grateful for that intervention and I could not agree more. A lot of evidence about that is coming out in the Education, Children and Young People Committee’s inquiry into additional support needs provision in our schools, and all members should look forward to that report.

However, it would be wrong to pretend that we can tackle the issue of violence in schools without tackling the wider challenges that many children face. Stronger punishments might be appropriate, especially in circumstances where the safety of other pupils and staff is a major concern, but they are not the whole solution.

Far too often in the debate about the issue, children and young people are being talked about rather than being given the opportunity to discuss their experiences and their ideas for solutions. Although there is much in Liam Kerr’s motion that I agree with, I am glad that the Government amendment calls on us all to work with young people.

One area in which I am glad that we are making progress—and that will have a positive knock-on effect—is in the provision of mental health support services in schools. We are by no means at a point where every child has equal access to those services, but the past three six-monthly reports have shown an increase of 10,000, 12,000 and 14,500 children and young people accessing those expanded services. However, we all need to look at relative levels of access. Although access has expanded nationally, it has not expanded evenly. That is an issue for Parliament, not just for local authorities.

There is not a simple solution to violence in schools, and we would do staff and pupils a disservice to pretend otherwise. However, constructive suggestions have been made over recent months, and I hope that this afternoon’s relative consensus can last long enough for us to see those suggestions delivered and to make our schools a safer environment for every student and member of staff.

Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

Like colleagues, I believe that no pupil, teacher or member of school staff and no one else in the school environment should suffer physical or verbal abuse, and that every child and young person has the right to an uninterrupted school day that is free from violence and disruption. I commend colleagues for bringing the issue to the chamber for debate, because the welfare of our young people and their nurturing and education could not be a more important issue.

Like colleagues, I have concerning casework on the issue involving parents, carers and staff who work in schools. As colleagues have mentioned, the Education, Children and Young People Committee has taken evidence on the issue and it is undertaking an important inquiry into support for those with additional support needs and the many challenges in ensuring that those young people—and people around them—are appropriately supported.

Given the extent of the challenge and its importance, I was pleased to see the five-point plan and to hear the Government’s reassurance that there will be targeted support for schools. The cabinet secretary and our colleagues and officials are focused on working with teachers, unions and stakeholders to make a meaningful difference. There is political unity as well.

In response to one of the five points, the whole-school framework on preventing and responding to gender-based violence was published this week, which is very welcome. I am pleased that there has been expert input from Rape Crisis Scotland and Zero Tolerance, which I know, because it is based in my constituency, has been extremely concerned. Ross Greer mentioned the research and surveys that Zero Tolerance undertook. According to that research, 64 per cent of girls and young women aged 13 to 21 experienced sexual harassment at school in the past year. That gives an indication of the scale of the challenge.

Given those circumstances, I would be grateful if the cabinet secretary could touch on how implementation of the framework will be supported, if there is capacity for her to do that in this short debate. Can we, as MSPs, help the Government, local authorities and schools in our constituencies and regions to take that forward? On that and the other four points, can we engage other stakeholders in a way that is similar to the engagement with the expertise of Zero Tolerance and Rape Crisis Scotland? As Brian Whittle rightly highlighted, the power of sport can make a difference here. I have seen that in north Edinburgh in my constituency, where the Spartans Community Foundation makes a real impact in supporting schools and, in particular, the young people who are involved.

To state the obvious, the issue is not isolated to schools. We have previously discussed challenges on public transport and the wider issue of the effect of the pandemic on young people. We cannot put it all on our teachers and those who run our schools. We perhaps need to have a wider debate at some point on the wide-ranging challenge of the behaviour of young people. Tomorrow, when there are young people sitting just behind me in the chamber, perhaps we can ask ourselves whether we are setting the best example.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We move to closing speeches.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

I echo Ben Macpherson’s final words. What young people see starts them in the process of framing the society in which they live and what they deem to be acceptable. Only this week, there have been a number of examples from across the chamber of behaviour that would be better left in the past rather than emulated, and to which our highly skilled teachers and other adults who work with young people could draw their attention.

I thank the Scottish Conservatives for again bringing a debate on education to the chamber, and for raising such an important matter. Although the consensus when we vote at the end of the day might not reflect the consensus on the incredible importance of the matter, it is right that we seek cross-party support in a proper way by allowing the doors to be opened and contributions from members across the chamber, irrespective of political party, to find their way in.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her opening speech. I intervened on her with regard to data because it is important to see the risk of violence in schools in the contexts of employment and health and safety, and it is important that there is accurate data recording. The reporting of violence sits in the culture of employment. The challenge comes in relation to violence that occurs in the education environment, including the challenge of giving adults who work around our young people the capacity and the bravery to report. We have seen in a number of papers the frequency with which they come up against a wall when they report.

It is interesting that a number of members have pointed out that, as a society, we are now more engaged and more open to talking about the issue. I think that a lot of adults and young people in our schools would like to feel that change of culture so that they can raise a complaint. It would be interesting to look at that aspect.

I am particularly grateful to GMB Scotland, which represents a significant number of other adults in the classroom, particularly the pupil support assistants. It reports that one in five staff are subjected to daily violence. That would be unacceptable in any other workplace. It reports that three in five say that incidents of violence are not recorded, which speaks to something that many members have identified today. It reports that three in four did not receive feedback from their employer after reporting an incident. If the support is not there afterwards, not only for adults but for young people, why would they report an incident in the future? Finally, it reports that only one in four said that their employer took violence seriously enough. Of all the horrendous statistics that it reports, the one that shows that employees do not feel confident about that is the one that sticks out for me.

I thank the General Teaching Council for Scotland for its work on the issue. It regulates and oversees how teachers go into education and it has an important role in determining whether teachers retain the ability to teach. In the patterns that arise in its fitness to teach casework, it has seen the issues to do with additional support needs that we have discussed today, and it has seen that resource is needed. It has identified challenges with restraint and handling, on which there is a lack of guidance and support; it has identified that teachers have fears about whether they will be backed up in situations; and it has reported on the challenge for teachers’ mental health. The GTCS figures are specifically about teachers, but inconsistent support and indeed an absence of support carry huge challenges for others, beyond just teachers.

In the short time that I have left—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The member is concluding, I hope.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

I apologise to Mr Whittle, but time is against me.

My last point is about the whole-school framework. Where the Government has articulated a reporting and data process for one element of the framework, is it considering taking the same approach for all reporting? If it does not do that, we will end up with different reporting vehicles.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I thank members for their contributions to this afternoon’s debate. Despite its content, which could have been extraordinarily challenging, it has been a worthwhile debate. I have been listening intently to contributions from all parties in the chamber. I reiterate that we are all working towards the same goal: to ensure that our schools are safe and consistent learning environments for all, and I remain committed to working on a cross-party basis to that end.

I listened to Liam Kerr’s points about the behaviour summits. I think that members worked really well together during the Scottish Government debate on qualifications last week. In a similar vein, I propose to convene a cross-party session with Opposition spokespeople and my officials to ensure that the suggestions that we have gathered today are reflected in our new national approach to behaviour in Scotland’s schools.

We must reflect that things have changed in our schools, and our approach to supporting teachers needs to change, too. This is not just about our older school pupils, though.

Photo of Sandesh Gulhane Sandesh Gulhane Conservative

I w as on a panel with the National Deaf Children’s Society, which told me that deaf children are suffering due to the lack of teachers for the deaf. There needs to be more of them. If there was, that would help both teachers and deaf students, and it would ensure that the latter get the education that they deserve. Does the cabinet secretary agree that teachers for deaf children are of great importance? What can she do to help our deaf students?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

They are of great importance. I very much agree with the member’s point about teachers for the deaf. I worked with a number of them in my role before I came to the Parliament, and I taught a number of deaf pupils, with support, in my classroom. I very much recognise the point that the member makes and I look forward to engaging in the coming weeks with the stakeholder that he named in his contribution. I think that it is running a campaign currently. It is important that we have a holistic and inclusive education system, and the member recognised that in his contribution.

I want to talk about the challenge in different year groups across our schools.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

While the cabinet secretary is talking about support, can we ensure that the new body that will replace

Education Scotland will provide practical, tangible support for teachers in class? That would be really important for giving them confidence. Does the cabinet secretary agree?

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I very much agree with the sentiment of Mr Rennie’s question. Education Scotland is strong at providing guidance, but sometimes we need practical assistance in our classrooms. We heard that in members’ contributions today. I look forward to working with the new body to that end.

I referenced some of our younger citizens in my opening speech. This morning, I visited Ayrshire College, where I heard directly from staff in the college sector about changes in the current generation—the Covid generation—and what that means for their learning and teaching. In that college, it means that the staff have completely transformed the way in which they support their young people. They provide wraparound services that have bucked the trend on retention. The curriculum is a motivating one with a focus on practical skills, and staff believe that that is imperative to driving motivation.

Colleagues will recall my decision to pause legislative reform last year. That decision was in part informed by changes in behaviour and relationships in our schools. Government has to respond to that context to fully support Scotland’s teachers, who are responding to significant changes in the current generation.

I want to respond to some of the comments that were raised in the debate, and I am conscious that time is tight. Ruth Maguire spoke about the horrifying fear that affects many girls in Scotland’s schools and prevents them from engaging in their education. She and others noted that all behaviour is communication, and I very much agree with that sentiment.

It was helpful to hear examples from Fife from Claire Baker, and we have heard examples from Aberdeen. It is important that those local examples are understood at the national level to inform our policy. Claire Baker named a number of events that have happened in her local area in recent times. I will not do that myself today—I am always cautious about naming specific incidents, as I am conscious that they involve our young people and our teachers.

On Liam Kerr’s point about the behaviour summits, the reason why I did not open up the summits to other MSPs to attend was that I wanted to create a safe environment in which our members of staff were able to share their experiences. I am sure that the Education, Children and Young People Committee has been able to get better information from its private sessions when people did not feel that they were in an open arena. I look forward to engaging with the Opposition more substantively in the coming weeks.

Ms Baker also touched on reporting. She said that staff do not feel that there is a point in reporting because they do not think that anything is going to happen. I think that there was also something buried in the BISS research about a fear that staff have that reporting could have consequences for them. It is important that the Government understands that. It is also important that staff are encouraged to report and are supported by their employer to do so, to ensure that we have more adequate and reliable data. If we reflect on some of the data that we have gathered on bullying, we see that there is disparity across the country in reporting practices. That is why it is important that we have a national action plan—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Cabinet secretary, you need to conclude.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

— that will set out the national parameters in relation to violence and behaviour in our schools.

Improving behaviour in schools is not just about our schools, as we have heard this afternoon. One of the strongest contributions to the debate was from Brian Whittle, on the role of sport.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Cabinet secretary, you need to conclude. Please conclude.

Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I very much look forward to engaging with the Opposition on behaviour in schools.

Photo of Roz McCall Roz McCall Conservative

It is an honour to close the debate—yet another debate on violence in our schools—on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives. I reflect on the fact that it has taken another motion from this side of the chamber, 10 months on from our party’s debate in May, for the topic to be raised here again.

While I was putting together some of the words for this afternoon’s debate, I found myself reading the

Official Report of that debate and returning to a contribution from my colleague Meghan Gallacher, in which she posed the question:

“How did things get so bad?”—[

Official Report

, 24 May 2023, c 73.]

Unfortunately, since then, things seem to have only gotten worse.

We have had reports of three teachers being hospitalised after an attack at Johnstone high school, of a schoolgirl being brutally attacked at Waid academy and of a primary school teacher being unable to hold their baby daughter after being attacked by a pupil in the classroom at a school in Edinburgh. That is to name but a few incidents, and they are all very shocking.

I understand the cabinet secretary’s point that we are talking about real people, but I want to add another example to my contribution today. Earlier this week, it was brought to my attention that a pupil who attends a primary school in Fife left the premises, went home, and returned to school later with a hammer and proceeded to use it in a threatening manner. The school’s response to the incident was—quite rightly—to remove the other children from the playground for their own safety. I applaud that move, and the staff worked exceptionally quickly, but they were powerless to deal with the pupil with the offensive weapon.

It is no wonder, therefore, that, over the past five years, more than 27,000 teachers and school staff have been signed off with stress and poor mental health.

It should surely be a fundamental right in 21st century Scotland that no pupil, teacher or member of school staff should suffer physical or verbal abuse. Every child and young person should have the right to an uninterrupted school day that is free from violence and disruption.

It has been interesting to listen to the debate. As always, I will highlight a couple of contributions from members that I think are particularly worth noting. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement that she hopes to have a cross-party session. That is excellent, and I appreciate it.

I must mention that, across the chamber, we agree on an awful lot. Ruth Maguire, Claire Baker, Pam Duncan-Glancy, Ross Greer and the cabinet secretary all welcomed the framework on gender-based violence, and I could not agree on that more. However, I also agree with Ruth Maguire that the implementation of that will be important.

Bill Kidd, the cabinet secretary, Pam Duncan-Glancy, Willie Rennie and Tim Eagle all highlighted that the majority of our young people are very well behaved. I totally agree with that, but I highlight that it is their progress that is being affected by violence in our classrooms.

The cabinet secretary mentioned that she would like to strengthen the evidence base. Again, I agree, but I would ask about what happens on the ground in the meantime while we are building that evidence base. She talked about a modern approach to consequences, and I certainly look forward to seeing more detail on that. She mentioned training for staff. That is important but, if you keep doing what you do, you will keep getting what you have got. I stress that doing more training in the same vein will only give us the same results.

I want to highlight an excellent contribution from Brian Whittle on sport participation. I do not look like the greatest sportsperson in the world—I played in goal at hockey, but I enjoyed it immensely and I have an awful lot of positive memories from it and a lot of life lessons were based on it.

My colleague Liam Kerr made the point well that the industry has the solutions. The EIS, the NASUWT, YouthLink Scotland and teachers and educationalists such as Professor Lindsay Paterson are all proposing solutions.

I thank the cabinet secretary for her comments. Again, I want to highlight and use this opportunity to welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement of a dedicated approach to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in schools. The cabinet secretary is right that we all want schools to create cultures in which all members of the school community know that gender-based violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. I agree that that is important. However, the framework on gender-based violence looks at only one segment of the problem and it does not go far enough.

I do not understand how the Scottish Government can act so swiftly and efficiently when it comes to tackling gender-based inequality but fail to come close to addressing the broader issues of violence in our schools. Surely, when pupils come to school with any sort of weapon—hammer or otherwise—they must be dealt with in the most stringent of manners, and consequences for those actions must apply to ensure that something like that never happens again.

I agree whole-heartedly that all members of Parliament must, as the motion states,

“work together in tackling the seriousness of this issue, diligently and without delay.”

It is simply not good enough that, 10 months on from when members on the Conservative benches first raised the issue and requested plans and guidelines to be put in place prior to the start of the academic year last August, in reality, there has been no change on the ground, no change in our schools and no change for the wellbeing of our students, teachers and all education staff. That is simply not good enough.