IAN Rankin’s old high school has been forced to spend almost £90,000 hiring extra staff dedicated full-time to tackling bad behaviour.
Beath High, in Cowdenbeath, Fife, has taken the controversial step after finding that even the “ultimate” sanction of excluding the worst-behaved pupils did not work.
A “Learning and Behaviour Development” teacher on a salary of up to £35,000 will be taken on, backed by a pupil support assistant. The two-year trial, described by the council as “pioneering”, will cost taxpayers an extra £88,000.
But the Scottish Conservatives and taxpayer groups questioned the spending and said parents would expect clear results to be delivered.
The head of the school, which Rebus author Rankin attended in the 1970s, said an “identified group of young people” had caused problems for a period of time.
Douglas Young told a public meeting: “The young people involved do not work as a group but all pose unique individual challenges in different classes.
“It does not happen in one particular class and exclusions have not seemed to make any impact on the problem.
“That is why, at this time, we want to try something totally different which can hopefully make a huge difference to the overall behaviour of these young people.
“There has been a situation developing which is having an effect on these pupils’ peers. The problems may happen in one class but not the next, and then re-appear later in the day.”
The rector added: “By supporting this bid staff will have the flexibility they need to better meet the needs of those young people. They will be in school without repeated exclusions interrupting their learning experience. Their peers will see less disruption.”
But a spokesman for Taxpayer Scotland said spending extra money on a team dedicated to working with badly-behaved youngsters “will raise eyebrows”.
He said: “Taxpayers are entitled to ask what exactly the role entails to warrant this salary.
“At a time when the public sector is having to find necessary savings, every penny spent needs to be accounted for and justified.”
Scottish Conservative young people spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “There will always be a small minority of persistent troublemakers in schools and it is essential they receive the strong message that their behaviour is unacceptable.
“It is up to schools to decide their own discipline practices but, in this case, I am sure there will be some parents questioning whether this the best use of scarce resources when there are so many other pressures on schools.
“It will therefore be essential for the school and Fife Council to demonstrate quickly that this initiative can deliver much better behaviour, not just for the most challenging pupils, but for also for their peers throughout the whole school.”
The Fife Council advert for the posts states they need a “Learning and Behaviour Development teacher – Connections to Learning” on a salary of £26,235-£34,887 for a 35-hour week until 22 September 2017.
Scotland’s biggest teaching union, the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS), also questioned the move.
EIS representative for Fife, David Farmer, said: “We would not be anything but supportive of any attempts made by the council to address issues of behaviour.”
But he added: “We have no idea what ‘Connections to Learning’ actually is – for us this is a unique post.
“We’re not aware of any circumstances that make Beath High School any different to the other 18 secondary schools in Fife. Discipline is an issue in every primary and secondary school but we’re not aware of any incidents or any circumstances that are unique to that particular school.”
Statistics published by the Campaign to End Child Poverty in 2013 showed that 22 per cent of children in the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency were living in poverty.
In August a 15-year-old girl was charged with assault after a viral video appeared to show school children watching a girl in Cowdenbeath being attacked in broad daylight.
Shelagh McLean, Fife’s head of Education and Children’s Services, said a decision had been taken to “support a pioneering project”.
She said: “We will be following this work very closely to see what impact it has and we will be able to share the learning from it with other staff. If this programme has the type of impact we believe it will, then we can learn from that.”