Has there been a behaviour miracle in Scotland?

January 25, 2020

They don’t do permanent exclusions in Scotland any more. Or rather, they have reduced it to a negligible amount. The figures for permanent exclusions are literally unbelievable.

2010-2011: 60

2012-2013: 21

2014-2015: 5

2016-2017: 5 (after correction, apparently they missed 4 of these on first publication).

2018-2019: 3

The figures are collected every 2 years, so I don’t know if in the years that aren’t counted they go up. But it is clear these have been slashed.

Now, if Scotland want to either tolerate bad behaviour, or exclude in a way that doesn’t show up in official figures, that’s up to them. Unfortunately, those who oppose permanent exclusions are using the changed statistics to claim that Scotland has changed not only the practise of exclusion, but the need to exclude. In a report about the director of education in Glasgow, the TES reports that:

Ms McKenna, … says this change has not come about because of some “fancy-nancy initiative”, but because decisions in schools – and in secondaries in particular – are now made in a more “child-centred way”.

In Glasgow, she says, teachers are encouraged to see all behaviour as communication and to take into account the context children are living in when deciding how to deal with pupil transgressions.


“We don’t have any fancy-nancy initiative where I can say, ‘There’s £1 million here that I spent on that and wow, look, it reduced exclusions.’ What we have done is we made the decision to work in a more child-centred way.

“The whole agenda in Scotland around adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma-informed practice has had a big impact. Teachers are much more knowledgeable now about the context of children’s lives and behaviour is no longer looked at in isolation.

“One of the biggest achievements in Glasgow is that teachers don’t see it as bad behaviour but as distressed behaviour. That all behaviour is communication is one of our big training focuses. Now they are seeing behaviour in a different light.”

This claim has been leapt upon by campaigners against discipline in English schools:

Now, Scotland may be doing some good things. There are reports that individual schools have their own PRUs, allowing students to be permanently removed which may have benefits (although if the only benefit is that it doesn’t appear in the figures that’s still a concern).

However, what do we make of claims that in Scotland the need to exclude, rather than the need to record it in the figures, has been changed, particularly through “trauma informed” methods? Unfortunately, nobody reports accurately on the amount of behaviour in a school system. We can’t make comparisons with England. We can’t expect Scottish teachers to be able to talk about behaviour openly. We can’t say how out of control Scottish schools are. Normally, we’d be stuck at this point when talking about changes in exclusion policy.

However, the Scottish exclusion levels are so low, that if they have reduced behaviour that requires permanent exclusion to the levels claimed, they would have achieved a “behaviour miracle”. If the figures are true it would be extremely hard to find anything worth permanently excluding for in Scottish school, and this we can check. We can easily find every reason to believe that bad behaviour still exists on a scale far greater than the figures show in the years 2014-2019. The following stories are all from the period where Scottish schools were permanently excluding less than half a dozen kids. I leave you to judge whether bad behaviour that merits a permanent exclusion has been cured by a Scottish approach that we should copy.

From BBC Scotland reporting on compensation pay outs to teachers in 2019:

Three teachers who were assaulted by pupils were awarded more than £100,000 compensation between them, according to Scotland’s largest teachers union.

The EIS says one of the victims received £55,000 after suffering serious injuries.

The figures were contained in the union’s annual roundup of compensation secured for its members….

…A total of £105,000 of compensation was split between three teachers who were assaulted by pupils in separate incidents:

  • A payout of £55,000 involved a case were a pupil had shouted obscenities towards a teacher then violently assaulted them. The teacher suffered serious injuries as a result
  • A teacher who was injured in an altercation with a pupil and suffered distress received £30,000 in compensation
  • And a teacher diagnosed with concussion who was signed off work received £20,000. A pupil had assaulted the teacher, pulled their hair and headbutted them repeatedly

From BBC Scotland reporting on compensation payouts in 2017:

Payouts for incidents of violence made up £76,877 of the £469,758 secured by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) for members over the past year.

In one case, a teacher was awarded £12,452 and had to undergo an operation after a pupil kicked their kneecap off…

…payments highlighted in the EIS figures include:

  • A teacher who received £45,000 for rib injuries after being punched and kicked by a pupil.
  • Another was given a payout of £17,125 after receiving a “flying kick” that left them with injuries to the lower back and hip…

From BBC Scotland reporting on the temporary exclusion figures in 2018:

The number of Scottish school exclusions or physical assaults involving weapons or improvised weapons has risen to a five-year high.

Figures for 2016/17 showed there were 311 instances of a pupil being excluded for using a weapon to assault another pupil or member of staff.

There were a further 428 incidents involving improvised weapons.

The Scottish government said it was working with schools and local authorities on anti-violence campaigns.

The Scottish Conservatives said the increase would “horrify” parents, and demonstrated a problem with discipline in classrooms.

The statistics, published by the Scottish government, are only gathered every two years.

The total of 739 is up on the 661 incidents recorded in 2014/15, and 710 in 2012/13.

Exclusions as a result of physical assaults involving no weapon were also up, with 4,635 instances in 2016/17, a rise from 3,990 and 4,371 in the previous years.

The figures also showed exclusions as a result of physical assaults on staff increased, up 23% from 1,588 in 2014/15 to 1,990 in 2016/17.

BBC Scotland reporting on weapons in the North East of Scotland in 2017:

More than 200 incidents of young people having weapons – more a quarter of which were in schools – were recorded in the north east of Scotland in the space of a year.

Police Scotland said 207 were recorded between April last year and March this year, with just over a third involving a blade.

A total of 55 involved schools.

The average age of the children in schools was 12 ,and 93% of them were boys.

Of the schools, 29 were in Aberdeen, 15 in Aberdeenshire and 11 in Moray.

Of the 55 school incidents, 19 were recorded as a crime resulting in the youth being charged…

… Last year, hundreds of secondary pupils across Aberdeen have been given anti-weapons lessons in the wake of the killing of schoolboy Bailey Gwynne.

Bailey, 16, was stabbed during a fight with a fellow pupil at Cults Academy.

The schoolboy’s killer is serving nine years for culpable homicide.

An independent review into the death of Bailey found his death was “potentially avoidable” if teachers had known his attacker carried a knife.

BBC news reporting in 2018 on attacks on support staff in schools in Edinburgh.

Support staff have been attacked or abused by pupils 2,478 times in Edinburgh during the last three years.

Calls have been made for staff to be given more support after 1,675 injuries were sustained in attacks since 2015.

During 2017/18, 738 incidents of support staff being attacked or abused by pupils were reported – including 512 assaults that resulted in injury.

Of these incidents, 532 were against support assistants, 43 against learning assistants and 10 behavioural teachers.

The number of incidents last school year have fallen from the 1,006 reported in 2016/17 including 645 violent attacks resulting in injury.

BBC in 2019:

A 12-year-old boy has been charged over an alleged sexual assault at a high school in Glasgow.

BBC Scotland understands the complainer is a teacher at the school and the boy was reported to police on 29 August.

BBC in 2018:

Teachers at a school in Edinburgh have been sent home without pay after refusing to teach pupils they claim are violent and abusive.

A union has accused the city council of “bullying and intimidating” staff at [school name], a school for children with additional support needs.

Eleven teachers have refused to give lessons to eight pupils following physical and verbal assaults.

The council said it was wrong for staff to pick and choose who to teach.

The teachers are members of the NASUWT union, which earlier this year balloted for industrial action short of a strike by refusing to teach or supervise eight pupils who they believe pose a risk to health, safety and welfare.

Violent attacks are understood to have included chairs and signs thrown at teachers, causing injuries with police called in on some occasions.

Herald On Sunday report on racism in schools from 2019:

A GROUP of school children have told how they experience harrowing racist abuse in Scotland’s schools as a new report calls for urgent action to tackle the problem.

Secondary school pupils told the Herald on Sunday they were called the “N” word, told to hang themselves from headscarves and ordered to “get back to the jungle” by fellow students.

One young black woman said her siblings wished they had white skin, saying “our skin colour only brings us trouble.”

They spoke out ahead of the publication of a new report, due to be launched at the Scottish Parliament next week, which highlights the views of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) children in Scotland.

Commissioned by Intercultural Youth Scotland, researchers asked more than 100 secondary school children from across the country their views on racism, the school curriculum and whether they felt included among their white peers.

The Herald on Sunday has obtained exclusive access to the study conducted by EDI Scotland, which show more than half of pupils didn’t think their teachers knew how to handle racist incidents, didn’t feel comfortable reporting racism to their teachers, and didn’t recognise themselves in the types of issues they were learning about in the classroom.

The majority of pupils also said they didn’t think their school would “respond effectively to any concerns raised about racism or discrimination”.

No doubt I will be condemned for compiling this information. There is nothing the anti-discipline lobby hate more than the public knowing about what happens in schools. However, as a teacher in England, I can only say that the reason our exclusion rate is much higher than in Scotland is because we are willing to use permanent exclusions to try to prevent this sort of behaviour. I can’t claim we succeed and nobody can compare the two countries, but I see no reason to look to Scotland for inspiration.

One final point, knife crime has fallen in Scotland and a number of campaigners have claimed this is a result of reducing exclusions. I can’t prove it isn’t, but before anyone accepts this as fact I will point out that the sentences given for carrying a knife in Scotland increased substantially immediately prior to the reduction. We have to ask ourselves, particularly in light of the murder of a Scottish schoolboy in 2016, whether we think that the figures are down because of kids with knives being in school, or because of what was done about those convicted of knife crime.



  1. Thank you for all issues you discuss and share—I enjoy reading your blog.

    This is an interesting topic and worthy of exploration. However, might I suggest that you may have conflated the issue of bad behaviour with how behaviour is managed and handled? I don’t think anyone in Scotland would argue that poor behaviour has been eradicated—far from it! However, there appears to be a commitment, as in Glasgow, to come at the issue with a fresh approach. I detect a hint of cynicism in your analysis of the Scottish context: ‘… if Scotland wants to … tolerate bad behaviour … that’s up to them’. Perhaps an open mind as to how challenges could be addressed differently might be helpful.

    In England it is ‘easy’ to permanently exclude (certainly easier than it is in Scotland). However, these young people still exist and live in our communities—as sons/daughters, neighbours, friends, pests, criminals, etc. My argument would be that the sooner a young person falls out the system, the higher the costs for society in terms of dealing with the fallout. Should they be retained in mainstream classrooms? No. Can they be retained and managed within the school system? Yes—as in Glasgow.

    I have taught in secondary schools, both in England and Scotland. There is a marked difference between the two contexts. I would argue that the marketisation of schooling in England has led to a polarisation of school types which is stark. Scotland, on the other hand, has more or less (not completely) retained a commitment to the local neighbourhood (comprehensive) school. England has some sensationally outstanding schools—amongst the best in the world. It also has large numbers of schools which are ghastly places to learn and teach. I don’t believe Scotland has this same variation in school standards; none of its schools (none!) come anywhere close to being near as bad as many of the most challenging schools in England. However, I would probably accept that Scotland’s best schools are not quite as inspirational as England’s most successful schools.

    The argument I am making here is that balanced intakes are important, where the critical mass students are decent-minded and well-behaved. I think Scotland has retained this, and as a result teachers approach the job with the view that almost all young people can be successful. England, through its obsession with selection and classification, has created schools where the ‘other’ children go and where no-one wants to teach. Oh, and these same (under-subscribed) schools also have to take (against their will) the permanently excluded children from those schools which ‘will not tolerate’ poor behaviour. The problem doesn’t go away, it just gets moved on—away from my back yard.

    There’s a Scottish saying, ‘we’re a Jock Tamson’s bairns’ [we are all Jock Thomson’s children]. Exclude them if you like … but they have to exist somewhere.

    • “I don’t think anyone in Scotland would argue that poor behaviour has been eradicated”

      As I thought was clear from my blog, people have claimed that the reduction in permanent exclusions in Scotland is a result of “trauma informed” approaches to behaviour. If that is the case, then one would expect the behaviour that normally results in permanent exclusion to have been reduced as drastically as exclusions have.

      It is this claim that I have addressed here. I haven’t addressed the argument that dangerous, criminal and out of control young people “have to go somewhere” so we should keep them in schools with their victims, This is because, quite frankly, who in their right mind can’t see the problem with that?

  2. “None !” twice written is asking to be answered.

    I have directly (& indirectly) experienced appaling behaviour in secondary schools north and south of the border. There is no magic bullet and You say that it is less easy to exclude kids in Scotland would imply the opposite in terms of comparisons that you make.

    I read the inspection reports for my local Scottish schools and they make grim reading. Worse is the attrition rate on heads.

  3. I agree entirely that there is no magic bullet. I also hope you picked up that I was challenging the view that Scots might suggest that there are no behaviour problems in Scotland—nothing could be further from the truth.

    My argument, in short, is that Scotland appears to be trying to tackle issues around behaviour by keeping young people within the system rather than passing them down the line to the next (usually undersubscribed and often ‘failing)’ school or allowing them to wander around and dominate housing estates and get caught up in criminality. Scotland doesn’t have all the answers, but schools beating their chests and taking a ‘zero tolerance’ stance by permanently excluding simply pass their problems on for others to deal with. These young people still exist … somewhere.

    I think there are three levels of exit from secondary school: leaving well qualified (this often opens a range of doors); leaving barely qualified but with your statutory education completed (this can open some doors); not finishing your education and having been wandering the streets since the age of 14 (doors slam in the faces of these people, so they need to find other ways to survive).

    I note that you didn’t challenge my view that there are some inspirational schools in England.

    • “I note that you didn’t challenge my view that there are some inspirational schools in England.”
      Yes I visited one in Wellingborough this week. @heartofhatton

    • The argument that somebody who is too dangerous to be allowed to hang around on a housing estate should instead be given access to hundreds of children is not as persuasive as you seem to think.

      • Anyone who presents a danger to society would, of course, present a danger to children and so should be kept away from mainstream classrooms.

        I suspect you’ve missed the point I was trying to make. I wasn’t suggesting that people who are a danger should be housed in mainstream classes. I am arguing that when young people fall out of the school system, they are more likely to become a danger to society.

        I, too, would love all the pupils we teach to be delightful young people who have benefited from large doses of motherhood and apple pie. Frustratingly, schools reflect the communities they serve—and are full of annoyingly varied behaviours and attitudes. If only we could get the kids we want to teach instead of having to take the ones who live in our communities!

        Let’s go back to the start of this debate: Scotland hasn’t experienced a ‘miracle’; it’s simply finding ways to keep young people in the education system rather than have them wandering the streets. It’s not keeping them in mainstream classrooms. Other jurisdictions believe that throwing them out is an effective solution. If that works for society as a whole, it may be a better approach to take.

        I have experienced working with challenging pupils over whom I had an element of control. After they were excluded, they chose to stand on the other side of the school gate telling me I was a ‘wan_er’, and stressing that ‘you can’t do “f_ _k” all to me now’.

        • Are you under the impression that in England permanently excluded pupils wander the streets?

          • I think that permanently excluded pupils in any country, not just England, have more opportunity to wander the streets than their peers who are in full-time education.

            I should perhaps clarify what I have been trying to achieve in these various posts. I’m not trying to score points—Scotland Vs England. I am simply trying to sketch some context to explain the low school exclusion figures in Scotland. You suggested that there had either been a miracle turnaround in behaviour or that Scotland was prepared to put up with bad behaviour. My posts have been attempting to explain that neither of these hypotheses are accurate; Scotland has the same behaviour challenges as England, but is attempting to find ways to keep young people in the system rather than punt them to the next school along the road.

            • I am aware that you are trying to make this an argument about permanent exclusion versus whatever the hell is happening in Scotland, rather than what the post is actually about: the claim that Scotland has reduced the need for exclusions through preventing bad behaviour. If we are agreed that there has been no behaviour miracle, then everything else seems to be a change of subject.

              Beyond that, the rhetoric you are using seems completely superficial, talking as if the out of control kids in Scotland are being carefully looked after while those in England are being abandoned. I don’t see any particular reason to believe this, but more importantly, I don’t see what it has to do with permanent exclusions. You can have permanent exclusions and proper follow-up; you can have no permanent exclusions and massive off-rolling with no follow-up. The two issues are not the same. Reducing exclusions does not compel anyone to provide more support of the out of control kids. I worked in Coventry when they reduced permanent exclusions to virtually nothing. It was a disaster. Perhaps it hasn’t been a disaster in Scotland, but the extent to which people are lying about what’s happened is not reassuring.

            • I can’t help but think that instead of exploring ideas and sharing different approaches, that this debate is becoming polarised and mildly bigoted.

              If I have given the impression that there are no behaviour problems in Scotland, I apologise. This was never my intention and nothing could be further from the truth. I note the contribution from the teacher in Scotland who writes, ‘don’t look north for inspiration’. I hadn’t realised we were going to wander into specific cases, as in the boy throwing the bottle of urine. My thoughts were around how the system responds to this difficult challenge. If you were looking for specific examples of unacceptable behaviour, I could have given you a few more from Scotland—they exist.

              It’s unfortunate that instead of exploring ideas, accusations of ‘lying’ are now emerging. I’ll tell you what is indeed a lie: punting a challenging pupil out the door rather than dealing with him/her, then telling the world that you have solved the discipline challenge and eradicated poor behaviour. I have been on the receiving end of this type of approach, where an excluded pupil from another (‘zero tolerance’) school and his/her parents turn up on my doorstep demanding a place in my school. If I have space in the year-group concerned, legally they must be offered the place. So the problem has been given to me—adding to the challenge I already have in managing my own pupils’ behaviour.

              Bad people exist everywhere—and they should be dealt with. However, giving all your challenging behaviour to other schools and then boasting that you don’t have discipline problems in your own is … disingenuous—whether it happens in Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland … or anywhere else.

  4. Similar agenda in London, investigating any correlation between youth violence, drug trade (supply, never middle class demand), school exclusions.



  5. […] Teaching in British schools « Has there been a behaviour miracle in Scotland? […]

  6. “It’s unfortunate that instead of exploring ideas, accusations of ‘lying’ are now emerging. I’ll tell you what is indeed a lie: punting a challenging pupil out the door rather than dealing with him/her, then telling the world that you have solved the discipline challenge and eradicated poor behaviour.”

    You appear to be confusing telling the truth and agreeing with you.

    This might help you understand that they are different.


  7. […] Has there been a behaviour miracle in Scotland? […]

  8. […] union has complained that violence has been “normalised” in Scottish schools and there is plenty of evidence that the reduction in exclusions does not reflect a “behaviour miracle” that has […]

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