THE prevalence of bullying and indiscipline in Scotland's schools is the result of a culture of "toxic positivity" that fails pupils, according to a whistleblowing teacher from a school where staff are "afraid to go to work".

Recent high profile reports of violent attacks in Scottish secondaries have horrified parents and led to calls for politicians to do more to protect young people and ensure a safe environment for learning.

One teacher, who works in a school in Glasgow's east end where staff went on strike due to fears over pupil behaviour, spoke exclusively to The Herald about their concerns around the way teenagers are supported.

They claimed physical and verbal violence is being "normalised" in Scotland's schools and pupils who witness this violence or who miss class time because of it are being failed.

Bannerman High has been making headlines since 2018 when a whistleblower contacted The Herald's sister paper, the Glasgow Times, to share a letter sent to the then-education minister John Swinney detailing alleged dire conditions in the school.

The letter writer, who remained anonymous, caused controversy by describing the pupils as "animals", speaking of gangs of young people roaming hallways and carrying out targeted assaults on other pupils.

The writer went on to say: "I am asking you, Mr Swinney, how can we do our job successfully and create the next generation of purposeful and successful young people when we live with the fear of assault, racial abuse, sexual harassment and verbal abuse by the very pupils we are charged with caring for?

"We can handle the budget cuts as we are used to them now.

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"But how can we handle everything else when leadership is trying to cover up the level of abuse we receive on a daily basis?"

The claims were strongly refuted by the school's head teacher, Seonaidh Black.

However, in May last year, the NASUWT teaching union said violent pupils with disruptive behaviour had given teachers "no option" but to consider strike action.

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Union members had already been undertaking action short of strikes since October 2021 in response to a "failure" from Glasgow City Council to step in and support them.

Finally in December last year around 32 teachers in the school, all members of NASUWT, took the highly unusual step of announcing they would participate in 12 days of strike action.

The teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the majority of pupils in Bannerman are "decent kids" but claimed poor policies and ineffective leadership are allowing a culture of low expectations for pupils and an environment where teachers fear for their safety.

Striking, they said, was an absolute last resort taken in desperation at a perceived lack of action by Glasgow City Council.

They said: "Kids are kids and Glasgow kids are the same as those anywhere else. It's how you manage them that counts and it's the management and policy that is very much the problem in that school.

"I've worked in schools in difficult places and it was not like this. Other places were run with precision and you could have great relationships with the kids because the place was so well structured and they felt safe."

The whistleblower described how Bannerman staff are expected to use the Pivotal behaviour method, and a system based on restorative justice.

NASUWT has previously criticised the use of the system in schools in England while Ofsted, again in schools south of the border, warned that restorative justice sessions can undermine teachers.

The teacher said: "We can't pick apart what actually is policy, such as the city-wide no exclusions policy, and what is some dogmatic theory that management seem to be following.

"Senior management follow this script in terms of language, using very euphemistic language so that even when you're having an informal conversation with a senior manager you can't use terms like 'consequences'.

"When you speak to them it's not like having a normal human interaction and I think, for the kids, it is very confusing.

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"You always work with children from a place of kindness and empathy - but you're very clear with what you expect them to do and give them very clear boundaries.

"Instead, we're told to follow a policy of step back, look away, keep your face blank: I don't think that's clear to a young person, particularly those with additional needs."

The whistleblower criticised the school for having a lack of sanctions in its behavioural policy, which has been renamed a "relationships policy".

They detailed how pupils in the school had exhibited extreme behaviour, such as attacks on other pupils, but the no-exclusions policy meant the young people remain in class with their victims.

The teacher said: "One boy attacked another boy and put him in hospital. He now has a visual impairment. That boy then went on to attack a girl.

"I'm not here to say this boy's a monster who needs to be punished but to put that boy straight back in to school with the other two kids he's attacked, you're forcing victims of violence into sharing a space with their abuser.

"That wouldn't happen as an adult."

Exclusion figures in Glasgow schools plummeted in the past decade after the previous education director, Maureen McKenna, introduced a policy of making every effort to keep young people in school on the basis that attendance is fundamental to learning. 

The teacher added: "Despite claiming that we have high expectations, I feel that we are actually setting our expectations very low.

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"We content ourselves with keeping certain kids off the streets, physically in the building, even though they may be getting nothing more out of that than avoiding criminality in the community. "We do those kids a real disservice. Where is the social mobility we are meant to provide?"

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The whistleblower also claimed Bannerman High "stinks of weed" with pupils smoking the drug on school grounds; young people swear at teachers without consequence; behaviour such as vandalism is tolerated; and the hallways are a "riot" of pupils roaming around during class time.

A spokesperson for Glasgow City Council said the media coverage of alleged issues at Bannerman High School had had "a detrimental impact on staff, pupils and the local community."

She pointed out that the school has been independently reviewed by HMIe in June this year as part of the covid recovery visits and had volunteered to the visit, which found the secondary provided a "safe, respectful and inclusive" environment.

The spokesperson added: "Senior officers continue to work extremely hard to find a resolution that satisfies the union and members at the school but the two most important things remain - the continued learning and teaching of pupils and staff safety.

"Teachers with any concerns should continue to raise them with school senior managers so that they can be resolved and dealt with to everyone’s satisfaction."

A slew of stories about bullying at schools across Scotland have emerged in recent weeks with one of the most high profile incidents occurring at Waid Academy in Anstruther.

Video footage was shared online of a girl attacking a 14-year-old victim, pulling her to the floor of a classroom before punching her then kicking her to the head.

Dundee's Courier newspaper reported that a schoolboy had been knocked unconscious during a fight at the school on the same day the footage was filmed. 

It also shared video of 12-year-old schoolgirl Kaylynn Donald, who was hit and kicked repeatedly as she travelled home from Bell Baxter High School in Cupar.

The EIS union has spoken out in recent days about classroom violence, claiming that teachers are encouraged not to report violent incidents and that data from local authorities is incomplete.

In December last year, teachers who are members of the EIS at Aberdeen school Northfield Academy voted to take industrial action over pupil violence against staff.

At the same time as last month's strikes at Bannerman, several claims of severe bullying in the school were reported in the media with one former pupil, an 18-year-old, saying he had been consistently harassed and threatened for being gay, to the point he had contemplated suicide.

The family of another pupil, a teenage girl, described keeping her home from school for her own safety while her bullies were free to continue to attend classes.

A freedom of information request last year detailing the number of false fire alarm call-outs to Glasgow secondary schools showed Bannerman High School was the worst offender with crews attending 58 times in four years. The next highest figures was 35.

The whistleblower said: "The theory is that all behaviour is communication but my question is, who decides what's being communicated? Some of the behaviour says to me the young person needs me to take control here and put in boundaries so that they feel safe but that's not what is happening.

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"They may be in freefall because their home life is chaotic and nobody is putting in boundaries there. We can't hope to fix this young person by following this particular kind of dogma, particularly when it's not working for the individual child.

"I go into work every day and I think, 'What are we doing to these kids? And what are we doing to the 97 per cent of kids who are well behaved or shining bright and doing well academically?'

"We're letting them all down, and I believe this situation is not unique to Bannerman but applies in schools across Scotland."

They added: "People are completely unaware. That's why this needs to be in the public domain, because the issue is that this is being driven by policy, a failing policy of toxic positivity, of following this dogma that is not helping the kids or the staff."

NASUWT was contacted for comment.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Bullying and violence is never acceptable and the safety of pupils and staff is paramount.

"It is for schools to decide what action should be taken depending on the individual circumstances of each case.

“We want all pupils to behave in a respectful manner towards their peers and staff – both inside and outside of the school grounds.

"We have produced guidance for local authorities and schools to promote positive relationships and manage behaviour.

“Scottish Government guidance is also in place to ensure a consistent approach to recording and monitoring incidents of bullying in schools.

"This includes ensuring that appropriate support is put in place for all children and young people involved in a bullying incident. 

"We expect all schools and local authorities to be using this approach."