I can’t really remember what I did on my last day at school but I was a bit of a swot to be honest so I probably read a book in the library or picked up litter in the playground. I certainly didn’t throw eggs, or set off flares, or scatter pornographic images around the place. But Toto, we’re not in the 1980s anymore.

The problem, in 2022, is that behaviour in schools that often starts out as last-day larks is increasingly turning into genuine trouble. In my day – I said I’d never use that phrase when I got old but here we are now – the last day of term meant you brought in games (Kerplunk, Buckaroo, Operation) and if it was your last day ever, maybe you got your friends to sign a T-shirt or something. It was all fairly benign.

Not anymore. You may, for example, have seen the stushie about a letter that Alison Reid, headteacher of Westhill Academy in Aberdeenshire, sent to the parents of her fourth, fifth and sixth-year pupils. In it, she warned she would contact the police and possibly future employers if the pupils engaged in disruptive behaviour on their last day. It was pretty heavy-duty stuff.

You may also have read last week about similar shenanigans at Jordanhill School in Glasgow. A group of around 50 sixth-year pupils threw eggs, set off flares, displayed pornographic images and smoked and drank alcohol. When challenged by staff, bottles were smashed and the group continued to behave in a disruptive way. In the end, the police were called.

This is not unusual. I was speaking to one former headteacher the other day who told me that the behaviour of pupils on their last day can often get out of hand; she herself was forced to intervene when pupils at her school started throwing flour around. In Jordanhill’s case, it was beans, which were tossed around one of the school walkways (why is it always food?)

The wider point here is that the last-day misbehaviour by pupils is, I’m afraid, a sign of a deeper problem. The teachers I know say absolutely no one has an issue with pupils letting off steam when they finish school. Indeed, teachers say they’re keen to show that they have a sense of humour too and, as long as it’s good-natured, they will happily join in the fun.

However, misbehaviour on the final day of school is not an isolated issue – in fact, it’s an extreme version of behaviour that schools are barely keeping a lid on during the rest of the term. I’ve been speaking to Carole Ford, a former head of Kilmarnock, a former president of School Leaders Scotland and now a member of the Commission for School of Reform and she doesn’t hang back in her diagnosis: discipline in Scottish schools is deteriorating sharply, she says.

Part of the problem, says Ms Ford, has been the effects of the pandemic although the various lockdowns have only accelerated an issue that already existed beforehand. Pupils constantly talk to each other during lessons, she says, which can make the teacher’s job almost impossible. Ms Ford supervises student teachers and is hearing and seeing staff all the time and what they tell her is that they’re worn out by the behaviour and morale is through the floor. Just one child talking all the time can stop a lesson, so try multiplying that by a hundred, or a thousand, or more, every day and you see the problem.

Ms Ford believes the issue can be fixed, although she is not necessarily a fan of extreme measures – she says, for example, that threatening to call in the police, as the headteacher at Westhill did, is not necessarily a sensible strategy. Instead, she says, what you need are sanctions that the pupils know will operate and that the school will impose when they need to.

There’s another problem however, which is the lack of support from parents. At the risk of using the phrase “in my day” again, there was a time when trouble with teacher automatically meant trouble with mum and dad, but that situation no longer applies. Carole Ford says, for example, that when told that their son or daughter is talking in class and being disruptive, the response from parents is often “well, they’re just talking”. The problem, she says, is that many parents simply no longer accept a school’s decision about when a line has been crossed.

No one, of course, would expect parents to automatically accept every school decision, and they should reserve the right to appeal when they think a school has been too harsh or made the wrong call. But teachers are now making decisions in the shadow of constant parental criticism on forums and social media groups and some teachers say they are now very wary about what they say or do because they know they're going to get a pile-on.

The answer, it would seem to me, is firm and consistent school management. In the case of Jordanhill for example, they were right to cancel the school prom when their sixth-formers got out of hand. However, Carole Ford believes that in many cases senior management have become reluctant to enforce sanctions because they feel their pupils have been through a rough two years and they don’t want to add to their difficulties.

Now it's certainly true that it’s been a rough two years but the problem of discipline will only be fixed if everyone with some power and influence is working to the same theory. No mobile phones in class. No talking out of turn. And firm sanctions if the rules are disobeyed, supported by teachers, management and, most importantly of all, parents. Effectively, we need a shift back to parents supporting staff instead of criticising them.

I accept that this will not be easy and that, as I said at the start, this is not the 1980s which in some ways is a good thing. The atmosphere at my school was strict and discipline was tight but it also lacked pretty much any of the empathy, understanding and sympathy that pupils have happily learned to expect now. In other words, I would not advocate a return to the regime I experienced – a regime that was enforced by the belt and occasionally whatever object the teacher could get his hands on.

The bigger point is that discipline can be firm without being violent. Pupils do not randomly misbehave on their last day; little angels do not suddenly start throwing beans and flour about the place. Instead, they exhibit an extreme form of behaviour that is a daily part of life in many schools. It is an epidemic of minor indiscipline and, day in, day out, it’s seriously damaging to the teachers and ultimately to the pupils as well. That is the lesson of Jordanhill. That is the lesson of the drinking, and the smoking, and the beans and the flour lying in the corridors of our schools.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.