Dear John Patten: The head teacher of John Patten's alma mater, Rutlish School, writing in a personal capacity, questions the Education Secretary's new discipline drive

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The head teacher of John Major's alma mater, Rutlish School, writing in a personal capacity, questions the Education Secretary's new discipline drive

Your party is trailing badly in the opinion polls and you are all worried about the coming local and European elections, but I do think your latest ruse to divert attention from more serious matters takes the biscuit.

As part of your 'back to basics' drive, you and your boss seem to be giving the impression that our schools are full of unruly children, whom teachers cannot control. You know from recent reports by the Office for Standards in Education that this is far from the case, and that your own inspectors believe most classrooms are orderly and the children well behaved.

Of course, many schools have pupils who do not put learning and serious study at the top of their agenda. For a variety of reasons, many concerned with social deprivation and broken families, these children can disrupt lessons and sorely test the patience of teachers and peers.

Such children will not go away, and schools need to use everything at their disposal to put them on the right road. Punishment and reasoning are key factors in this process, and most schools make sensible use of both. For you to issue guidelines explaining what action we should take to prevent bad behaviour is somewhat insulting and once again helps to undermine the confidence of teachers.

The supposedly 'new' guidelines appear to be nothing more than a summary of what is already common in our schools. Most schools already impose severe penalties for repeated aggression and bullying, withdraw privileges for lesser offences and use after-school and lunch-break detentions for lack of application in class. Letters and telephone calls to parents regularly support these actions. So, Mr Patten, would you please stop trying to show us how to suck eggs?

Some newspaper reports suggest that you and your colleagues are considering whether teachers need new powers to enforce discipline, and that you will be reviewing the 1989 Children Act, brought in to safeguard children's rights after the Cleveland child abuse affair. This is another red herring, Mr Patten.

I doubt if many teachers know what is in the 1989 Act, and even if they do, I am sure it is not uppermost in their minds when disciplining pupils. You may be wasting valuable time if you career off in this direction. You will also be losing what teacher support you have left if you keep on suggesting you are in favour of corporal punishment, as you did on Radio 4 yesterday.

Cynics suggest your emphasis on discipline is a smokescreen to hide the humiliating climbdown you will be making over the national curriculum as a result of Sir Ron Dearing's report. If this is so, I can only suggest that you are making a mistake. Swallow your pride. Leave discipline to headteachers and devote your attentions to making Sir Ron's suggestions work.

(Photograph omitted)

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