Discipline in schools the new election focus

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The Independent Online

Schools that fail to enforce strict discipline in the classroom will receive Ofsted inspections until they improve under plans to be announced by Education Secretary Ruth Kelly today.

And parents will face a renewed drive to bring them to court if they fail in their duty to make sure their children behave, Ms Kelly will say.

The Tories will outline their own plans as both parties seek to convince voters they will get tough on school discipline ahead of the next General Election.

Ms Kelly will tell head teachers in Blackpool: "Every pupil and every teacher has the right to expect a safe, secure and orderly classroom, so that teaching and learning can flourish.

"Any poor behaviour is too much and should not be tolerated. We need to re-draw the line on what is acceptable."

Her plans will include:

* Powers for head teachers to work with other schools, and take disruptive children out of mainstream classes

* Parents who fail to make sure their children behave to face a "renewed drive" to issue parenting orders, under which courts can fine adults and require them to take lessons in parenting

* Follow-up Ofsted visits within 12 months for schools judged to have "unsatisfactory" behaviour

* Behaviour experts to help schools crack the problem

Ms Kelly will say schools must adopt a "zero tolerance" approach to bad behaviour of all kinds including pupils who talk in class and refuse to do as they are told.

"Good schools already have a strong school ethos and a policy on behaviour that's respected by the whole school community because it's clear, consistent and rigorously applied," she will say.

"This approach must be in every school with any level of bad behaviour dealt with promptly and appropriately.

"Equally, pupils who lack respect for themselves, respect for their classmates, and respect for their teachers need to be made to take responsibility for their own actions.

"Parents too must support the school's behaviour policy and not automatically assume, when their child is punished, that their child must be in the right and the school in the wrong.

"Where parents do not take responsibility for their child's unruly behaviour, then it is right that action is taken to ensure that they do, through parenting orders administered by the courts."

Tory leader Michael Howard and shadow education secretary Tim Collins will outline the Conservatives' proposals at a press conference a few hours before Ms Kelly's speech.

Mr Collins will say the last thing parents want is "more talk" from the Government.

The Tory plans will include:

* Giving teachers protected legal status so they can enforce discipline "without fear of having their lives ruined if a child alleges abuse";

* Giving schools the money and power to introduce CCTV, random drug testing and metal detectors;

* New enforceable contracts between parents and schools to give head teachers the right to insist on parental agreement to discipline;

* Scrapping the Government's plans to force all state schools to take their share of unruly children;

* Scrapping appeals panels that overturn schools' decisions expel out badly behaved pupils.

Mr Collins will say: "On our first day in office we will set out plans to return responsibility for discipline to schools."

Mr Collins acknowledged that the provision of one drug-testing kit for each local education authority would cost £3 million a year, and that CCTV and metal detectors would also be expensive.

But he said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "(Shadow chancellor) Oliver Letwin has committed us to increasing school spending by one third to a level of £15 billion a year above and beyond the levels we are going to inherit from Labour this year if we win the election.

"We certainly have got the funding for that and we all know that the cost of not tackling indiscipline is very, very significant."

Discipline problems were "one of the top two reasons why teachers who leave the profession say they are doing so", he said.

Mr Collins added: "Later today, we gather the Secretary of State will talk about 'zero tolerance'.

"We haven't had zero tolerance on drugs. Drug use amongst schoolchildren has doubled since Labour came to power. We haven't had zero tolerance on violence."

He highlighted a case in Hampshire, in which a pupil was expelled after attacking a teacher with a sharp object, but then reinstated in the school by an appeals panel.

Under the Tory proposals, headteachers would decide for themselves whether to use facilities such as random drug-testing or metal detectors.

"We believe in freedom," said Mr Collins. "We believe in giving headteachers the power to decide.

"If they don't want random drug-testing in their schools, they won't have to do it.

"The difference between us and the Government is they don't believe in headteachers' freedom. They believe they should be subject to targets on expulsions and shouldn't have the final say on exclusions."

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