'Give kids a right royal rollicking'

School behaviour tsar spells out his solution to Britain's unruly classrooms: don't suspend pupils, just send them to the head.
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The Independent Online

A good old-fashioned bawling out in the head's office can be a better way of dealing with badly behaved pupils than suspending them, the Government's behaviour "tsar" says today.

Sir Alan Steer, a former headteacher, warns that schools that frequently suspend pupils for two or three weeks at a time should review their policies because they are failing to tackle poor behaviour.

"Sending them to the head and giving them a right royal rollicking could be better than giving them a fixed-term exclusion," he said in an interview with The Independent.

"Some schools seem to have very high levels of fixed-term exclusions," he said ."I don't see that as showing you're tough on discipline. It could be absolutely the opposite. It is not being very effective and you might need to rethink your strategy if a pupil is excluded again and again. They just get used to being out of school."

Sir Alan, a former head of Seven Kings school in Ilford, Essex, who is coming to the end of his four-year tenure, was speaking for the first time since his "swansong" report on discipline last month. His comments also come on the day a new report shows that bright pupils in disadvantaged schools are missing out on GCSE grades because of the anti-learning culture of other children in the school.

The report, by the education charity the Sutton Trust, revealed talented pupils in the most disadvantaged schools underperform compared to pupils from the suburbs by half a grade per GCSE.

Sir Alan also discussed his plan to enshrine in law the teacher's right to impose discipline – making measures such as detention and confiscating mobile phones legal. He considers the new powers necessary because too many parents challenge school discipline rather than support it. As a result, some schools are reluctant to use traditional methods of discipline.

Sir Alan also warned that schools are flouting a new law under which children expelled or suspended are entitled to a full-time education after six days out of the classroom. By not sticking to the rules, excluded pupils are left to roam the streets and are falling prey to gang influences. "They're not likely to go to libraries," he added.

Figures show that, while the overall number of permanent exclusions has fallen to around 8,680 a year, the number of suspensions has risen. In particular, according to figures released by the Conservatives, the number of children excluded more than 10 times in a year has tripled in four years.

Michael Gove, the shadow Education Secretary, says that headteachers should have more freedom to exclude pupils permanently by abandoning the right to appeal against exclusion, but Sir Alan said he believed Mr Gove's case to be "misleading".

"It is said that 25 per cent of pupils successfully appeal," he said. "Well, there are 8,680 permanent exclusions – 970 of which went to appeal. Of these 250 were successful but only 100 of them ended with the pupil being being reinstated. You can see where they got the 25 per cent figure from, just about, but the number reinstated was about 1.2 per cent of the total."

Sir Alan also wants new powers allowing teachers to search pupils for weapons, drugs and alcohol to be reviewed in three years' time to see whether they are effective. He said: "If you're faced with a 6ft 6in teenager you suspect of having a machete, I would be the first to say it's a case for bringing in the boys in blue rather than searching for it yourself."

Sir Alan, who caused controversy when he launched his latest report at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' conference with a declaration that "there is no behaviour crisis in schools", stuck to his guns. "I really strongly believe we don't have a crisis in our schools," he said. "We have problems and we have to tackle them but there have always been problems. Most kids are great. Why don't we think more of the 150,000 kids who are sole carers for their family – or the tens of thousands who spend hours and hours volunteering in the community? We have a tendency to be constantly negative about children."