Keep pupils in during lunch hour, says Schools minister

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The Independent Online

Children must be prevented from leaving school at lunch-time to stop unruly teenagers roaming the streets and causing trouble in the community, David Miliband, the Schools minister, said yesterday.

Children must be prevented from leaving school at lunch-time to stop unruly teenagers roaming the streets and causing trouble in the community, David Miliband, the Schools minister, said yesterday.

Mr Miliband called for an end to the "tipping out" of children on to the streets during the meal break, demanding "pupils in school, all day, no exceptions; end of story".

He argued that giving them the freedom to wander the streets tempted many into truancy and crime, damaged their school's reputation as well as frightened many residents. "Pupils don't have to be out of school, roaming the streets," he told the Secondary Heads Association's annual conference in Harrogate. "Many students may be able to handle the responsibility, but we know that some can't. They end up playing truant or getting into trouble."

The minister praised a scheme pioneered by Swanlea School, in Whitechapel, east London, which keeps all pupils on the premises and provides a programme of lunchtime activities. "That is the kind of innovation I support. It is good for pupils, good for the school and good for education in the local community," said Mr Miliband.

Headteachers at the conference admitted that some pupils caused problems at lunchtimes by dropping litter, insulting residents and getting into fights. They complained that they were often forced to spend whole afternoons trying to resolve complaints from outside school about lunchtime incidents involving pupils. But they also warned that often pupils had done nothing wrong; simply the presence of groups of teenagers or long queues in shops made some residents feel intimidated or angry.

Delegates welcomed the proposal to keep pupils on site during lunch breaks, but warned that it would be extremely expensive to hire enough staff to supervise all pupils safely.

In addition, they called for fast-food companies to be banned from setting up branches near schools, arguing that they were too big a temptation for pupils to leave school premises at lunchtime. "I have a branch right next to my school and it is a problem," said Anne Welsh, association president and head of George Stephenson High School, in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Mrs Welsh, who allows her GCSE students to leave school at lunchtime, said she often spent afternoons dealing with complaints about her pupils' behaviour. "It can be simple things like students have dropped litter, or they may have been rude to somebody. Sometimes it is that people have felt intimidated by a group of young people. They haven't necessarily done anything wrong but people, particularly old folks, might find them intimidating."

Other delegates said schools worked hard to build good relationships with their neighbours but that some were forced to allow their pupils to leave the premises as they lacked the space to keep them occupied on site, particularly in wet weather. They also pointed to the practical difficulty of stopping children getting out, particularly if a school has many exits, or even that old pupils' tradition, a hole in the fence.

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