At first glance it is tempting to agree with Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, that Labour and the Conservatives are vying to see who can talk tougher on school discipline.
At first glance it is tempting to agree with Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrats' education spokesman, that Labour and the Conservatives are vying to see who can talk tougher on school discipline. Instead, he argues, they should concentrate on cutting class sizes to make it easier for teachers to teach and improving the secondary school curriculum to make it easier for pupils to learn. It would be wrong, however, to dismiss Tuesday's speeches by Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, and Michael Howard, the Conservative Party leader, out of hand.
A closer read of Kelly's text reveals a more thoughtful analysis of the problems of low-level disruption, which Ofsted says is plaguing one in ten secondary schools, than the "zero tolerance" headlines would suppose. She urges Ofsted to carry out repeat inspections of the discipline issue within 12 months of any school being deemed to have poor classroom control. There is nothing wrong with that. Normally schools would have to wait four years to be reinspected. Kelly also makes a strong case for independent appeals panels in cases of exclusion - arguing against pressure from some teachers' organisations that the panels are needed to ensure natural justice. Even if they were to be abolished, she argues, schools would only end up in the courts if parents became aggrieved.
The Conservatives, via Howard's speech, provided the electorate with more of the red meat that pollsters detect they are demanding. The Tories are in favour of schools conducting random searches of pupils for drugs or knives (at present such action is taken by only one school in the country). They are also in favour of setting up a network of "turnaround schools" for 24,000 of the unruliest youngsters (dubbed "boot camps" by teachers' leaders). The children would only be allowed back into mainstream schools if they passed a strict examination of their behaviour. Tim Collins, the Tories' education spokesman, talked of giving teachers a new protected legal status to help them enforce discipline "without fear of having their lives ruined if a child alleges abuse". He is right to raise an issue that has blighted the lives of hundreds of teachers.
There are, therefore, some suggestions in all the bluster that deserve praise. But the two major parties would do well to pay attention to Mr Willis's exhortation to cut class sizes and make school more interesting.Reuse content