Parents could find themselves in court facing fines of up to £1,000 if their children misbehave in school, under changes to the law announced by the Government yesterday.
Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, said she was extending the use of parenting orders so they covered behaviour in the classroom as well as criminal behaviour by juveniles.
The orders impose conditions on parents compelling them to attend classes in good parenthood or accompany their children to school every day to make sure they attend. If they fail to obey the order, they face a £1,000 fine.
Ms Morris, speaking at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers' annual conference in Cardiff, said the time had come to launch a national debate on parenting. "How parents behave and the effect their behaviour has on their children's behaviour should not be a taboo subject.
"We need to break that taboo and enter into a debate even if it means politicians talking about an issue which usually they avoid," she said. "I understand that some parents find life difficult but that is no reason for them not to support teachers. Toughness can be no excuse for attacking a teacher.''
She said the decision as to whether to opt for a parenting order would depend on the parent's attitude to their child's misbehaviour.
Her announcement came a day after the ATL conference warned it would seek private prosecutions against any parent or pupil who assaulted a teacher, if local education authorities failed to take action. Union figures show a fivefold increase in assaults on teachers over the past five years but delegates claim schools and councils have been reluctant to see assailants pursued through the courts.
Ms Morris told the conference: "We will be adding this new weapon to the armoury that we already have. When children's behaviour is such but it doesn't break the law but could lead to short-term temporary exclusion or expulsion, parenting orders could apply. The poor behaviour of a few children and their parents can get in the way of everything else we want to do to raise standards in our schools.''
She made it clear she expected local authorities to press for the prosecution of every parent who assaulted a teacher. "What we need is the will to use the legislation that is already there,'' she said. "It is not for me to take a decision as to what to do to any one parent, but I am prepared to state quite clearly what I expect as a Secretary of State and a citizen of this country,'' she said.
However, if there were any loopholes in the law preventing prosecutions, ministers would act to overcome them.
"It is time to be honest about the damage that can be done by the very few people who don't support you in what you are trying to do for their children,'' Ms Morris said.
"Every member of the school community has got a right to a safe environment ... There is never any excuse for a parent to physically abuse a teacher or anyone else who works in a school but, let us be clear, it is happening and it is happening more now than it used to.''
Julie Grant, president of the association, welcomed the move, saying: "I think anything that will help get on top of the problem is welcome. What we will do now is ask our members to monitor how effectively these parenting orders are used.''
However, she feared "these parenting orders will be put on parents who haven't got the £1,000 to pay any fines''.
Delegates at the conference went on to urge the Government to admit the introduction of the new AS level exam was a mistake, and plead with ministers to conduct a radical review of the sixth-form curriculum. A motion passed overwhelmingly at the conference said the new exam had "done more harm than good''.
Mike Short, from Corsham school in Wiltshire, said his pupils were "worn down by the drudgery of an overloaded curriculum and what the examiners wanted and the universities would accept''.Reuse content