Parents of truanting children could face prosecution

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The Independent Online

Ministers are planning to bring in a new law making it an offence to "allow a child to be found in a public place during school hours without good cause".

The legislation, set to be introduced in an education Bill this parliamentary session, is one of several measures aimed at improving school discipline in the wake of a government inquiry published yesterday.

The inquiry, headed by Sir Alan Steer, headteacher of Seven Kings High School, in Redbridge, Essex, was asked by the Prime Minister to consider ordering parents to stay at home with their children if they were excluded from school. Instead, it recommended that they should be compelled to arrange appropriate supervision for the first five days of the suspension. After that, it says, suspended pupils should be guaranteed full-time education - possibly in a "sin-bin" (pupil referral unit) - rather than have to wait for 16 days as at present.

Ministers want to make it an offence to allow children to roam unsupervised in a public place. The new law could be used against parents of truants as well. Jacqui Smith, the Schools minister, said a breach of the new law could involve a fixed-term penalty notice or a parenting order requiring the parent to make arrangements for the child.

The Government is backing another recommendation from the inquiry task-force - to give teachers the legal right to discipline pupils and restrain them with "reasonable force" if they are engaged in a fight.

The task-force says the current in loco parentis principle, which gives teachers the same authority as parents, is out of date as many parents now challenge a school's right to discipline their child.

It also calls for a national behaviour charter - a demand made by the National Union of Teachers last month - which would spell out the rights and responsibilities of parents, pupils and teachers. Pupils could be told they must "listen and respond properly" to adults; teachers that they should promote positive behaviour "by modelling the behaviours they wish to see" and parents that they must "support the schools' behaviour policies".

Sir Alan said his team's report offered "a detailed, balanced and substantial set of recommendations that builds on a lot of what is already working in schools". This included backing a scheme used by many primary schools - whereby pupils are given yellow cards for misbehaviour and face detention once they are given three.

Sir Alan added: "Contrary to what is often said, most schools are orderly places that, for some children, provide the stability and security they don't have in the rest of the lives."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, described it as "an essential first step in rebalancing the equation between the individual rights of each pupil and the collective rights of the school community".

Patrick Nash, of the Teacher Support Network, said: "Not only could this threaten personal safety but it would also have a negative effect on the pupil/

teacher relationship as students would view headteachers as police officers rather than as a source of support and guidance."

Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said: "These proposals can help bring change not just to the rules but to the culture reaffirming respect in classrooms and putting teachers firmly in charge."

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