Parents 'should babysit suspended pupils'

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The Prime Minister has told a government task force to consider whether the law should be strengthened to force parents to "babysit" suspended pupils to prevent them roaming the streets and beginning a life of crime.

Mr Blair, who meets the task force for the first time this afternoon, also wants it to consider whether the pupils should be compelled to do community service - such as helping in old people's homes or cleaning up the environment.

His call has angered parents' leaders, who say many people could not afford to leave work at a moment's notice.

In a letter to Sir Alan Steer, chairman of the group, Mr Blair stresses that suspension is a "crucial sanction" for headteachers. He says: "It is also important that it is seen as a serious punishment, both by the pupil and his or her parents. I would be grateful for your views on how we might reinforce this: should we legally require suspended pupils to stay at home accompanied by a parent - rather than allowing them freely to cause a nuisance on the streets or in shopping centres? Should we insist on community service for older pupils on longer temporary exclusions?" Mr Blair adds: "It is clearly essential that parents fully accept their responsibilities if we are to improve discipline and respect in schools."

Latest figures show about 344,000 suspensions a year from school - involving 200,000 pupils. On average, each one lasts four days.

A Downing Street source said: "There is no point in excluding them from the classroom for disruptive behaviour if they are then just going to hang around on street corners and get involved in antisocial behaviour. Parents have a direct role to play in tackling this issue." Mr Blair will tell the group that it should consider strengthening parents' orders to compel them to stay with their suspended children.

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said that the idea was "ridiculous". She said: "I think we've just got to get realistic about this. How does it help if the parent is forced to give up work and can't pay the mortgage or buy food for the table? People can't just take time off work and have no income. There seems to be an assumption here that - if a child is disruptive - the parent is probably not working and that's not the case." She said she could see "some possibilities" in the plan to compel suspended pupils to take part in community work, but added: "For every one child who is helped by that, there could be others who would be seen as frightening to the people they were trying to help."

* The number of students applying to university this autumn has increased by 8.2 per cent. The figures, from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, show applications rising from 450,147 to 486, 915. The rise indicates that students are giving up their traditional gap year to avoid paying top-up fees. Students who enrol this September will be spared the £3,000 charge.

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