Teachers to get legal right to crack down on classroom bullies

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The Independent Online

Teachers are to get the legal right to discipline unruly students, including ordering them to attend detention, in a government clampdown on disruptive behaviour and bullying in the classroom.

An anti-bullying charter, which will include new measures to force parents to take action to improve their children's behaviour, is to be unveiled this week by ministers. It is a signal for teachers to punish bullies who pick on other students and to take complaints from persecuted children more seriously.

The initiative follows fears that bullying is reaching epidemic proportions in some schools. It comes after the recent stabbing of Natasha Jackman, 15, by a fellow student in the eye with a pair of scissors.

Under the anti-bullying drive, teachers will gain the statutory right to discipline unruly children in a change in the law that will boost their authority.

The Government's move follows concerns that the current "common law" right of teachers has not given them enough authority in the classroom. They have found themselves facing abuse from parents who complain after their unruly children have been disciplined.

The crackdown on classroom thuggery marks a reversal of the "no blame" approach to bullying where pupils who hit and abuse their classmates have gone unpunished in some schools.

Under the anti-bullying strategy, each school will have to establish a set of ground-rules governing behaviour and punishments for children who are violent, disruptive or bullying.

Jacqui Smith, the schools minister, said the new powers would "strengthen the authority of teachers", giving them the confidence to take firm action on all forms of bad behaviour. "Bullying should never be tolerated in our schools, no matter what its motivation. Children must know what is right and what is wrong, and that there will be consequences for crossing the line," she said. "We will also send a strong message to parents that schools will not tolerate a failure to take responsibility for bullying behaviour."

A range of new powers will give teachers the means to tackle bullies and unruliness in schools. Headteachers will have the right to search pupils for knives, scissors, compasses and other potential weapons under the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

Schools are also to get the power to apply for court-imposed parenting orders to force parents of bullying or disruptive students to attend parenting classes. If parents fail to comply, they could face a fine of £1,000.

The Government's tougher approach is designed to send a message that school bullies will be punished if they pick on fellow pupils. "We are quite clear that bullies will not escape. We will try to address the causes of the bullying as well, but the victim's concerns will be taken seriously and bullies will be disciplined," said a source at the Department for Education.