Teachers to get new powers over troublemakers

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The Independent Online

Teachers will be handed tough powers to search pupils for alcohol, drugs and mobile phones in a Government crackdown on bad behaviour, it was announced today.

Rules allowing schools to use physical force to remove unruly students from the classroom are also set to be simplified, while teachers facing accusations from pupils will be granted anonymity to prevent careers being ruined by "malicious" claims.

The raft of measures, which have won support from the teaching profession, were unveiled by Schools Minister Nick Gibb today in an effort to restore discipline to the classroom.

Official figures show 2,230 pupils were permanently excluded last year for physical assaults on teachers or fellow pupils and tens of thousands more suspended.

One in five secondary schools is rated "satisfactory" or worse by Ofsted for behaviour and two in five teachers have witnessed physical aggression - a quarter of them being the victims of it.

Mr Gibb said: "Heads and teachers know best how to improve behaviour but are too often constrained by regulations which inhibit them from maintaining control of the classroom. Today we are removing red tape so that teachers can ensure discipline in the classroom and promote good behaviour.

"Teachers should feel confident in exercising their authority, and pupils should not have to suffer disruption to their learning caused by the poor behaviour of others."

Today's measures include:

:: Beefed-up powers, introduced from September, for teachers to search pupils for alcohol, drugs and stolen property, as well as mobile phones, MP3 players, cameras, pornography, fireworks, cigarettes and so-called "legal highs".

Further legislation allowing teachers to search for any item that could cause disorder will be introduced later.

Under present rules, headteachers and other authorised staff can only force pupils to be searched if they suspect them of carrying weapons.

The previous government had planned to allow them to check for alcohol and drugs, but the legislation did not go through before the election.

:: Courts will be told to heed clearer guidance that physical force can be used to remove youngsters from classrooms or restrain troublemakers. Simplified guidance on the use of force will be published.

:: An end to a ban on same-day detentions - under current law schools must give parents 24 hours notice in writing.

:: Reporting restrictions placed on allegations made about teachers, granting them anonymity.

Mr Gibb said: "Ministers wish to put an end to rumours and malicious gossip about innocent teachers which can ruin careers and even lives."

A survey published by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) earlier this year found that teachers believe behaviour in schools is worse than it was five years ago, with pupils as young as five being disrespectful, intimidating and violent.

In April, science teacher Peter Harvey was cleared of attempted murder after hitting a 14-year-old boy around the head with a dumbbell after being goaded by the student while a friend filmed the heated exchanges on a hand-held camcorder.

Mr Harvey had been trying to teach a lesson at All Saints' Roman Catholic School in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, when the class descended into "uproar".

He received support from the teaching profession, which raised concerns about behaviour in the classroom.

Unions called for tougher measures to clamp down on the use of mobile technology in lessons, and for consistent behaviour policies.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said today: "There are rare occasions when young people may be carrying and concealing dangerous materials.

"In those situations, teachers have to make a judgment call on the spot. In doing so, they should not be subject to the potential for accusations that they are acting illegally because the items that they are searching for fall outside the range permitted by law.

"The current legislation makes an invidious distinction between alcohol, weapons and drugs and all other items. That does not reflect the reality of the situation teachers sometimes face."

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: "Additional measures to support teachers in continuing to maintain high standards of pupil behaviour are always welcome.

"Over the last decade a raft of measures were introduced to back the classroom teacher and today's announcements largely build on these.

"However, all of these measures become meaningless if schools fail to incorporate them into their behaviour policies.

"The Secretary of State clearly feels these measures are necessary but it is the school management who decide whether they will be introduced.

"This tension between national policy and local implementation all too often deprives teachers of access to provisions they need to enable them to work effectively."