Tories' bullying crackdown would allow teachers to confiscate mobiles

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The Independent Online

Teachers would be given the power to confiscate mobile phones from pupils under Tory plans to tackle bullying and strengthen discipline in schools.

The proposal follows the rise of the "happy slapping" craze in which teenagers film playground attacks on camera phones, as well as concern over the disruptive influence of mobile phones in the classroom.

The Conservatives are promising to reinforce teachers' authority by making it easier to isolate, and then exclude, the troublemakers. The plans, to be published tomorrow, will include a heavily criticised drive to ensure that nearly all children can read by the age of six.

Teachers do not currently have the legal power to take mobile phones from pupils who misuse them. The Tories argue that teachers should be given the power to confiscate them as mobile phones have been used to bully pupils and can also distract children during lessons.

They are also calling for schools' authority to be bolstered by ending the right of pupils' parents to ask an appeal panel to overturn an exclusion.

Headteachers would be allowed to refuse a place to children whose parents refuse to sign "behaviour contracts" under the Tory proposals. Schools would be asked to set up schemes that update parents weekly on their children's conduct – and reward the best-behaved youngsters.

Schools would be encouraged to appoint staff who specialise in combating unruly behaviour, to set aside rooms where troublemakers can be held and to install intercom systems enabling teachers to request help with discipline problems.

Michael Gove, the shadow Schools Secretary, said: "Poor pupil behaviour is the most serious problem preventing teachers doing the job they love. Classrooms in which students are disruptive are environments in which no one can learn.

"We must do more to tackle the problems of poor discipline and high rates of truancy if the opportunities of education are to be open to all. Teachers have to be given the tools to tackle this issue at root.

"The balance has to shift back in the classroom, in favour of the teacher."

The Tories have also set out proposals to encourage children to learn to read at an earlier age, arguing that it was the basis of all learning. They would scrap the key stage 1 exam for six and seven-year-olds and replace it with a reading test. Schools would be asked to extend the use of "synthetic phonics", which concentrates on teaching the sounds that make up words.

The Conservatives claim the initiative would tackle the lower literacy levels of children from poorer backgrounds. Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, said there was nothing new in the Tories' "hastily cobbled-together" proposals. He said "synthetic phonics" were already being encouraged by the Government and literacy levels were improving.

Teachers' leaders said the reading test flew in the face of evidence that children did better if they started formal education at a later age. Chris Davis, of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, said: "The target is too early. One of the worst things you can do with a very young child is give them the impression that they can't do something. That can put them off for a very long time, if not for ever."

John Bangs, the head of education at the National Union of Teachers, said he did not want to see "synthetic phonics" used as "a magic bullet for everything". He added: "It is an important part of the jigsaw, but it is not the only part of the jigsaw."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned that the move to make it easier to exclude pupils would result in more headteachers ending up in court.

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