Kelly says 300 schools have discipline problem

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MORE THAN 300 secondary schools were told yesterday to improve standards of discipline in the classroom as Labour and the Conservatives turned the political spotlight on disruptive behaviour in schools.

Their intervention came as Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, reveals today in its annual report that one in 10 schools is causing concern because of constant low-level disruption by pupils.

Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Education, ordered Ofsted to revisit schools where behaviour is said to be unsatisfactory within the next months. If they fail to satisfy inspectors, they could be put on the "hit list" of failing schools.

Ms Kelly insisted that all the schools should draw up "zero tolerance" action plans.

The minister told a conference in Blackpool of new secondary school heads: "We need to re-draw the line on what is acceptable. It means backing heads over issues like uniform, bans on mobile phones, bullying policies, lateness, homework, respect and politeness. These are not trivial things, they wear down teachers and they stop other children learning."

But she shelved a plan announced by Charles Clarke, her predecessor, that all schools should take their share of excluded pupils from September - to avoid inner-city comprehensives becoming "sink" schools with too many disruptive pupils. Instead, she announced a "breathing space" until 2007 for schools to agree who to take.

Education experts claimed this would take the heat out of the issue in the run up to the general election campaign - as grammar schools had complained it would be unfair for them to take in pupils who had not passed their selection tests. Tim Collins, the Tories' education spokesman, said: "This is a breathtakingly cynical ploy ... Ministers will still force schools to take disruptive pupils - guaranteeing a thug in every playground - but shamelessly hope to get some credit by postponing this daft and dangerous idea until September 2007." He added: "There has not been `zero tolerance' of violence - a teacher is now assaulted every seven minutes." The Tories' proposals urged the abolition of independent appeals panels on pupil exclusions and the setting up of "turnaround schools" for the 24,000 worst behaved pupils.

Ms Kelly said: "The right of appeals exists in all aspects of everyday life. It is fundamental to natural justice." She added: "I do not want to suggest that we should return to 19th-century Dickensian styles of imposing discipline ... But if we are serious about tackling bad behaviour then there are things that we just cannot tolerate."

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