'Making laws can't easily cure our troubled streets': The Queen's Speech

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The Independent Online
When Philip Lawrence was being stabbed to death outside his north London school last December, fellow headteacher Michael Marland was trying to protect one of his own pupils from a gang just a short distance away.

The events that day at Mr Lawrence's school, St George's in Maida Vale, led to an inquiry into school security, closely followed by a second investigation into school discipline - which brought about the measures in yesterday's Queen's Speech. But Mr Marland, head of North Westminster Community School, does not believe they can do anything to stop such incidents happening.

There are many reasons why we have trouble on the streets, he says - the economics of the inner city, racial issues and how we bring up boys, who cause most of the trouble. These things are difficult to legislate for in an education bill, he admits.

Inside his 2,000-pupil school, discipline is under control - it was recently praised by Ofsted inspectors. But the measures proposed yesterday will make his job a little easier.

Last year North Westminster Community School had permanently to exclude 15 pupils, almost none of whom found their way back into mainstream education. The new rules would allow schools to reject pupils who had been excluded twice, but they would also force local authorities to publish plans for dealing with them. Mr Marland says this must mean a dramatic increase in the number of places in special schools and units, which can cost several thousand pounds per child per year. He believes that 4 per cent of pupils - 280,000 - need special places. At present there are fewer than 100,000 and the numbers are being reduced.

However, Mr Marland approves of behaviour contracts, and already asks parents to pledge that they will not allow their children to bring weapons to school. But what he really needs, he says, is more money to help difficult pupils and a "behaviour recovery" programme like one now in use in New Zealand. Problem pupils can be spotted at the age of five, he says, and they need intensive help to learn appropriate behaviour.