Patten's lesson on school discipline

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS announced yesterday that they were acting to combat disruption in schools, but admitted that their discipline guidelines offer teachers no new sanctions.

The guidance, part of the Government's 'back to basics' initiative, comes after a declaration from the Prime Minister at the weekend that teachers need the authority to deal with bad behaviour.

John Patten, the Secretary of State for Education, said more pupils should be put in detention and in 'sin-bins' or referral units. However, he added that too many were being excluded from school.

Teachers said the Government had not been tough enough. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: 'This is the wishy-washiness of the Sixties not the hard smack of a Government getting back to basics.'

Mr Patten said: 'We want to encourage schools to think a lot before using exclusion. There have been cases of people being excluded for wearing the wrong colour of shoes, for smoking too much, and of girls who were pregnant.'

The guidelines say exclusion is justified for bullying, assault, using a weapon or criminal offences, but are more cautious about exclusion over drink or drugs, for which they suggest medical help. Heavy smokers should be referred to doctors.

Exclusion should be used as a last resort after other sanctions such as isolating pupils, sending them to see senior staff, detentions and the withdrawal of privileges, including school trips or sports. Indefinite exclusion will be abolished under the 1993 Education Act from September when a limit of 15 school days in any term will be introduced.

The Government is publishing six draft circulars or consultation documents on pupils with problems - discipline, the education of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, exclusions, sick children, those in care, and those being educated at home.

Mr Patten said: 'School discipline is right at the heart of good education. Without an orderly atmosphere in schools and classrooms, it is impossible for good teaching and learning to take place.'

The guidance says schools must encourage respect for others, honesty, fairness and politeness, teach the difference between right and wrong, and have a fair and consistent policy on rewards and punishment. Rewards might include public commendations, merit marks, letters home, entries in homework books and displays of work.

Ministers believe parents have a powerful effect on behaviour. They should ensure pupils are punctual, suitably clothed and equipped, and that homework is done.

The question of false allegations of child abuse against teachers by pupils and parents will be dealt with after talks with unions.

The National Union of Teachers said money to provide smaller classes and referral units was necessary to deal with disruptive pupils.

Trouble in class, page 3

Leading article, page 13

Dear Mr Patten, page 17