£66m drive to tackle 'bad' pupils

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The Independent Online

Anti-truancy sweeps and compulsory anger management courses for unruly pupils were announced today as part of a £66 million Government drive to tackle bad behaviour in schools.

More than 50,000 truant from school every day in England, and welfare officers will trawl town centres in 80 truancy "hotspots" while some of the money will be for swipe–card registration systems.

Education Secretary Estelle Morris was announcing the measures at a behaviour "summit" in London, where she was meeting parents, pupils and teachers to discuss ways of cracking down on bad behaviour.

The Department for Education and Skills said it was not urging local education authorities to set up "boot camps" for the most unruly.

But some youngsters could be sent on residential courses in the school holidays which included compulsory anger management and social skills sessions.

The money has been found from unspent reserves at the DfES and was additional to the £178 million earmarked for discipline measures in 2001–2, said officials.

The Government is committed to ensuring that all those expelled from other schools get full–time schooling in stand–alone "pupil referral units" by September this year.

Some of the money would go on providing more places in PRUs and some on extra places in in–school "learning support units" to which pupils in danger of being ejected permanently are sent.

It could also be spent on "behaviour and education support teams" who would try to spot potential problem cases early in order to tackle the cause of a child's bad behaviour before it got them expelled.

These will work with "clusters" of primary, secondary and special schools to ensure that even the worst–behaved cannot avoid lessons for long.

Ms Morris said: "Bad behaviour and truancy are two of the biggest challenges facing schools today.

"If children are not in school they can't learn and if some pupils behave badly they can harm education for other pupils as well."

Parents had a responsibility to ensure their children turned up for lessons and Ms Morris warned: "Without parents taking their responsibilities seriously we will not make the progress we want.

"Parents have a duty to make sure they are doing all that they can to instil discipline in their children."

Unions gave the behaviour crackdown a qualified welcome, saying the attitude of

parents was critical to its success.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "I welcome joined up thinking on tackling truancy but you cannot solve the root causes of disaffection by simply removing the symptoms.

"The Government's recent actions to support teachers faced with unacceptable pupil behaviour are a positive start but progress can only be made if parents are involved.

"Unless parents value education, truancy sweeps will be a cosmetic exercise."

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The creation and extension of more learning support units will be helpful but the NASUWT remains convinced that sending pupils who constantly misbehave to a unit outside the school is a more effective way of dealing with the problem.

"Behaviour support teams may be useful provided they are there to support teachers rather than acting as surrogate advocates for misbehaving youngsters.

"All in all, these measures will hopefully make a contribution towards combating this deep–seated problem which ultimately will only be solved if teachers are given the unstinting support of Government, parents, pupils and society in general."