Stalking laws may be used against disruptive parents

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The Independent Online

Headteachers will be urged today to make use of anti-stalking legislation to keep violent parents away from school premises. It could lead to the parents facing a maximum of five years in prison for harassing or assaulting teachers.

Parents will also be legally obliged to take responsibility for their children's behaviour in school for the first time, under plans for extending parenting orders. If they fail to heed the orders, they face fines of up to £1,000.

The plans will be included in a package of measures aimed at tackling the twin problems of violent parents and disruptive pupils to be unveiled by Estelle Morris, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, today.

Her move follows a disclosure by the National Association of Head Teachers that at least 140 of its members had been physically assaulted or threatened by parents in the past year. David Hart, the association's general secretary, described the attacks as "the tip of the iceberg''.

Ms Morris will tell schools they could be making far more effective use of existing legislation to remove the threat of parents disrupting schools.

Education Department officials say that, up until now, schools had sought to use injunctions to bar parents from their premises, but this can be more costly and take longer than using the Protection from Harassment Act designed to deter stalkers. Under the Act, sanctions against parents would be far tougher and include criminal penalties or a restraining order.

Parents could be banned from approaching within a certain distance of the school or face an order forbidding them from telephoning any member of staff.

The legal deterrents available under the Act, allow the courts to impose a penalty of £5,000 or six months' imprisonment for causing alarm, and, in more serious cases, up to five years' imprisonment for causing a person fear of violence on at least two occasions.

Schools will also be told they can take out anti-social behaviour orders under the Crime and Disorder Act which, if breached, could lead to similar penalties.

A spokeswoman for the Education Department said: "As far as we know, schools have never used these laws before.''

Ministers are also planning to extend the scope of parenting orders under which parents can be bound to ensure their child's regular attendance at school for a period of up to 12 months.

The orders can also force parents to make their child abide by a curfew and compel the parents to attend counselling or guidance sessions to help them cope better with their child's behaviour.

Ministers now want to extend the orders so to cover violent or disruptive behaviour by the child in school. "Often parents aid or abet such behaviour,'' the spokeswoman added.

* The Government will pledge its support for the controversial new AS level exam later this week. A review of its introduction was ordered by Ms Morris after headteachers claimed it had been a "shambles''.