Problems in schools discipline 'are being allowed to escalate': There is growing concern among teachers that they no longer have the power to deal with disruptive or unruly pupils

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The Independent Online
TWELVE years ago Peter Cole was attacked in the school corridor with a broken bottle by a 15-year- old pupil. Without more ado, police and parents were called and the boy was expelled from the school.

Things would be different now, according to Mr Cole, who survived the incident without serious injury. Discipline problems in schools are being allowed to escalate because staff no longer have the power to deal with them, he says.

In a recent case which Mr Cole dealt with as an official of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), a persistently disruptive girl reacted to a telling-off by accusing her teacher of sexual abuse. The teacher was suspended, but the allegation was proved false. The staff demanded reparation, but the girl was not disciplined because such a move was thought likely to discourage others from complaining of genuine abuse.

Under the Children Act, social services are brought in to deal with such allegations. Mr Cole says that even shouting at a child can constitute 'emotional abuse', and that pupils are becoming wise to the usefulness of legislation designed to protect them.

He does not think that the number of difficult children has risen, but says that problems are not nipped in the bud as they used to be. 'In the past the child would have been out of school immediately, the parents would have been brought in and quite conceivably there would have been a move towards permanent exclusion.

'Now there is considerable pressure on teachers to keep pupils in school. NASUWT deals with an increasing number of cases where we have to authorise staff to refuse to teach particular pupils,' he said.

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, has recommended that more units for disruptive pupils should be opened, and yesterday he pointed to Northern House, a special school in Oxfordshire, as an example of how such problems could be dealt with.

There the 70 pupils have drawn up a handbook which governs their behaviour. It says they should do as they are told straight away, be sociable and friendly, set good examples and ignore silliness. In return, staff must speak calmly and quietly to them, and must approach pupils with smiles on their faces regardless of what they are doing. At Easter, parents will be asked to contribute to a handbook of their own.

All the pupils at Northern House have been referred there because they have been disruptive elsewhere, but 30 of them spend at least part of the week in a mainstream school. Letters are sent home when their behaviour is good, and awards are made weekly to those who have improved the most.

The school's head teacher, Roy Howarth, said that the 2 per cent of children who had serious behavioural problems were often left without proper resources or were labelled as 'bad'.

'I don't think schools are quite clear about the behaviour they want. They are very clear about the behaviour they don't want, but it isn't often that you see pupils saying 'This is our school and this is how we are proud to behave'.'

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