Teachers should get used to competitive pressures

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The Independent Online

The Government's rethink on excluding pupils from schools is a U-turn - but no less welcome for that. In fact, it shows the pragmatic instincts of New Labour at its best. Jacqui Smith, the schools minister, did not use Mr Blair's catchphrase "what matters is what works", but that was surely the thinking behind her announcement (in a speech to the Professional Association of Teachers yesterday) that appeals panels will no longer be able to reverse a heads' decision to exclude a child quite so easily.

The Government's rethink on excluding pupils from schools is a U-turn - but no less welcome for that. In fact, it shows the pragmatic instincts of New Labour at its best. Jacqui Smith, the schools minister, did not use Mr Blair's catchphrase "what matters is what works", but that was surely the thinking behind her announcement (in a speech to the Professional Association of Teachers yesterday) that appeals panels will no longer be able to reverse a heads' decision to exclude a child quite so easily.

It is essential that teachers should have the "ultimate sanction" of exclusion at their disposal and that their authority should not be undermined. Rightly, we do not tolerate teachers hitting children - teachers who hit pupils should be excluded as readily as pupils who assault teachers. But we should permit discretion in non-violent methods of control. Decisions like that are best made locally. Damage was being done by weakening discipline in the classroom. The teachers were right to complain.

In amending Department of Education circular 10/99, ministers have shown themselves admirably realistic and willing to listen to those who have to work with children who have severe behavioural problems which are, in turn, often the result of poor social conditions. To exclude such pupils should not be the end of the story for them but the beginning of a process that tries to deal with those problems, the root of which may well be found in their home.

However, "what matters is what works" cuts both ways. Teachers' complaints that the Government is fostering a "climate of fear" because of the "relentless pressure" to improve standards seem wide of the mark. The zeal for reform has resulted in some bureaucratic excesses - such as the Government's unwise attempt to reduce exclusions arbitrarily. But, on the whole, the Government's approach is bearing fruit - as improving test, GCSE and A-level results all show. Talk about a "climate of fear" seems bizarre when most of the rest of society is daily under pressure to produce results and improve productivity and standards. Such language only stalls the overdue recognition of the hard work and professionalism of so many teachers. Time to exclude the hyperbole.

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