There should be zero tolerance for lame populism

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There is no simple answer to the question of how schools should deal with disruptive pupils. In some instances, it is simply impossible to avoid excluding a pupil. In others, an accommodation can be reached.

There is no simple answer to the question of how schools should deal with disruptive pupils. In some instances, it is simply impossible to avoid excluding a pupil. In others, an accommodation can be reached. Much depends on the nature of the school. It is clear, however, that exclusion is still used too frequently because of pressure on schools exerted by the Department for Education's league tables - yet another unwelcome by-product of the Government's obsession with targets and tables.

It is also clear that politicians offering "tough rhetoric" and easy solutions to the problem of discipline in schools, particularly in the run-up to a general election, should be treated with immense suspicion. Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, strayed into this category yesterday.

The proposals she outlined to shore up discipline were sensible enough. It is right that Ofsted inspectors should pay particular attention to the effectiveness of schools in dealing with badly behaved pupils. One child can seriously disrupt the education of a whole classroom. It seems reasonable, too, to take particularly disruptive pupils out of certain lessons, but, if possible, not to expel them. That leaves the door open to rehabilitation.

These plans are much more attractive than the Conservatives' proposals to give head teachers complete control over exclusions and to abolish the independent appeals process. This would result in an explosion in the number of pupils outside the mainstream education sector. While the Government's pupil referral units, for children with severe behavioural problems, have improved in recent years, flooding them with thousands more children in a short space of time, as the Tories propose, would be folly.

Where the Education Secretary let herself down was in talking of a "zero tolerance approach" - an attempt, no doubt, to sound just as hard-line as the Tories on this issue. This tired populism may win the Government some favourable headlines, but it is a distinctly unhelpful way to talk about the education of children. One thing is certin: discipline will not be established in Britain's classrooms by cheap electioneering. Pull your socks up, Ms Kelly.

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