Leading Article: Knee-jerk riposte to a serious issue

Thursday 10 April 2008 00:00 BST

The Conservative blueprint for dealing with disruptive pupils, called Giving Power Back To the Teachers, contains a series of populist measures designed to give the impression of a crackdown on poor classroom behaviour. It paints a bleak picture of what is going on in schools, but some of the remedies it suggests might make matters worse rather than better. Take the Tories' commitment to abolish independent panels because, in their words, too many of them send unruly children back into the classroom. John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is right to point out that this will not stop parents trying to get exclusion decisions reversed. Instead, these cases will become long-running battles in the courts.

Moreover, the Conservatives should have put more thought into their proposal to give pupils same-day detentions for offences. The 24-hour rule, ensuring that a detention does not take place until the following day, means that parents understand why their child will not be returning home from school on time.

David Cameron paints a picture of an education system obsessed with a "no touch" policy, which prevents teachers from breaking up fights. The true picture is that teachers have actually been granted legal powers to restrain pupils, as a result of the inquiry into school discipline by Sir Alan Steer. The document also suggests scrapping the rule whereby excluded pupils must be given alternative full-time education after five days out of school, and talks vaguely about more proposals for pupil-referral units. As Schools Minister Jim Knight was quick to point out, this runs the risk of more troubled youngsters having more time to roam the streets after expulsion. Where it does have some merit, however, is in the suggestion that schools should "go easy" over suspending teachers after pupils have made allegations against them. Too many of these subsequently prove to be false and, as theConservatives suggest, suspension should only be invoked if there is evidence to back up the complaint. Taken as a whole, though, this document is too knee-jerk in its recommendations and does not inspire confidence in the Conservatives' ability to tackle the problems of violence in schools.

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