Discipline clampdown will follow election

A raft of new measures designed to tighten up school discipline will be available to headteachers once the dust has died down after the general election.

The measures, contained in the Education Act which received Royal Assent last month but which has been left on the shelf for the duration of the general election, are expected to be implemented on the instruction of ministers, either Tory or Labour, after May 1.

In theory they should strengthen the commitment between headteacher and governors to work together on school discipline.

In practice there will be ample scope for conflict because governing bodies will still be able to overrule headteachers on exclusions. Walter Ulrich from the National Association of Governors and Managers commented: "Partnership doesn't mean partners have to agree."

The Education Act will introduce six new measures to tighten up discipline in the wake of last year's highly-publicised disputes at The Ridings in Halifax, Hebburn in South Tyneside, Glaisdale in Nottingham and Manton in Worksop.

They strengthen previous discipline rules by: * requiring governors of all maintained schools to ensure that every school has policies to promote good behaviour and discipline and to publish the discipline policy for parents, pupils and staff; * confirming that it is lawful for teachers and other authorised staff to use reasonable force to prevent a pupil committing an offence, which might cause injury or damage, or disrupt good order and discipline; * giving schools powers to impose detentions without parental consent; * allowing more flexibility for exclusions so that a pupil may be excluded for a period of 45 consecutive days rather than the current 15 days a term; * requiring appeals committees to consider the interests of other pupils and staff at the school, as well as of the excluded pupil, in considering whether the pupil should be reinstated; * allowing schools to make homeschool agreements a condition of admission.

The Government wants to ensure heads and teachers have the maximum flexibility in which to exercise their authority in an atmosphere which promotes orderly behaviour, rather than in one which militates against it.

Labour, meanwhile, maintains that teachers go to school to teach not to work as glorified bouncers.

The National Association of Governors and Managers generally welcomes the new laws and believes they merely formalise and codify the good practice in schools.

But Mr Ulrich warned: "The possibility of both co-operation and conflict that existed before is not going to be altered - arguments are most likely to arise from how you apply the rules."

In the dispute at Manton Junior school, tensions heightened after the governors overturned the decision of the head to expel a pupil.

At Manton events were complicated further as governor disagreed with governor. The dispute eventually ended when three governors, including Eileen Bennett, the chair, resigned and the boy's mother, Pamela Cliffe, agreed to transfer him to another school, St Augustine's. There he has become a classroom monitor and is thought of as "just another pupil".

A subsequent inspection of Manton Junior by the local authority criticised the confrontational approach to managing pupil behaviour and the lack of agreed common purpose between staff and governors.

Headteachers hope the duty now on governing bodies to produce a written statement on school discipline will lead to a shared commitment for it to work.

"Working together towards a common aim and involving the governing body means joint ownership," said Sue Nicholson, assistant secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

"In some of the publicised cases recently we have had not just cases of head against governing body, but individual members of the governing body not working together."

The NAHT believes, however, that the homeschool agreements are going to be meaningless and fears that they could actually damage the good relationships that already exist between parents and schools.

"A parent can sign the agreement, the child be admitted and it makes no difference if he or she fails to meet the agreement," said Mrs Nicholson. "It can't be a contract, binding in law."

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