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Dress sense gets a caning

Frances Rafferty puts on two petticoats for the debate on the Education Bill

Two amendments from Conservatives, to introduce a dress code for teachers and to bring back caning, enlivened the debate this week on the Education Bill.

The Standing Committee was discussing the section concerned with discipline - an area which enjoys cross-party support. The Bill requires a governing body, in consultation with the head, to draw up a discipline policy and make its measures known to parents and staff. It also makes detention, at the end of a school session, possible without parental consent. Parents must be given 24 hours' notice.

The committee also agreed to extend the fixed-term exclusion of 15 days a term to 25 days. Eric Forth, education minister, said he will be issuing guides to heads to allow pupils back within that period. There was also agreement that local authority exclusion appeal committees should have regard to the interests of other pupils and staff in the school.

The dress code amendment was moved by David Shaw (Con. Dover). Requiring heads to determine acceptable standards of dress for staff, it allowed for "dress down days". This allowed the opportunity for some fun for both sides - including personal remarks about the shopping habits of one of the Labour ladies.

The Labour party was ragged for its sudden adherence to image consultants and the "Colour me beautiful" approach. Why was this, Mr Shaw wanted to know. "Is it because they want to get respect and become role models?" he asked.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, gave an account of a dress code introduced in 1915 for teachers in London. The women were not allowed bright colours or to dye their hair, and had to wear at least two petticoats and have dresses no shorter than two inches above the ankles.

Eric Forth, himself a paragon to sartorial excellence, said that more than adequate mechanisms exist already to bring about the amendment, and Mr Shaw withdrew it.

James Pawsey, Tory MP for Rugby and Kenilworth, wants schools to be able to introduce corporal punishment, as part of home school contracts, to apply in situations where otherwise exclusions may occur. He said it was not about "beating or thrashing or flogging", but about reasonable punishment administered by the head or a designated member of staff.

When Win Griffiths, Labour MP for Bridgend, suggested he demonstrate reasonable corporal punishment on a member from his side, Mr Pawsey called him silly. He won some support from his side. Jacques Arnold, MP for Gravesham, said it was a useful additional sanction for schools which should never have been removed.

Peter Kilfoyle, Labour education spokesperson, who admitted to being beaten every day for five years at his school, said he wondered what sort of teacher would volunteer to become the "master flogger". He said corporal punishment had no place in schools today.

The amendment was not supported by the Government, and Mr Pawsey withdrew it, promising to renew his efforts in the New Year.

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