Head's tough action wins support

Biddy Passmore reports on the continuing controversy over the best methods of curbing truancy and bad behaviour

"It's a lovely place today," said Bernadette Doherty, head of Wharrier Street primary in Newcastle, on Tuesday.

The head whose school has been portrayed over the past week as a place peopled by lawless little thugs and stroppy parents felt that things were looking up.

The 13 pupils she had excluded for three days last week for persistent disruption were back in school and behaving well. "It's their honeymoon period," she said. Most of them had even done the work set for their enforced absence. And almost all the parents - including those of 10 of the 13 excluded pupils - had supported her.

She was about to enter a governors' meeting to discuss the glowing report her school has just received from Office for Standards in Education inspectors.

The school was well led, working hard and improving, the inspectors said. Most teaching was good, although some was inconsistent.

Above all, it said: "The vast majority of pupils' behaviour is good in all situations. They are courteous and polite to one another and to adults."

But it added: "A small minority are disruptive at times in lessons."

It was the behaviour of some of that "small minority" among her 420 pupils that drove Mrs Doherty to the unusual step of excluding a whole group for refusing to obey teachers, fighting and walking out of class.

Her action came a week after an 11-year-old had been permanently excluded from the school. She had struck and bruised deputy head Clare Marriott when she intervened in a playground dispute.

The behaviour of the 13 children, aged eight to 11, was "like that persistent dripping tap," Mrs Doherty said this week. None of them was being formally assessed for emotional or behavioural problems. Eight had already received a warning letter about their behaviour.

Mrs Doherty, who won a teaching award last year, has been heartened to receive a supportive call from Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, a visit from local Labour MP Nick Brown, and messages applauding her action from all over the country.

Even some of the parents who had initially reacted with fury had come to admit that their children deserved to be excluded, she said.

One who had scrunched up the exclusion letter and thrown it back at her had subsequently come to see her in school.

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