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Morris says parents undermine discipline

Education Secretary demands more support from families to help tackle bad behaviour and truancy, report Helen Ward and Biddy Passmore

EDUCATION Secretary Estelle Morris has called on parents to take more responsibility for their children's attendance and behaviour at school.

She said teachers deserved their support and warned that the good work in schools was being undermined by parents who refused to play their part.

Her comments to a conference of children's charities in London came just a week after Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector, said teachers needed more parental support to crack down on absence and bad behaviour Ms Morris said: "I have demanded so much of schools, teachers and everybody who works with children, I have come to the conclusion that we want to start talking with parents about their responsibilities.

"Teachers, educators and childcare workers in this country deserve the support of parents. All have a right to ask it and a right to expect it.

"All the work ... we do to get levels of skills of children as good as we can, all that goes to waste if children don't go to school, stay there, pay attention and learn."

Mr Tomlinson in his annual report, published last week, revealed that 80 per cent of child absences from schools were condoned by parents.

He said: "Schools, and in particular teachers, need and deserve better support from some parents."

Margaret Morrissey, from the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said: "The vast majority of parents - 95 per cent - are extremely supportive. As for the percentage who are not, they may not be interested, or too stressed or too busy. We look at what we can do to help them, rather than blaming them."

Ms Morris' comments came at the launch of a new report on early intervention, highlighting some of the signs of disaffection among seven to nine-year-olds.

It advises teachers how to spot problems and describes how timely action by schools, parents and other agencies can help children do better at school and prevent later behavioural problems.

And it stresses that teachers and other staff should watch out as much for withdrawn children as for disruptive pupils who tend to grab their attention.

"Teachers are most aware of the pupils making the most noise," said Gillian Pugh, chief executive of Coram Family, the charity that prepared the report. "An awful lot - especially if there are problems at home - sit quietly and don't get noticed, but they're just as likely to drop out as those excluded for obvious behavioural problems."

The seven-to-nine age group, when children move from infant to junior school, was "fairly pivotal in terms of becoming disenchanted," she added. The report cites research showing that more than 40 per cent of seven and eight-year-olds with behavioural problems become persistent delinquents as teenagers.

The reports also shows that the number of children under 10 admitted to hospital with psychiatric disorders such as depression and eating disorders is growing.

The study, by Mog Ball, outlines four types of intervention programmes to help disaffected children: the whole school approach, small groups, one-to-one and work with parents. It was unveiled at the conference arranged jointly by Coram Family and the National Pyramid Trust.

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