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Parents want a return to the rod

Discipline and funding were cited as the key issues in a TES millennium poll

DISCIPLINE and funding are the main concerns of parents, with more than half calling for the reintroduction of corporal punishment.

According to the poll conducted for The TES by FDS International, two-thirds of parents believe pupils' behaviour in schools has got worse in the past 10 years and almost a quarter believe disruptive and badly-behaved children are among the biggest problems facing Britain's schools.

Corporal punishment was outlawed 14 years ago in state schools and last year in the private sector.

The poll found more than four in five parents think the Government spends too little on schools, despite an extra pound;19 billion by pledged by Labour over three years.

There is some good news. Nearly half of the parents polled said that school standards have improved, compared to just a quarter who think they have fallen. But the bad news for the Government is that the Tories, not Labour, get most of the credit for the improvement. Only a fifth think things have got better since the election.

However, Education Secretary David Blunkett can draw comfort from the finding that two-thirds of parents support controversial plans to link teachers' pay with performance. This makes the unions' opposition to linking pay with pupil progress less troublesome for the Government.

The TES's poll of 1,000 parents in England and Wales, provides a fascinating snapshot of parents' views on schools and teachers at the start of the new millennium.

One in three parents cited lack of resources as the biggest problem facing schools. Discipline was cited as the biggest problem by 24 per cent, more than the total percentge citing teaching standards, recruitment and class sizes.

This shows that the Government is at odds with parents in its drive to stop schools excluding difficult children. Its target of reducing the number of permanent exclusions (12,300) by a third by 2002, is opposed by the teacher unions. Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers has written to Mr Blunkett complaining that government rules make it almost impossible for schools to exclude pupils.

They are balloting on industrial action in seven schools to protect teachers from violent and disruptive pupils. Mr de Gruchy said: "I am not surprised by the poll's findings. The position has been made considerably worse by unrealistic government policies on inclusion which are having a catastrophic effect."

However, any attempt by politicians to blame teachers for declining discipline is likely to prove unpopular. The overwhelming majority of parents are happy with teachers. Nearly nine out of 10 rate teaching standards in England and Wales as fairly good or better. Satisfaction with their own child's school is even higher.

Doug McAvoy, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:

"Surveys of parents usually show a majority in favour of corporal punishment. This figure is lower than in the past. It is pleasing to see that the percentage of parents supporting corporal punishment is falling."

Two-thirds of parents surveyed supported an increase in income tax to fund school improvements. Half had been asked to give money directly to their child's school in the past year, school trips being the most common reason.

Leader, 14

Poll details, 20,21

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