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Segregation is not the only solution

The discussion on pupil indiscipline at the National Association of Head Teachers' conference posed serious questions for the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations.

First, we must recognise heads are correct in saying not all parents fulfil the obligations their share of the education process entails.

The Secretary of State, however, appears to suggest that the solution is simply to impose additional sanctions and provide special units or "sin bins". We cannot accept that segregation is the only solution. It would move the disruptive influence from the school and protect league-table positions, but other strategies are more desirable and less expensive. We need to look carefully at the range of causes if we are to improve matters.

Many of these causes are to be found within society, such as unemployment, the breakdown of family life and young people's access to television and video violence.

But there are contributory factors within education: * The over-concentration on measurable achievements and the lack of attention to those aspects of the curriculum which prepare young people for living in a caring society and parenthood.

* The demise of initiatives such as the School Curriculum Award through which schools celebrated pupils' broader educational achievements.

* The failure in teacher training to recognise the importance of establishing good working relationships with parents.

* The reduction in the numbers of home-school liaison teachers and local education authority advisers.

* The concentration on inspection and identification of problems. New and additional moneystaffsupport must be made available to meet identified needs.

* The inability of LEAs to allocate extra funding to high priorityneed areas because of the introduction of formula funding.

* The negative effect of increased parental choice, which has encouraged the development of ghetto schools. The inability to enhance educational achievement through parental support in such schools then affects test scores, teacher morale and levels of stress.

When the National Council of Parent-Teacher Associations responded to the consultation documents prior to the 1988 Education Act, it stressed that what parents needed was for their local school to be a good school, with high expectations and high standards. We still believe this is the prime objective.

We favour greater local accountability, rights with responsibilities, and also a much strengthened partnership which encourages greater parental influence in the local school. Such a partnership, embedded in democratic processes, must embrace the LEA and all other agencies.

We also pointed out the dangers of formula funding for disadvantaged areas. But cash problems are not the only factor. The Dearing revision of the national curriculum offers heads the opportunity to open up the debate with pupils, parents and governors about the purpose of education and the shape and content of what it is important to learn. We cannot place the failures of society at teachers' feet but we can recognise that it is through education that we shape the values and principles of the next generation of adults.

We need to develop a code which spells out the realistic expectation of all partners. We need to explore the combined approach through health, social services and education that was successfully pioneered by Tim Brighouse in Oxfordshire in the 1980s. The NAHT's concept of a home-school contract of partnership also needs further development. The role, structure and function of the Home School Association needs greater debate and action for change in order to underpin constructive relationships between governors and parents. Much of this was stressed by NCPTA in our submissions to the Elton Inquiry into discipline and behaviour in schools.

Society cannot turn its back on a cri de coeur from headteachers. But nor can we accept the answer of segregation of disruptive pupils into separate units. Perhaps instead we should ponder whether we have the right criteria for measuring a successful school. Community and society must have meaning and value for all children, so that in them we can develop better parents for the family of tomorrow.

Sheila M Naybour is chair of the NCPTA research and publications committee. Ian Price is the NCPTA chairman-elect.

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