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Spot fines pioneer slams penalty plan

Advocate of 'bad behaviour payments' says proposed sanctions are much too unwieldy. Michael Shaw reports.

A HEADTEACHER who charged parents if their children were given detention has criticised the Government's plans to introduce penalties for misbehaviour and said they are not tough enough.

The Connaught school in Hampshire used to fine parents pound;10 for its most serious detentions by designating the punishments as after-school activities.

Headteacher Jeff Hanna said that the fines were given to 100 pupils over two years and led to a significant improvement in behaviour, partly because children often paid the charges out of their own pocket money.

But in 2002, the school had to drop the scheme, which was sanctioned by the Department for Education and Skills, after 20 parents refused to pay because the fines were not legally enforceable.

Mr Hanna has written to Education Secretary Charles Clarke, urging him to empower heads to give such fines and warning that the Government's proposed behaviour penalties are too cumbersome.

Legislation will allow heads to give parents on-the-spot fines if their children fail to attend school. But the first penalty for parents of misbehaving pupils will be a contract that binds them to attend parenting classes. If they break the contract or refuse to sign it, they could then be taken to court and face a parenting order. Only if they then break that order will they face a fine.

"It sounds like a cumbersome and unwieldy mechanism for dealing with unacceptable behaviour," said Mr Hanna.

Eric Spear, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said he remained unconvinced that these on-the-spot behaviour fines would work in all schools, but felt that many might benefit from Connaught's direct approach.

"All the weapons are now in the hands of parents, who can now sue schools years after the event," he said. "It is time the boot was on the other foot."

This week, seven Scottish authorities told schools that they may be breaching children's human rights by giving detentions.

The warnings follow the case of Freya McDonald, aged 15, who is taking legal action against Moray council after receiving 11 detentions in seven months at Speyside high school in Aberlour.

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