Balls: 'satisfactory' behaviour unacceptable
Teachers in England face losing vital funding if behaviour at their school is not ranked "good" or "outstanding" - even if pupils are orderly and polite, and cases of fighting and swearing are rare.
Concerns have been raised about legislation that can allow central and local government officials to act if there is no improvement.
Tackling bad behaviour should be a priority for schools this year, according to Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, who has issued orders following the major report by Sir Alan Steer earlier this year.
Despite the "lowest levels recorded" of disorder, he said some teachers are not doing enough, and a "satisfactory" ranking by inspectors will be unacceptable by 2012.
But the definition of "satisfactory" - where staff tackle issues promptly, pupils are generally polite and well-behaved, and social areas are calm and safe - has angered headteachers and experts.
Schools rated as neither "good" nor "outstanding" for behaviour twice will get warnings, and Mr Balls could use proposed new powers to get local authorities to take action.
If school improvement partners report an unwillingness to improve from the teachers they work with, councils will be able to withhold grants. And new "lead behaviour" schools will be set up.
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, called the policies "heavy-handed", adding: "The Government is absolutely right to take behaviour seriously, but the difficulty we have is that this feels overzealous and non-compliance is a threat - that's really depressing for people."
"Is it going to be effective? I can't see how taking away grants is going to have any effect. There are all kinds of things working against teachers. They have lots of disincentives to exclusion and this leaves them often in a difficult position - they are damned if they do and damned if they don't."
Mr Brookes said he was also concerned about the reliance on Ofsted judgments, particularly when there are still some unreliable inspections.
According to Ofsted, behaviour in schools has never been better. This was also Sir Alan's view.
The Department for Children, Schools and Families said that, while there had been progress, further improvements were "not sufficiently high up the agenda of some local authorities and some schools".
Mr Balls is writing to all councils to underline the need to prioritise behaviour. First in line for attention are those where a high proportion of schools have "satisfactory" behaviour and there has been "insufficient improvement".
Standards have risen over the past 10 years, with the number of schools where behaviour is a significant concern at the lowest levels ever recorded - from 8 per cent in 1997-98 to 2 per cent in 2007-08.
The proportion of secondaries judged "good" or better was 72 per cent in 199798 and is on track to reach around 80 per cent in 200809, despite a tougher Ofsted inspection regime. Most primaries - 93 per cent - are already rated "good" or better on behaviour. The DCSF said progress had been uneven across the country.