Beyond the gates

31st October 2008 at 00:00
Where does a school's responsibility to enforce good behaviour stop? A change in the law has moved the boundaries, says Hannah Frankel

It's an awkward, but not that uncommon, moment. You're off duty, having a drink with colleagues, when a group of pupils walk into the pub. But what do you do? "They have their pub - informally known as the Rose and Creche - and we have ours," explains a teacher on The TES online forum. "The one time a pupil strayed into `our' place, a PE teacher wandered over and explained the problem: `One of us is in the wrong place here, Sean. Shall I ask the barman to try and work out which one of us it is?' He left. We ordered another round."

If the pupils had been out drinking in their uniforms, during school time, this would have been a disciplinary issue. What they do in their own time, however, is something teachers have much less control over. Either way, examples such as this illustrate just how blurred the lines are on how far teachers' authority extends beyond the school gates.

The Education and Inspections Act 2006, which came into force in April 2007, was intended to go some way to address that problem. It means heads have the statutory power to deal with misbehaving pupils if they are "within a reasonable travelling time from school". Teachers largely responded positively to the Act, saying it helped to clarify where their authority starts and ends. But do busy teachers have the time or inclination to make use of these powers? "When the reputation of the school is at stake, then yes they do," says John Dunford, head of the Association of School and College Leaders. "The power of the headteacher is, roughly speaking, inversely proportional to the distance of the incident from school in terms of place and time."

So a scuffle on a nearby street just after school will fall within a headteacher's remit, while one on a Saturday night in town may not. The other deciding factor is whether pupils are identifiable as belonging to the local school.

"If pupils are still in uniform and messing about on a bus, that may bring the school into disrepute," argues Ian Foster, an advisor for the National Association of Head Teachers. "The majority of heads won't turn a blind eye to that. It is much harder when the incident is divorced from the school day."

Pupils in uniform are an extension of the school, says another teacher on The TES website. They should behave, therefore, as they would on the school premises. "If you bump into pupils under those circumstances, it is expected that you will approach them in the time-honoured role of the teacher bearing down on the miscreant. If you happen to encounter them when they are not in uniform, the rules are much less clear."

Pupils at South Wigston High School in Leicestershire can expect sharp sanctions if they flout the school rules, no matter where they are. "Pupils know our reach extends outside the school and that in itself improves discipline," says Gary Toward, the headteacher.

"I've temporarily excluded pupils for bad behaviour beyond the school gates. If we get the small things right, such as behaviour on the buses and in the town, then the big things take care of themselves."

South Dartmoor College in Devon also shows its clout if pupils are bringing the school into disrepute beyond its boundaries. Misbehaviour results in a ban and members of the community are encouraged to report any troublemakers to the school - on an ad hoc basis or during the college's termly residents' forum.

"If members of the public report a problem to us, we'll make an effort to get on the bus ourselves to ensure things run more smoothly," says Ray Tarleton, head. "If local shopkeepers complain, we'll drive down in pairs and pick up the troublemakers. It's all part of us extending the school into the community and the family, not just through technology but socially as well. Just as a parent looks after their child beyond home, so teachers, acting in loco parentis, must take responsibility for the pupils beyond the school gates."

One of the difficult issues teachers face is pupils' commute to and from school, which can be fraught with the potential for misbehaviour. South Wigston realised it had to get more involved in activities beyond the school gate when 140 pupils were trying to squeeze on an after-school bus designed for a maximum of 87 people. Because South Wigston is a 10 to 14- year-old high school, parents of the young Year 6s were becoming increasingly concerned about their children's journey into school.

"Parents were more worried about the commute than anything else," says Gary. "The Year 6s were over-awed by the noise and bustle and parents were concerned by the health and safety element. We felt we had to act because of our duty of care to make sure everyone is looked after during the school day." To ease the transition from primary to secondary, two members of staff now get on the incoming and outgoing bus for the induction period at the beginning of the autumn term. This only lasts for three days, but every afternoon two members of staff continue to supervise bus duty, checking the pupils are settled and seated properly before getting off the bus. Sometimes, members of the senior management team will travel the two or three miles with pupils on the outgoing bus, before making their own way back to school.

It's also a big problem for South Dartmoor Community College. The rural school has one of the widest catchment areas in the country, stretching 350 square miles. The majority of its 1,700 pupils are reliant on public transport to commute, although the sixth formers generally drive.

"It can be a military operation getting everyone safely on the buses," Ray says. "Our kids are pretty good once they're in school, but we can spend a disproportionate amount of time handling bus-related issues. Some of our pupils are travelling up to 40 minutes on the bus each way plus a 15 or 20-minute car journey to and from home. They're tired after that."

On a national level, it's hard to track the amount of teacher intervention required or implemented beyond the school grounds. There is certainly a belief that young people's wayward behaviour in towns and on public transport is a sizeable problem - an issue that provided Boris Johnson with valuable political mileage in the run up to this year's London mayoral elections. Since becoming mayor he has made tackling anti-social behaviour on buses a priority, funding an extra 490 police community support officers and police officers to patrol buses and stations.

Victims of this behaviour can be some of the most vulnerable in society. At least one in five adults with learning disabilities in the Trafford area of Greater Manchester has experienced some form of verbal or physical bullying when travelling by public transport, according to a United Response survey. The main instigators? Pupils at the end of the school day.

In the past, this may not have been considered a school's problem. But more schools are recognising that it is in their own interest to get involved. United Response, a national charity that supports people with learning difficulties or mental health needs, believes tackling these issues beyond the school gates has a positive effect on pupils when they are in school.

"Initially, it was quite difficult to get schools involved," admits Sarah Bartlett from United Response. Eventually, however, staff accepted a degree of responsibility. "In our experience, schools are aware that bullying on public transport is an issue and that they need to play their part in addressing it," she adds.

Now the charity is helping people with learning difficulties go into schools to share and discuss their experiences of bullying. It has also produced a free curriculum-linked pack, which will be distributed to 50 schools in Manchester, before potentially being rolled out nationally.

Transport for London (TfL), which controls the capital's bus, tube and tram networks, is also going into citizenship and PSHE lessons, raising awareness about the need to be responsible travellers. Nick Owen, TfL's head of bus enforcement, thinks that rowdiness and high spirits are often mistaken for something more sinister by the public. If problems do occur on the Capital's buses, there are 2,000 uniformed officers patrolling the network to deal with it. If that does not work, 11 to 18-year-olds risk losing their Zip card, which entitles them to free travel on buses and trams. Anti-social behaviour orders banning teenagers from the network are the last resort and rare.

So if there is so much support available, is there really any need for busy teachers to get involved as well? Nick stresses that all agencies, including schools, should work together to improve young people's behaviour wherever they are. But he is conscious of where the lines are drawn. The closer they are to school, the greater schools' responsibility should be.

Schools can purchase the United Response pack for Pounds 30. To buy a copy, email For more information visit

On the buses

Leicestershire County Council has employed a team of staff who patrol its buses in an attempt to reduce bad pupil behaviour to and from school. It has also hired two wardens - one full-time and one term-time - who go into local schools to promote safer travel in assemblies.

"The supervisors will eventually travel more frequently on buses, but we first need to get the message across about what is acceptable, reasonable and safe behaviour on buses into schools," says a spokeswoman for the council.

Once the wardens get the message across to schools, the council will analyse CCTV footage and exclude (temporarily and permanently) poorly behaved pupils from its bus network.

School authority: the law

Under the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which came into being in April 2007, teachers have had the power to regulate pupil behaviour when not on school premises, particularly when that misbehaviour is related to the school. The punishment itself, however, can only occur back on school grounds under the supervision of a member of staff.

The Act, which came off the back of recommendations based on Sir Alan Steer's 2005 review of behaviour, is meant to reduce the risk of teachers having their authority defied or overturned by pupils or parents beyond the school campus.

The legal power is cast in broad terms, although the need for "reasonable" action and sanctions is stressed. "It would depend on the circumstances of the individual case," says a spokesman from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. "For example, it would seem reasonable to discipline a pupil for drug dealing at the school gates, for behaviour on a school trip or on a bus on the way to school while wearing their school uniform."

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