Blair gave schools powers to obtain court orders

19th March 2010 at 00:00
Blair gave schools powers to obtain court orders to deal with misbehaving pupils, but how many have used them? None. None

Legal powers to tackle bad behaviour in schools have never been used, Government statistics show.

Although court orders are being used to deal with truants (see graph), teachers are shying away from obtaining court orders when faced with troublesome pupils. Instead they are turning to voluntary contracts with parents, according to figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Parenting orders for behaviour were introduced almost three years ago by former prime minister Tony Blair as part of his crackdown on antisocial teenagers, but despite having the relevant systems in place none of the 150 local authorities in England have used them.

Education welfare officers said the existing raft of orders that can be imposed by the criminal justice system - including Asbos and youth offending orders - made the behaviour powers superfluous.

The orders would force parents to abide by rules imposed by magistrates or face further court action. But education welfare officers have been told by the Youth Justice Board to reduce the number of legal labels given to problem teenagers.

Ming Zhang, strategic manager for school attendance at Kingston Council in London, said the time and workload involved in obtaining court orders was also a disincentive.

"Any children who misbehave will already be under the attention of others, (so) it's also much easier for a school to draw up a contract rather than waiting months for the case to get to court," said Dr Zhang.

Government behaviour "tsar" sir Alan Steer said teachers may not be applying parental behaviour orders because they were not confident of winning their case in court.

"Attendance is a clear-cut issue; either children are in school or they are not. But misbehaviour needs more judgment," he said.

"In my experience the most effective thing is persuasion, not coercion. It has to be a two-way process between home and school."

The number of schools taking legal action against the families of truants has also fallen, according to the DCSF figures.

In 200708, courts issued 602 parenting orders in cases in which parents had been prosecuted for their children's truancy, but the following year the figure fell to 396.

The year-long orders oblige parents to ensure that their children arrive at school on time and to attend meetings or face further appearances before magistrates.

Instead, teachers are using voluntary contracts drawn up with parents. Their use has increased eightfold since 200405 - from 410 to 3,528 in 200809.

Schools minister Vernon Coaker defended the lack of interest in the powers, saying they were introduced as a "last resort" if parents refused to help voluntarily.

"More local authorities are using penalty notices to deal with excluded children found in public places without a good reason - sending out a clear message that exclusion is not a holiday or an excuse to wander the streets," he said.

"It is right that local authorities and heads retain powers to use the courts to force parents to face up to their responsibilities.

"It remains a clear warning that persistent obstruction or failure to work with schools won't be tolerated."

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