Call for 'right to punish' laws

21st October 2005 at 01:00
Laws giving teachers the right to discipline and restrain pupils have been recommended by the Government's behaviour task force.

A draft report by the panel of 13 heads and senior staff, leaked to The TES, says teachers' right to punish pupils who break school rules and restrain them using reasonable force should be enshrined in law. It would replace the ancient common law in loco parentis principle, which gives teachers the same authority over pupils as their parents. The task force says this principle is open to legal challenge.

The report, due out today, will also demand that schools be given the right to apply to magistrates for legal orders against parents unwilling to work with them. "Some parents and carers need to be challenged to take their responsibilities seriously," the task force headed by Sir Alan Steer said.

It welcomes the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, currently before Parliament, which gives headteachers the right to search pupils for weapons without their consent and asks the Government whether it should be extended to include drugs and stolen property.

It says that local authorities should provide full-time education for pupils from the sixth day of permanent or temporary exclusions rather than the current 16th day.

"The Government should introduce a single, new piece of legislation to make clear the overall right to discipline pupils," it says. The call was first made by Lord Elton in his 1989 report on school discipline, but was turned down by Margaret Thatcher's government.

The Steer task force says that its conclusions, giving teachers the right to set homework and impose punishments, should be acted on.

But it rejects a national code of rules for pupils and recommends a national charter of rights and responsibilities for all in the school community, to be included in home-school agreements.

In a speech last month Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, said: "If heads tell me that they need extra power to tackle disruptive behaviour I will not hesitate to grant it."

The task force wants pupils excluded for more than five days to be interviewed when they return to school to help them settle in. The controversial right of parents to appeal against exclusions is backed. But there is a call for the independent appeal panels to be more representative and for guidance to avoid cases being overturned on technicalities. By 2008 all secondaries, including academies and foundation schools, should be forced to belong to local partnerships working together to share "hard to place" pupils.

Some members of the taskforce were tempted to ban mobile phones in schools because of text bullying. Instead it recommends that all schools have a policy on their possession and use.

Teaching unions, which are represented on the task force, are expected to welcome its findings. Last month's National Union of Teachers' charter for behaviour also called for new laws explicitly setting out teachers' right to restrain pupils.

* william.stewart@tes.co.uk

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