Labour's party conference is not Brighton breezy

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
The TES takes a closer look at the week's events

Original paper headline: Labour's party conference is not exactly Brighton breezy

Gordon Brown and co are confident in their policies and the future of education under them. However, many are preparing for the Prime Minister's political funeral.

Ed Balls, Schools Secretary, launched the Government's school behaviour strategy this week outlining plans to further improve discipline in the classroom.

The strategy, which will be published in a leaflet and sent to all parents, builds on the recommendations set out by Sir Alan Steer in his behaviour review.

It sets out what heads and governors can do to improve behaviour in schools "with the support of parents and pupils".

Speaking at the Labour party conference, Mr Balls said: "Parents want their children to go to an orderly school with a strong headteacher who won't tolerate bullying or disruptive behaviour in the classroom.

"So we will back headteachers, and expect all parents to back teachers too, so that they have the confidence to use their powers to the full so they can get on and teach and all children can learn."

Many of the areas of the strategy are set out in the 21st Century Schools White Paper, in particular the pupil and parent guarantee. Other areas, such as teachers' rights to search and restrain pupils are contained in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill currently going through Parliament.

John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, said the strategy, while welcome, was mainly a "rehash" of already proposed Labour policies.

But Mr Bangs added that a continuing cause for concern was allowing Ofsted to raise the bar on behaviour when it came to grading a school good or outstanding.

"This is a continuing issue as some schools, particularly primary schools, are dealing with kids with no social barriers," he said. "It may not be the school's fault when it comes to their behaviour."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed, saying it is now nearly "impossible" for schools to be graded outstanding.

But Mr Dunford welcomed the move by Government to become "visibly supportive" to schools on the issue of behaviour. He said: "In the current social climate, schools have an extremely difficult task, being expected to uphold the behaviour standards of the 1950s while children, their parents and wider society observe very different behavioural norms outside school and at weekends.

"The Government's leaflet for parents is therefore particularly welcome in setting out the responsibilities of parents as well as their rights."

Mr Balls also used his speech to launch a review examining whether teachers should be banned from becoming a member of the BNP.

He said he had called upon Maurice Smith, former Chief Inspector of Schools, to reassess whether there should be a blanket ban on teachers joining the far-right party.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: "This represents a step forward in the agenda to make sure children and the workforce are protected from the BNP."

The findings form the report will be issued in January next year.


Labour vows to protect school spending

By Richard Vaughan

Despite the sunshine, the sound of Wurlitzers and kitsch carousels of Brighton's seafront, Labour's party conference started with a weary air of resignation this week.

Confidence in the party's ability to win the public's vote appeared to be lost, with much of the talk geared around Gordon Brown's political funeral and who would take over as Labour leader.

School fringe debates were filled with foreboding over what the alternative would be should the Conservatives come to power.

But there was cause for celebration on Tuesday for schools at least. Amid Mr Brown's hodge podge of a speech and within his shopping list of new policy pledges was the promise to ring-fence school spending.

It is welcome news that should Labour stay in power schools' spending will be protected as the Government is forced to cut other areas of public service.

But before you buy that jacuzzi for the staffroom, little has changed since Alistair Darling's Budget back in April. Spending on public services was always in line to drop from 2011 and, although Messrs Balls and Brown have promised that investment in schools will continue to rise, it will feel like real-term cuts in comparison with the 4 per cent increases schools are currently enjoying.

To counteract this loss the Schools Secretary last week suggested areas where schools could make savings, which, he pontificated, could result in pound;2 billion of savings.

But Ed Balls knows he cannot force schools to federate or tighten their procurement methods from the centre to make this saving, instead he is simply telling schools to prepare for "tougher times".

Schools with tighter budgets will have to start looking at staffing costs. The first to go - particularly if groups of schools do federate - will be senior leadership teams. Mr Balls could give no guarantee that these jobs would not be lost.

TES forums

Teachers speak out


"Ed Balls said he would cut heads and deputies to save money only last week. And then Gordo weighs in and says education will have no cuts, and he will in fact spend more. Do these people talk to each other?"

arched eyebrow

"Union leaders picked up on Brown's use of the word `aggressive' about schools but I hope they spotted the `ruthless' too. Of course local authorities will comply. Will they feel compelled to act with aggression and ruthless determination? Watch out for a shedload of new initiatives this academic year."


"I've seen residential home and school projects for young mums work well in ensuring that vulnerable young women and their babies are looked after. The mums learn good parenting skills and get to carry on with their education and move into employment afterwards. Much better than spawning another generation of poorly parented kids with no concept of work."

Teachers warn that supervised homes for young mums could be damaging

By Kerra Maddern

Government plans to force teenage mothers to go into supervised homes will leave them vulnerable and unlikely to continue with their education, teachers running specialist services for young parents have warned.

Those who run pupil referral units for teen mums have reacted with concern at Gordon Brown's plans to stop 16 and 17-year-olds getting "council flats" and instead place them in shared accommodation where they would "learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly".

Any element of compulsion to the scheme would damage the "hearts and minds" operation currently underway to ensure more teens with babies stay on in education, according to the teachers.

They believe housing is a major issue for those forced to live on their own, but any coercion would condemn the scheme to failure.

"It cannot be right, for a girl of 16, to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own," Mr Brown told the Labour Party conference on Tuesday.

"From now on all 16 and 17-year-old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes. These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly."

But Carol Bowery, who runs The Meriton, a PRU for young mums in Bristol, said there were "many issues" with the policy which need to be resolved.

"The Government needs to remember every teenage parent is different. If there is a compulsory element to this it won't work because they won't want to be involved," she said.

"We are concerned this might be a punitive measure and I'm worried about the moralising tone Gordon Brown used. Young mums already know what everyone thinks about them, and much of this is unfair and based on no experience."

Supervised accommodation already exists for teenage parents, but on a very small scale. In cities such as Bristol a scheme that links them with families has been a success.

Few 16 and 17-year-olds now live on their own, according to teachers. More now have the support of their families. Parents under the age of 19 now get free childcare if they are in training or education. Teachers say this has had the biggest impact on improving their lives and are calling for an expansion of specialist PRUs.

"Unless the hearts and minds of teenage parents are won over the Government won't be able to get anything done," said Jenny Adamson, who runs Coteland's PRU in Croydon.


Brown's teen talk was the mother of all bad ideas

By Adi Bloom

Damn. If only I'd known how easy it was. Instead of working hard at school, going to university, finding a job, I should have got pregnant. Bingo. Council flat on demand.

Yes, I'd have had a baby. I may never have made it to sixth form, let alone university. I'd certainly have waved goodbye to a social life, to any semblance of youth. But, hey. Council flat on demand.

Does anyone really believe teenage girls think like this?

Gordon Brown apparently does. This week, he told the Labour party conference that teenage mothers will no longer be given council flats. Instead, they will be put into special homes, forced to sign behaviour pledges and taught to be good parents.

Obviously, any attempt to improve the lives of teenage mothers should be welcomed. But that is not what this is about.

That becomes clear as soon as one notices the factual flaws: under-18s are not allowed to hold council tenancies, anyway. So teenage mothers who do not live with their parents are already given supported accommodation by local authorities.

It is even more clear when one factors in the double-standards. It takes two teenagers to make a baby. While teenage mothers are forced to live by behaviour pledges, teenage fathers are presumably out drinking snakebite and impregnating more would-be wards of the state.

This proposal is actually about our deep-rooted desire to ignore the real problem of teenage parenthood: our own culpability.

Teenage boys' sexuality is regularly celebrated: a host of American Pie- style films do just that. Teenage girls' sexuality, on the other hand, terrifies us. Those girls who bear visible proof of their sexuality - a baby - make us so uncomfortable that we want to shut them out of sight.

Teenage girls get pregnant for a range of reasons. They may lack educational ambition; they may see motherhood as a way to achieve the approbation that has so far proven elusive. They may be desperate for unconditional love. These are the problems that we - and Gordon Brown - should be addressing.


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