As ministers' crackdown on bad behaviour moves up a gear...Heads given the power to impose fines on parents

13th December 2002 at 00:00
HEADTEACHERS will be able to issue parents with "truancy tickets" carrying fines under proposals in the Government's first national strategy on behaviour and attendance in schools.

Ministers are to give heads new powers to issue the fixed-penalty notices, similar to parking tickets, as part of a pound;470 million three-year national crackdown aimed at 11 to 14-year-olds.

Parents who fail to improve their child's behaviour might also find themselves having to sign a contract binding them to attend parenting classes. Around 50,000 pupils miss school without permission every day and four out of five secondary pupils say that some classmates regularly try to disrupt lessons.

In today's TES, Education Secretary Charles Clarke writes: "Heads, teachers and other school staff deserve respect. There is no excuse for subjecting them to assault - verbal or physical. It is wrong and will be tackled."

He outlined his plans to restore respect for teachers and the authority of heads during a speech to the Social Market Foundation think tank. The strategy will provide all secondary schools with staff training materials and access to behaviour experts.

Mr Clarke said: "Truancy sweeps earlier this year showed half of truants picked up were with their parents. We will help those parents who have a genuine problem controlling their children's behaviour. But for those who show a total disregard of the rules by taking children out of school without permission, we will introduce fixed-penalty notices."

The Government has not decided on the fine tariff. The penalties will generally be imposed by education welfare officers or police officers. But heads will have the power too, if they want it. Parents will receive a fixed-penalty notice either through the post or personally, and will be able to appeal.

Ministers also propose a contract for parents whose children are given a fixed-term exclusion for bad behaviour and who do nothing to improve it. This would bind parents to go to classes to learn how to manage their child better. If they refused to sign - or broke the contract - they could be taken to court and face a parenting order. If they broke that, they would face a fine. The Government will consult on the best way to introduce the contracts. They could be included in home-school agreements.

Some 200 behaviour and education support teams will be set up by councils to provide help to schools as they need it.

The plans also include the reform of exclusion appeal panels following a series of high-profile cases in which violent pupils have been returned to schools. From the new year panels are to be given a clear majority of school representatives, including one serving or retired head and a governor. There will be only one lay member.

At present, the panels can make one of only two decisions: to uphold the exclusion or to reinstate the pupil. From January, they will be able to choose a third: that the child should not have been excluded but that relations within the school have broken down so irretrievably that the pupil should not be reinstated.

The intensive behaviour and truancy programme announced in April this year for 34 education authorities in high-crime areas will be extended to all 58 areas covered by the Excellence in Cities programme and to the 38 additional excellence clusters.

When in full swing, this will help 400 secondary and 1,500 primary schools, covering 800,000 children. They will have regular truancy sweeps, more learning support units on site, electronic registration and more police officers in schools.

Headteachers are expected to welcome the new strategy but the power to impose fines will be controversial.

News, 8-9 Platform, 21; Leader, 22

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