More respect all round

13th December 2002 at 00:00
Call me old-fashioned, says Education Secretary Charles Clarke, but pupils and parents need discipline

I said in my first week as Secretary of State that I wanted to restore the professionalism of teachers. That is why this week I made it clear that dealing firmly with ill-discipline among both pupils and their parents will be one of my top priorities. Restoring professionalism means restoring respect for teachers to its rightful place.

The facts speak for themselves. Every day, around 50,000 pupils miss school without permission. The Office for Standards in Education reports that bad behaviour disrupts education at one in 12 secondary schools. And four out of five secondary pupils say that some of their classmates regularly try to disrupt lessons. Of course, we must keep a sense of proportion. I know from visiting schools that most pupils turn up regularly and are well-behaved. And most parents work with their school constructively. But for too many teachers this is not the case. And whatever its level, disorder cannot be tolerated.

To some, using the word respect may seem a bit old-fashioned. I do not agree at all. Respect is a value at the very heart of any civilised society. It means both respect for others and respect for authority.

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.

Pupils too deserve respect. Bullying in all its forms is unacceptable. It is not "part of growing up". And respect also means tackling those who disrupt lessons and prevent others from learning.

And communities around schools deserve respect. Older people in particular should not have to put up with being jostled or even abused while waiting for a bus or shopping at their local store. What does this mean in practice? I will not pretend for one moment that it will be easy. But that is not an excuse for inaction.

I am able to build on the progress made by my predecessor Estelle Morris. In the past year we made pound;50 million available to 34 local education authorities with the highest levels of truancy and street crime. We are targeting 130 secondary and 555 primary schools with over 300,000 pupils. But we can go much further. I have no hesitation in using every tool in the box. This means a mixture of investment and support, new sanctions and changing the rules. Over the next three years, we will invest a further pound;134m in 2003, pound;149m in 2004 and pound;186m in 2005, building a national behaviour and attendance strategy, focused in part at 11 to 14-year-olds. This is the right age to target because it is at this age that many problems emerge. All secondary schools will have access to new training materials and behaviour experts, giving the senior management team the back-up it needs. And where some children's behaviour is due to serious personal and family problems, teachers will have ready access to professionals such as educational psychologists who can help. We will also expand our support to the 34 LEAs to all the Excellence in Cities areas that do not already have the extra support, and to all Excellence Clusters.

And I have been impressed by the work of the 100 police officers we now have patrolling schools. They are reducing anti-social behaviour and cutting crime. I am discussing with the Home Secretary how we can expand this scheme.

But it is more than just money. I will change the rules where they obstruct the drive to restore respect. Recent high-profile cases have seen pupils excluded for serious offences reinstated by independent appeals panels. But simply getting rid of the panels would mean more cases ending up in court and schools would be worse off.

The right approach is reform. From next month, the panels will be made up of a serving or retired head, a school governor and a lay member, giving us people who understand the realities of school discipline. Panels will have to act in the interests of the school, not just the excluded pupil - and will be barred from reinstating pupils on a technicality.

And panels will be able to decide that a pupil should not have been excluded without insisting on reinstatement. Schools depend on relationships between pupils, parents and staff. Where they have broken down without hope of repair, it is not right to insist on reinstatement.

Of course, it is not just about pupils. Parents must play their part - discipline begins at home. I am proposing a new range of sanctions to deal with those parents who refuse to live up to their duty.

Where pupils are excluded for a fixed term, and the parents have done nothing to turn round their child's ill-discipline, I propose to introduce parenting contracts, backed by the threat of a court-imposed parenting order if they refuse to sign or break the deal. We can offer extra support - but parents must accept it.

And for those parents who fail to ensure their child turns up at school, we can do more. Prison now awaits the worst offenders. But we can expand the range of sanctions to tackle offenders before it gets to this stage.

Truancy sweeps earlier this year showed half of truants picked up were with their parents. Again, we will help those parents who have a genuine problem controlling their children's behaviour. But for those who show a total disregard for the school's rules on taking children out of school without permission, we will introduce fixed penalty notices. Headteachers, education welfare officers and police officers will all have the power to issue these sanctions.

These are radical proposals, backed up by substantial investment and support. They show my total commitment to strengthening school discipline by restoring head's authority. And as I have said, I want to bring respect back into the classroom. Discipline and respect may not be fashionable words. But they are essential to raising standards.

Leader, 22

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