Parents taken to task

13th May 2005 at 01:00
Tough new measures for managing poor pupil behaviour and truancy, but no penalty fines. Karen Thornton reports

Parenting orders and contracts for tackling poor pupil behaviour and truancy are to be introduced in Wales. But there will be no "on-the-spot" fines for parents of miscreant pupils.

The Assembly government is consulting on introducing orders and contracts from January 2006 as part of a wider consultation on a 179-page inclusion and behaviour support policy document.

Other proposals include requiring primary schools to set targets for reducing pupil absence for the first time. Future targets for both primary and secondary schools may also concentrate on overall absence levels rather than truancy (unauthorised absence), as is currently the case.

Inclusion and Pupil Support also gives new and extensive guidance on schools' and local education authorities' responsibilities for children educated at home, and clarifies the definition of pupil referral units.

The document brings together Assembly government policies on attendance, bullying and behaviour. And it adopts a wider definition of inclusion than the traditional one of including children with special educational needs in mainstream schools, wherever possible.

It refers to the "additional learning needs" of a much wider range of children, including young carers, ethnic-minority youngsters, gypsy and traveller children, asylum-seekers, young offenders, more able and talented youngsters and even child actors.

Jane Davidson, education and lifelong learning minister, said: "Our new draft guidance stresses the importance of encouraging high levels of attendance and positive behaviour in our schools, and sets out the need to support pupils with additional requirements so they can successfully engage with education."

The legal basis for fines, parenting orders and contracts for excluded and truanting pupils was introduced under the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003.

Fines and orders have been flagged up as a way of forcing parents to take responsibility for their children's behaviour by Secretary of State Ruth Kelly.

They were introduced in England in February 2004 but no figures of the numbers issued have yet been published. Contracts are voluntary agreements between LEAs or governing bodies, schools and parents. They could provide a "useful tool in identifying and focusing on the issue behind non-attendance or misbehaviour, and in developing a productive relationship with parents to address these issues", says the Welsh guidance.

And although not legally binding on any of the signatories, if problem behaviour or truancy increases and leads to prosecution, courts would have to take into account parents' failure to comply with a contract or refusal to sign one.

LEAs already have powers to impose parenting orders in response to truancy, and the new guidance would extend this to children who are permanently or temporarily excluded for "serious misbehaviour" such as verbal abuse, assault, theft, drug dealing, bullying and carrying weapons.

The court orders would compel parents "unwilling or unable" to address their child's behaviour to attend counselling or guidance sessions, such as parenting education or support classes. If they refused they could be fined up to Pounds 1,000.

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: "We support the idea of parental contracts which would spell out the standards of behaviour, attendance and discipline expected of a pupil.

"This is especially significant in the context of a wider definition of inclusion. At the moment classroom disruption and bad behaviour can damage the education of the rest of the class. That isn't proper inclusion."

Consultations close on July 29. See www.learning.wales.gov.uk

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