Party finds the Hogwarts hat fits

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
The Liberal Democrats announced this week they were going to get tough on misbehaviour in schools. Really tough.

So did the party's conference in Blackpool vote to bring back the cane? Of course not. Instead delegates backed a more positive, almost cuddly, package of measures to improve discipline.

High on the list was the introduction of house systems to schools. Ed Davey, the party's education spokesman, said that he wanted schools to be more like Harry Potter's Hogwarts (later over-extending the analogy by suggesting the Lib Dems would be in heroic Gryffindor house and the Conservatives in the evil Slytherin).

"House systems are not about some return to Tom Brown's Schooldays," Mr Davey said. "Rather we want pastoral care that creates schools within schools so we break down large, soulless concrete comprehensives and create schools as villages where pupils feel they belong."

Mr Davey also proposed more training for teachers in pastoral care, the introduction of befriending schemes for children, more learning support units, and earlier use of parenting contracts for families of misbehaving pupils.

The child-friendly measures seemed more popular with delegates than the punishments, with Baroness Walmsley talking whimsically about the need to respect children so they "grow into apple trees instead of the monster out of Little Shop of Horrors".

Rare criticism came from Thibault Jeakings, a 17-year-old pupil at the Norwich school and a member of the Youth Parliament, who said that it did not seem very liberal to back police truancy sweeps.

Annette Brooke, MP for Mid Dorset and North Poole and a member of the Lib Dem education team, suggested that the word "sweep" was perhaps at fault.

"Sweeping does not sound like we are talking about individuals," she said.

Up until the conference, teacher unions had spoken positively about the Lib Dems' new education spokesman. However, Mr Davey suffered a drubbing at a fringe meeting which the Association for Teachers and Lecturers and the NASUWT held to discuss the benefits of their "social partnership" with the Government.

Mr Davey visibly angered his fellow panel members when he pointed out several possible flaws with the partnership, including that the unions involved might feel unable to speak out against the Government.

He also said he was concerned that teaching and learning responsibility points, which the two unions have backed, would damage pastoral care.

Pat Lerew, a former NASUWT president and teacher at Amery Hill school in Alton, Hampshire, told Mr Davey that she was so incensed by his comments she could barely speak.

"The Liberal Democrats are a middle-of-the-road party and many teachers are middle-of-the- road as well, so you should have a natural advantage," she said. "But you've come to this conference so badly briefed."

However, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers, the two unions which are not part of the "social partnership", said Mr Davey was right to raise his concerns.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT, said: "I think Mr Davey will be a very good, serious spokesman for the Liberal Democrats on education, an area where their policies have chimed with teachers in many schools."

FE Focus 3

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