Sanctions to tackle violence

24th March 2000 at 00:00
PUNISHMENT will fit the crime in French secondary schools with the introduction of official guidelines for teachers on appropriate sanctions for pupils who break schools' codes of conduct.

The new regulations are part of a plan to reinforce school security announced by education minister Claude Allegre in January after a spate of school violence. Each school must define its own scale of punishments, and set them out in its internal regulations.

While many schools already have their own systems, it is hoped the guidelines will stop the widespread practice of staff threatening pupils without taking disciplinary action until matters deteriorate so badly they have to be dealt with by the schools' disciplinary councils. Suggested penalties for "minor breaches of duty", such as repeated lateness or talking in class, include a teacher's note in a pupil's mark book, an apology from the miscreant, detention or extra homework or temporary exclusion from class.

For serious offences, suc as violence against people or property, truancy or vandalism, penalties extend from official warnings to exclusion.

While teachers and security staff may administer punishments for lighter offences, serious ones are the responsibility of each school's disciplinary council. In future the number of council members will be cut from 16 to 10 to allow more frequent meetings; pupils will have proportionately more representation as they will retain their two delegates. New external disciplinary committees will hear the most serious cases.

Punishments should have an "educative" element, say the guidelines, which suggest that teachers impose tasks such as essays or extra homework. Pupils' punishments might be suspended if they acknowledge their mistakes and give written undertakings to stick to the rules in future.

Parents in the Val-d'Oise, north of Paris, face withdrawal of child benefit under the penal code if their children play truant more than four times in a month.

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