Teachers dismiss Blair's blueprint

22nd July 2005 at 01:00
Teaching unions disagree with the Government on how best to tackle exclusions, reports Michael Shaw

Suggestions by the Prime Minister that suspended pupils should do community service or be guarded at home by their parents have been dismissed by teachers as impractical.

Tony Blair put forward the proposals when he and Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, met the 13 teachers on the Government's behaviour taskforce earlier this week.

Before the meeting, Mr Blair wrote to the taskforce chairman Sir Alan Steer, headteacher of Seven Kings school in Ilford.

The Prime Minister said temporary exclusions were a crucial sanction for headteachers. "But it is also important that each suspension is seen as a serious punishment, both by the pupils and his or her parents," he said.

"I would be grateful for your views on how we might reinforce this: should we legally require suspended students to stay at home, accompanied by a parent, rather than allowing them freely to cause nuisance on the streets or in shopping centres?

"Should we insist on community service for older pupils on longer temporary exclusions?"

Mr Blair also suggested that pupil referral units could supervise some of the 200,000 pupils suspended each year.

The behaviour taskforce is due to report back by October with a set of practical proposals to help schools to reduce misbehaviour.

Ms Kelly seemed hesitant about the Prime Minister's proposals, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme that they were at the "brainstorming" stage and would be implemented only if backed by teachers.

The two largest teachers' unions, the NASUWT and NUT, said that schools wanted pupils to be kept occupied during suspensions and supported placing them in PRUs. But they said that making parents miss work would exacerbate their families' problems.

Chris Keates, the NASUWT's general secretary, added that it was strange the Government wanted pupils to view community service as a punishment when it had instructed schools to make voluntary work more attractive to students.

Parents' groups also said they feared their jobs might be threatened if they were forced to stay at home.

John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said businesses would be understanding, however. "Employers are sensitive to people's domestic situations, and most want their employees to have the time to resolve them, including any disciplinary issues their children might experience," he said.

Other matters which the Prime Minister discussed with the taskforce included whether there were any reasons why headteachers would not want to issue new binding parenting contracts when they come into effect later this year.

The meeting took place shortly after an earlier "anti-yob" measure from the Labour government was defeated in the High Court.

A 15-year-old from the London borough of Richmond won a declaration that police could not use force to make young people in curfew zones return to their homes.

The Home Office said the judgement would not end the operation of such zones, which were introduced in anti-social behaviour legislation two years ago.

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk Leader 18

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