Tsar calls for more school discipline

25th August 2006 at 01:00
Head of youth justice believes children are being dragged through the courts because teachers are too afraid to punish them

The Government's youth crime tsar this week called on ministers to do more to support teachers who are too frightened to discipline children because of fears of legal action.

Rod Morgan said too many children were appearing before the courts because teachers and care-home workers were afraid to deal with unruly pupils.

The Youth Justice Board chair blamed a decline in respect among parents for teachers' authority as well as the fear of litigation.

In an interview with The TES he said the Government's response in the education Bill, which gives school staff the clear legal right to discipline pupils, was not enough.

Professor Morgan, whose board advises the Home Secretary on the youth justice system, wants ministers to spend more on resources and specialist training for teachers to help them manage behaviour.

He said part of the discipline problem was a curriculum which needed broadening to hold the interest of more pupils.

He regretted that the Tomlinson report, which recommended an overarching diploma allowing more pupils to take vocational courses, had been "kicked rather readily into touch".

Professor Morgan advocates greater use of restorative justice schemes where offenders are made to face up to the consequences of their actions in face-to-face meetings with their victims. He also wants more police officers in the toughest schools.

The number of youth court prosecutions has risen by nearly 40,000 over the past decade at a time when overall crime has fallen by two-fifths.

Professor Morgan said many of the cases could have been dealt with in schools.

"It is faster, it is cheaper and all the evidence suggests that is going to be more effective if we deal with bad behaviour in situ instead of criminalising children by bring them before the courts," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

Professor Morgan told The TES that he was not in favour of a return to corporal punishment. But he believed there was a culture in schools, described by some as politically correct, that could be preventing teachers from disciplining pupils.

It was the culture that led to heads to banning photographs of pupils being taken at school events such as sports days in case they fell into the hands of paedophiles.

"We have become slightly too risk averse in relation to some of these issues," he said. "And if that element of silliness flows over to the point where teachers are frightened to comfort a child or restrain one that needs restraining then it has gone too far."

He backed the judge who described the prosecution of a 10-year-old accused of racist bullying as "political correctness gone mad".

His comments made in April have been criticised by the two largest teaching unions and a Department for Education and Skills adviser on racism.

But Professor Morgan is unrepentant: "I very much doubt whether it is in the public interest that 10-year-olds should be prosecuted," he said.

Are teachers too afraid of discipline?

"Our teachers are not. They are very confident because they know they have got a robust school system behind them. If everyone, including parents, knows what the rules are and what the consequences of bad behaviour are then there isn't a problem." Tarun Kapur, head of Ashton-on-Mersey school and member of the Steer committee which advised the Government on behaviour.

"I think what sums up how most teachers feel in their attempts to impose high standards of discipline is not frightened but thwarted and frustrated.

They might have too tolerant a governing body, an independent appeals panel that reinstates a pupil, or parents who are not co-operating with attempts to modify a pupil's behaviour." Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT

What is restorative justice?

Around 100 schools in England and Wales are using restorative justice systems.

Instead of receiving a traditional punishment, a pupil who commits an offence is asked to meet all the people affected by his action. The meeting is mediated by a neutral outsider. It discusses the affect the offence had on everyone's lives in front of the pupil, who will then suggest and agree what he can do to make amends.

A pilot scheme in three secondaries in Sefton, Merseyside, saw a 38 per cent reduction in the number of days of exclusions in a year.

What the law says

At the moment teachers' right to discipline pupils is based on case law - judicial decisions dating as far back as 1865.

The education Bill going through Parliament would outline teachers' legal position on the statute book for the first time. It gives school staff a clear legal right to discipline pupils, use reasonable force and give detentions outside school hours.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "The Bill sends a strong message to parents and pupils that a culture of disrespect and failure to take responsibility will not be tolerated."

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