Tsar Steer's way out of disorder

21st October 2005 at 01:00
The Government's behaviour "tsar" Sir Alan Steer says that, as a former history teacher, he is well aware of the fate that can await those who carry that royal title. He has little to fear, however, judging by the preview of his task force's report that The TES obtained this week.

The recommendations from Sir Alan's committee seem sensible and will surely be welcomed by the profession. Ministers are also said to approve of the report even though it avoids any reference to emotive phrases such as "zero tolerance". Some of the proposals, such as the call for new legislation stipulating exactly how and when teachers can discipline and restrain pupils, are similar to recent recommendations from the National Union of Teachers. Legislation of this kind, which could be added to the education Bill, will not put an end to disruptive behaviour, of course (physical restraint is not an option if you are a foot shorter than your pupils).

Nevertheless, it will be helpful as the principle of "in loco parentis" now seems as archaic as it sounds.

The Steer group's idea that excluded pupils should be offered full-time education after five days, rather than 15 (if they are lucky), should also be acted on quickly. However, many heads will not be grateful if they get the power to apply for legal orders against uncooperative parents. Bullish heads may want such powers; others believe they can only damage home-school relations.

The Department for Education and Skills understands this but having spent pound;500 million on behaviour programmes over the past three years, and still seen a rise in truancy, it is prepared to contemplate the unthinkable. The Department would, however, be best advised to persevere with the policies that are known to have a gradual, but beneficial effect on behaviour: early intervention in primary schools, consistent whole-school policies on discipline, and engaging curricula for at-risk pupils.

If they couple such approaches with the best of the Steer proposals they will be half-way to remedying bad behaviour. That may be as far as anyone is ever likely to get.

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