Week in perspective

15th December 2000 at 00:00
The smack of firm discipline was heard loud and clear this week, as the Government cracked down on playground bullying and announced the first-ever national rules for childminders.

Following the death of Peckham schoolboy, Damilola Taylor, Education Secretary David Blunkett launched new resources for schools to help them tackle bullies.

Schools are advised to bring perpetrators face to face with their victims in an attempt to hold them to account for their actions.

The resource pack, which includes a guidebook and video telling the stories of real children who attempted suicide because of bullying, also makes clear that the police should be involved where victimisation occurs outside school.

Former EastEnders star, Patsy Palmer, introduces the video which includes the experiences of other celebrities bullied at school. Ministers hope that the pack will encourage schools to take complaints more seriously. It is estimated that a million children each year suffer from some sort of verbal or physical abuse.

But while the Government hopes to protect children from their peers, they appear more sanguine about shielding them from childminders. Ministers announced this week that childminders working in the home would be allowed to smack children with their parents' consent, after a poll showed that 84 per cent of parents backed the policy.

Both Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mr Blunkett revealed that they had smacked their own children "as a last resort" but while Mr Blair said he always regretted it, Mr Blunkett said he believed that it ad done them some good.

"I probably smacked my children two or three times over the whole of their childhood when I thought it was the only way of getting the message across," he said. "It worked at the time."

However, the National Childminders Association condemned the decision. Chief executive Gill Haynes said: "The Government, in carrying out a poll, has ignored the advice of everybody working in the childcare field and ignored the needs of children whose human rights will be infringed by this appalling decision."

Welsh headteacher Marjorie Evans, who was cleared of assaulting a pupil by the Court of Appeal, is facing disciplinary problems of her own this week.

Governors at St Mary's junior school near Newport have decided that she should face a disciplinary hearing into allegations that she mistreated pupils. The move comes despite support for Mrs Evans from the Prince of Wales. In a private letter, Prince Charles expressed sympathy for Mrs Evans and invited her to a meeting.

Another education-related court case attracted the attention of the media this week. Jacob Youngson's parents failed in their challenge to force Birmingham council to award their son a discretionary grant for vocational dance training. They say that they are struggling to pay the pound;11,600-a-year fees at private Elmhurst School for Dance and the Performing Arts in Surrey.

Dubbed a "real life Billy Elliot" in reference to the hit movie, Jacob kept his ambition to be a professional dancer secret from his school friends for fear of being bullied.

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