Zero tolerance discipline in schools 'an abuse of children's rights'

Union debate on the 'crisis in pupil mental health' also hears tougher exams described as 'child abuse'

Martin George

Martin George

School behaviour

Zero tolerance discipline policies in schools are “an abuse of the rights of our children”, a teachers’ union has heard.

The claim came as the NUT section of the National Education Union debated pupils' mental health.

There was unanimous support from the conference in Brighton for the union opposing "the move towards ever more punitive behaviour policies in schools" which it said was "feeding a mental health crisis for our children".  

"The increasing use of detention, isolation and exclusion, often talked of as being 'zero tolerance' approaches, usually mean ignoring the varied difficulties children have in favour of punishment," the motion read.

"We believe that above all else,  children need support, respect and love."

Michael Holland, from Lambeth, told delegates: “Zero tolerance is intolerance. Zero tolerance doesn’t work. Zero tolerance is cruel, Victorian, Dickensian.

“It punishes working class children the most, it punishes black children, and children from black and ethnic minority groups are far more likely to be excluded from schools.

“It’s an abuse of the rights of our children.”

Delegates also highlighted other experiences of growing mental health concerns about their pupils, which some linked to a narrowing of the curriculum to focus on EBacc subjects.

Paul Power, of Haringey, who has been a head of year in a secondary school for 16 years, said: “In those years I have seen an increase in anxiety, an increase in depression, an increase in stress, an increase in students talking about suicide, an increase in self harming, not only due to the change in schools, but those new exams that children cannot access, that are creating that stress, and to be honest there’s only one word for them, and that’s ‘child abuse’.”

The conference voted that that high stakes testing has harmful effects on children’s mental health, and called for a renewed campaign to oppose SATs.

It also called for the government to fully fund the new mental first aider roles which have been promised for every secondary school in England, and to ensure that they are filled by “appropriately trained persons”.


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