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Mr. Twigg: Absolutely. That is the emerging evidence from the behaviour improvement programme, which is resulting not only in improved attendance but in a reduction in exclusions.

The National Union of Teachers—we are all fond of quoting the teaching unions—says:

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That is in some ways a more difficult challenge, which we seek to deal with through the behaviour improvement programme. In secondary schools and now in some primary schools we are offering materials and extra expert support to tackle the behaviour issues that schools themselves tell us are their top priority.

Schools can deal with the great majority of behaviour and attendance problems themselves, through good teaching, good policies and procedures, and creating a positive ethos. Our key stage 3 and primary strategies are giving schools the tools to improve all those.

The next part of the motion says that the House

That is a sweeping statement, and the reality is more complex. I certainly recognise that there are some serious challenges and too many problems, and we need to take a very strong line on drugs, guns and knives in our schools, and of course heads need the powers to tackle them.

The Offensive Weapons Act 1996 makes it a criminal offence to carry offensive weapons on school premises. It is a crime to carry an illegal knife, or any other offensive weapon, in a public place, including in a school. Any pupil can be arrested if found with an illegal knife in school. Police have powers to enter and search on reasonable suspicion. The Secretary of State in his speech last month to head teachers said that we are supporting the Home Office in its review of the age at which knives can be legally purchased.

We are also working with the head teacher associations and others on the powers that heads have to undertake searches. We are encouraging local partnerships of heads, police and crime reduction partners to deal with issues about knives in their local   area. We have proposed a new power for head teachers to search pupils who refuse to turn out their pockets, where the head suspects that a knife is being carried.

Any tragedy reminds us that schools need support to avoid such tragedies happening again. International research indicates that the most effective way of reducing the risk of such tragedies is to increase school security, and to help ensure a climate in schools in which pupils share information and act on it to prevent possible incidents of violence.

We need to support schools with, for example, additional funds for security improvements. We are committed to backing the authority of head teachers when pupils' behaviour warrants exclusion. We have made it clear that heads can permanently exclude pupils who are very disruptive or violent, even where this is a first or "one-off" offence. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred to the wording of our amendment, which mentions the strengthening of guidance. We have changed the guidance for exclusion appeal panels to make it clear that an exclusion should not normally be overturned in a range of circumstances, including where there has been violence or the threat of violence. For less extreme offences, head teachers may exclude pupils for a fixed period or impose detention.
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We expect head teachers to follow the best available practice in promoting good behaviour.

Mr. Collins: Is the Minister therefore saying that the Government should be given credit for amending regulations that they themselves introduced and subsequently found to be unworkable?

Mr. Twigg: Absolutely. I am always in favour of learning from our mistakes. If the Conservatives had done so once or twice when in government, they might be in a stronger position today.

On violence, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale cited certain research referred to in the motion and I cited other research. A range of information is available on violence, particularly that suffered by teachers. Unfortunately, we do not have data covering the number of assaults on teachers and other staff, but we do have the Health and Safety Executive's figures on serious injuries to primary and secondary teachers in Great Britain caused by physical violence. In 1997–98, there were 119 such injuries. In 2000–01, that figure rose to 135, and it fell to 110 in 2001–02, the latest year for which we have fully verified HSE figures. That demonstrates that the number of such injuries is not necessarily increasing; however, we do face a very significant problem and challenge in this regard.

In partnership with the teacher unions, the Department is running a project to identify best practice in schools on violence avoidance and conflict resolution. As my colleagues will know, we are also working with the Home Office in support of the safer schools partnerships programme, which has led to the basing of more than 400 police officers in schools to reduce criminality and victimisation, and to improve the safety of staff and pupils. We are also supporting Skillsforce, an increase in the funding for which I was delighted to announce last week. There is powerful evidence that it has made a real difference by increasing the motivation of children and young people, and by reducing exclusion in those schools that form part of this programme.

The motion

However, this announcement is not about forcing head teachers to take disruptive pupils; it is about ensuring that when previously excluded pupils are ready to be re-integrated in schools, they are not sent to just one or two schools in a given locality. Both head teachers and school staff fully support the Government's proposal, which will help schools to co-operate in putting pupils back on the right track.

I shall follow the practice of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale and quote from the various organisations involved. On the day that we announced this package, a representative of the Secondary Heads Association said:

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The National Association of Head Teachers said:

Mr. Willis: Does the Minister agree that, with the odd exception, most children show signs of increasingly poor and violent behaviour before the point at which they need to be excluded? Does he further agree that if we are to deal with that problem, we need a system of managed transfer between organisations so that kids do not drop off the end of the cliff, then needing massive intervention? Is it not the Government's own policy, particularly in the five-year plan, to create more stand-alone, autonomous, state-funded private schools, which goes against the grain of getting schools to co-operate in order to deal with the problem?

Mr. Twigg: I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the first point and, not surprisingly, disagree with him on the second. A range of measures is available in respect of managed moves and schools working together. What the five-year strategy says is that we want schools to have their own identity, ethos and autonomy, while at the same time we want schools to work together to promote solutions to precisely some of the challenges that we are addressing in today's debate—foundation partnerships, for example. In a few moments I shall refer briefly to a specific example.

Mr. Andrew Turner: The Minister quoted the National Association of Head Teachers, but he quoted only its applause for the good bit of the Government's promise—that bad pupils should not be poured into part-empty schools. However, I did not hear him quote anything about the bad bit of the Government's threat—that bad pupils would be put into good schools even though they were full. Can the Minister confirm that it is not his policy that a child who has been excluded from one school can be forced into another full school against the wishes of the head teacher?

Mr. Twigg: Let me be absolutely clear: we cannot have it both ways. We need a position under which there is justice for the whole system. In fact, both the National Association of Head Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association worked closely together with us on this policy. We have not dreamt it up either on our own or with those two organisations. It is based on existing examples of good practice in many parts of the country. We are not saying that schools should be forced to take pupils who are clearly unsuitable for mainstream school education and we are not saying that grammar schools should have to take pupils who do not demonstrate the necessary academic aptitude. The guidance issued is based on best practice that already exists in a number of areas, including Stoke, Surrey and Kent, where the heads already share the admissions of pupils who are ready to return to mainstream schooling. They strongly support this approach. I am very disappointed to see the Conservatives condemn in their motion today a policy that is already working well in Conservative-run local
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education authorities such as Kent and Surrey, and is supported by both head teacher associations. I believe that our policy is based on common sense and clear evidence.

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