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Mr. Twigg: In a sense, that is what we are all grappling with in the debatewhether legislation is required, or whether the various existing codes, advice and guidance from both the PCC and ACPO are sufficient. We all need to watch the matter closely, but the Government are not persuaded, at this point, of the case for legislation. As the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale rightly accepted, we have recognised that part of the problem is to do with the delays that often exist in the system. Not only may teachers face an allegation that turns out to be false, but the system itself is ill-equipped and ill-prepared to deal with that allegation efficiently. We have analysed about 1,600 cases over the past year. Most of them were resolved quite quickly but an unacceptably high numberalthough not quite as high as the number I quoted on the "Today" programmetake longer: 22 per cent. take up to three months, while about one in 10 takes as long as a year. We are currently consulting teacher unions and others about how we can put in place an effective system so that if an allegation is made, it is dealt with speedily and efficiently, which is in the best interests of the accused and the accuser.
Of course, all pupils have rights as well as responsibilities. They have a responsibility to behave well, both for their own sake and for the sake of others in the school; to respect other pupils and authority, which is why we are investing in 10,000 learning mentors and, as I have said, doubled the capacity of pupil referral units. However, we do not want to abandon anyone, because that blights their future and creates problems for the communities in which they live. I do not believe that costly privatised borstals are the answer to any or every problem. It is far better to support collaboration among schools to offer any learner a second chance once their behaviour problems have been dealt with.
Parents play a crucial role in children's learning and behaviour. They have rights, as the motion says, but they also have duties. Local education authorities and schools employ a range of informal and supportive strategies to help parents tackle their children's behaviour. A small minority of parents, however, are unwilling do so, which is why we have introduced a number of measures, including parenting orders and the new penalty notice scheme, to reduce truancy. We take behaviour and discipline seriously, which is why we have put significant resources into that programme. We have invested in this area in a way that no Government have done before. The real challenge for all of us is to promote respect and disciplinerespect for one another but also respect for authority, as the hon. Member for Buckingham rightly said when he talked about the six R's. We want every child to have the very best chance. Good progress has been made, but many challenges remain.
I do not want to destroy my hon. Friend's momentum, but will he advert briefly to the curriculum, as it affects pupil behaviour? The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) has talked about things that 14-year-olds might study within
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a school context but not necessarily at school. We should be talking about prevention as well as cure, and the curriculum has a role to play in prevention.
Mr. Twigg: My hon. Friend is right, and I am confident that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) will respond to that point in his winding-up speech.
The Opposition's proposals are ill-considered and costly, and would undermine the progress that has been made. For those reasons, I urge the House to reject the motion and support the Government amendment.
Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): This is a timely debate, because across the land schools are about to reach the end of the longest term of the year. Teachers are tired, and are clinging to the ropes. Pupils are more fractious, and problems are more evident. Everyone is focused on the last day of term and Christmas, and I am sure that we can all empathise with an experience that has been part of the natural history of British schooling for at least a century. However, there is a new phenomenonblaming the Government for the problem of indiscipline. What people see of Parliament, especially Prime Minister's questions, on television does not encourage them to believe that we have a natural answer to unruly behaviour.
Historically, bad behaviour has been considered the fault of pupils and, if not controlled effectively, schools. However, if it is true that we live in a nanny state, we have probably reached the point where nanny is held responsible for the behaviour of all her charges, especially when the Government try to micro-manage the entire educational process. However, in the Government's defence, it is worth making the point that such indiscipline as there is may in part be a product of complex cultural changes for which the Government cannot be held entirely responsible and which, in a democratic society, they are not completely empowered to address.
Chris Bryant: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one issue that has not been addressed so far this afternoon is the extent to which parents provide parameters for their children? One of the difficulties is that however much discipline may be enforced in a school and a disciplined environment achieved in which children may learn, it is difficult to maintain that the next day if no parameters are set for them when they go home.
Indiscipline comes in two variants: the general indiscipline of whole classes and, at times, whole schools; and the seriously disturbed and disturbing behaviour of a small minority of damaged young people, often with a dysfunctional family life behind them. Both problems need addressing; although both can occur together, they are different. General indiscipline in a school is treatable, in part, as the Minister said, by spreading good practice. That can
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work anywhere and there is a known recipe. We all know schools in our own constituencies that had problems, the problems were dealt with and discipline is now good.
Counteracting indiscipline is not rocket science. It involves a range of specific actions: setting high standards; consistent and fair enforcement of those standards; and stamping out minor offences so that the major ones that lead to expulsion do not occur. I have taught in a secondary modern school, a dockland comprehensive and an independent school, and I found in all of them the recognition that clarity and consistency about educational standards and sensible enforcement is the secret. It is the main factor in good discipline in any school at any time and in any place.
The recipe for good discipline involves other factors, such as mutual respect between pupils and staff. In my experience, pupils will forgive many things, but never neglect and disdain. The recipe also requires a relevant and challenging curriculum. Everyone agrees that an inflexible, inappropriate curriculum causes trouble for the underachieving and sometimes for the exceptional child. The Government seem to be addressing the problems of those who find an overly academic curriculum too tough, by adopting a more flexible approach towards the 14-to-16 curriculum.
As a small footnote, it is worth pointing out that in the history of education, a number of exceptional people met difficulties at their schools. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) wrote in a recent statement:
Many exceptional people had problems. The best example is Einstein, who was expelled, as were numerous poets including Baudelaire, Robert Frost for daydreaming, and Robert Southey, the lakeland poet, apparently for writing an essay at Westminster school condemning flogging. I looked into the question of whether any politicians of note were expelled, but the only one I came across was Mussolini, who was expelled for stabbing a pupil, an event which, strangely enough, did not stop him becoming a primary school teacher later in his career.
Best practice requires an emphasis on community and responsibility. That must be instilled through the whole curriculum and reinforced by giving pupils responsibility in extracurricular activity. More than lip service must be paid to the citizenship agenda. Equally crucial, as has been mentioned, are support from, co-operation with and help for parents, where necessary encouraged by home-school contracts. What is needed, and what may be lacking from the Government's agenda, is monitoring and active support from local education authorities, reacting early to difficulties and to parental dissatisfaction. A further factor, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) mentioned, is the construction of a system that does not create sink schools but gives special help to schools in difficult circumstances.
Creating the conditions for good discipline is, I repeat, not rocket science, but it is not helped by emasculating LEAs or by intervening only when a school gets past the point of no return and is classified
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as a failing school. It is not helped by encouraging competition at the expense of co-operation between schools, or by using league tables as a sole and crude basis for estimating how well schools are doing. It is certainly not helped by overburdening schools and teachers with bureaucracy or squeezing out extra-curricular activities.
Liberal Democrats believe that every parent should be guaranteed undisrupted education for their child, whichever school they attend, and a school life free from bullying. It is a guarantee that I believe the professionals are capable of delivering, with very few exceptions, so long as we spread good practice and the Government provide the framework for it to happen.
The second aspect of the problem is damaged and destructive children, who can wreak havoc in any institution. They are from families and communities that have broken down and they are increasing in numberI think that that is a documented fact; we can see it in the primary schools. They are unloved, resentful and lacking in self-esteem, but I do not share Rousseau's belief that all we need to do is present them with an interesting education and they will go for it. They will not give education a chance and after a while they cannot give education a chance. They must be sorted out or they will simply fester in society, destined for a genuinely miserable life at odds with society. They are what used to be referred to as "bad pupils", but they are also pupils for whom there is no real hope at the moment.
Although pupil referral units were built for such pupils, they also need some genuinely creative solutions. Voluntary bodies such as Rathbone Training, the social commitments of which go back to 19th century Liverpool and which was started by a Liberal MP, have designed pioneering programmes.
Effective, imaginative treatment and family supportand, where family support is required to be extended, parenting orderscan genuinely lead to a rapid turn round, provided that they are coupled with a strategy of early intervention, rather than masked, as they sometimes are in the early stages of primary schools. The rise in primary exclusions shows how early severely challenging behaviour can occur. We remain optimistic that, even here, there is evidence that there are solutions. There are currently 380 PRUs and various home tuition schemes, costing in excess of £200 million and not always providing the full curriculum, with a cost per pupil place similar to the most exclusive independent schools in the land. Those millions come from school budgets and are essentially money not spent on the education of the well behaved.
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