|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I am listening with interest to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I thought that he was going to continue in the same vein as the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman). The other part of Conservative party policy, which I presume the hon.
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1434
Gentleman also supports, is to give head teachers and governors control over admissions. Thus one head could send a pupil out on permanent exclusion, while another head would not, under the Conservative proposals on admissions, have to take in any pupils. Where is the consistency in that?
Mr. Turner: I would have thought that it was entirely consistent to give head teachers control over not only who they exclude from their schools, but who they admit to them. That is entirely consistent. I suppose that the hon. Gentleman is being consistent as well, because he does not support giving head teachers control over either admissions or exclusions. [Interruption.] If reformed pupils are to be returned to schools where there is no space as well as to those where there is, Ministers will have either to overcrowd the schools where there is no space or keep places empty in popular schools in case a reformed pupil turns up. That reformed pupil will then leapfrog over those on the list who want to be admitted to that popular school. That is an absolutely extraordinary proposal. I cannot tell whether Ministers want overcrowded schools or empty spaces in popular schools and a queue of pupils unable to fill them. Perhaps the Minister could clarify that point.
We propose a system of turnaround schools. It must be accepted that pupil referral unitsa previous Secretary of State thought that they started in 1997, but I was able to remind her that I taught in a school with a withdrawal unit, which comes to much the same thing, as early as 1980outside schools, or withdrawal units within schools, cost more money to provide. They need to provide education to the same standard for the most difficult pupils, and teaching and pedagogy to a higher standard perhaps than is available elsewhere in the school or in other schools. It is not surprising that they need smaller class sizes, better qualified teachers and special programmes. We should accept that we sometimes have to pay more to teach children who are difficult to teach.
The problem at the moment is that a reformed pupil who goes back into a school carries with him few if any additional resources, little outside support and, in many cases, the same difficulties that he had before he was excluded. Let us increase the age-weighted pupil unit cost for difficult pupils. If necessary, let us increase that unit cost until a school is willing to admit them. There is no reason why every child of a particular age should carry the same age-weighted pupil unit funding: there is every reason why those pupils who are not welcome in particular schools should be funded to a higher level until schools do welcome them. That would be the introduction of a genuine market in education and it would provide effective education for children who have been excluded. Turnaround schools would help to provide that.
I said earlier that 10 per cent. of schools are recognised by Ofsted as suffering from poor discipline and 13 per cent. are getting worse. That means that too many pupils are being educated alongside difficult and disruptive contemporaries. They suffer bullying. Those who are excluded, sometimes to internal exile and sometimes to a pupil referral unit, far too frequently lose their education as well. The pupils who are well behaved lose their education and so do those who are badly behaved. Too many pupils in internal exile in schools are
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1435
on a partial curriculum. I know of a particular pupil in my constituency who was excluded from one school and moved to another where he is on a 50 per cent. curriculum. What is he doing for the other 50 per cent. of the time? He is certainly not receiving the entitlement of every child about which the Government boast and that we believe every child deserves.
Turnaround schools have already been established and succeeded. St. Paul's school in Balsall Heath in Birmingham was established in the 1980s, when it was a private sector school. It became a grant-maintained school by the process of opting in and it is now a maintained sector school. It took, largely, pupils who had been excluded from the maintained sector. It obtained for them better GCSE results than most pupil referral units achieved. Turnaround schools could be a success where PRUs are not yet a success, not least because they would provide the capacity to allow pupils who misbehave to be removed from their schools. If the hon. Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer) thinks that I would not want one in my constituency, I can tell him that we already have three prisons. I am not proposing a borstal, but we have a pupil referral unit that could be upgraded to the extent that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench propose.
I shall touch on two more issues and I hope that the Minister will be able to address one of them at least. First, I believe that it needs to be accepted that much disruption in schools is among pupils who have suffered the trauma of family breakdown. It is all very well to treat those pupils late on in the process, but the Minister heard my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) give the figures in a debate in Westminster Hall last week. Ministers have said that they are trying to do something about the problem by means of the money invested in pupil behaviour. However, that does not deal with the cause of the problem, which is increasing levels of family breakdown. I hope that the Government can give some hope to future generations that we will not see the level of family breakdown that we have seen recently and that has led to the breakdown of discipline in some schools.
The second issue is Labour's history on this issue. I spoke of what had happened between 1997 and 2001. I now want to go back a little further. Labour's history on this issue is chequered, to the say the least. Labour's support for parents, heads, teachers and police was very chequered. The hon. Member for Hornchurch mentioned William Tyndale school, but I need hardly remind him that that school was run by the Inner London education area in the 1970s and it failed a huge number of pupils
Mr. Turner: If the hon. Gentleman wants me to go back to the 1960s and 1970s, I will although I was confining myself to the 1980s and 1990s. As I said, in many cases Labour subverted the powers and responsibilities of teachers, undermined parents and refused the police access to schools when it was in control of too many local authorities.
Mr. Ivan Lewis:
In the context of a debate about rights and responsibilities, does the hon. Gentleman accept
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1436
that 18 years of unbroken rule gives any political party the opportunity to transform a generation? Many of the social problems that we now deal with are not exclusively the responsibility of the Tory party, but for him to describe the 1980s and 1990s as being affected largely by Labour policywhen his party were in government for 18 yearsis somewhat galling.
Mr. Turner: The Minister started listening only halfway through my sentence. I was not describing the consequences of Conservative Government, but of Labour policy as implemented through local education authorities which had unbridled control of education up until 1986. In the 1980s, the Government did not attempt to remove power from local education authorities and Labour exercised power in far too many of them. Several Labour LEAs undermined heads, undermined teachers and prevented the police from entering schools. That is what Labour sowed: it is now reaping the whirlwind. The Labour Govt are trying to do something about it, but it is late for them to do so.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I consider myself very lucky in the context of education because I represent a constituency that forms part of the London borough of Havering, along with my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer). The local education authority is excellent and it has a co-operative and cordial relationship with its schools and head teachers. It devolves the maximum amount of funding from the centre to the schools, putting its trust in the schools to manage themselves successfullyand they do. Discipline is not a huge problem in Havering, although, as in most constituencies, a tiny minority of pupils cause problems.
From personal experience of serving on appeals panels on Essex county council and the education committee of the London borough of Havering, I know that, almost without exception, head teachers use exclusion as absolutely the last resort. It is the ultimate disciplinary measure after they have exhausted every other means available in the school. After listening carefully to the case made by the education authority and the head teacher and, often, to submissions from parents and even grandparents, I always supported the head teacher, because I understood that they had reached the point of desperationwhere the welfare of the majority of pupils and staff had to transcend the rights and welfare of the difficult pupil. In almost every case, the head teacher felt that to reach that point was an admission of defeat.
I can recall only one occasion when I upheld an appeal. It involved a child in a special school who had been violent to another pupil and had a history of being difficult. After listening to the parents and grandparents who put his case, I weakened and allowed the appeal. Now, I think of it as weakening, although I did not at the time. I regretted it bitterly afterwards when I realised
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1437
that I had let down the school, whose staff had tried so hard, in every way possible, to adapt the child's behaviour, but had failed.
Most schools in Havering and throughout the country have well-developed pastoral units, with teachers who have special responsibility for difficult pupils. They bend over backwards to make alternative arrangements for children who find it difficult, or sometimes impossible, to accept discipline and to conform at school and in the classroom. Schools make special arrangements for such pupils, providing separate lessons. The school council is often brought in to try to understand why a pupil cannot conform and to try to find a way through their difficulties. Even the primary schools in my constituency have school councils and I am impressed by the way they handle the disciplinary, emotional and bullying problems of other pupils. Thus even at primary level, children are learning co-operation. They learn how to listen to somebody else's argument and how to put their thoughts into words. They are gaining meeting skills.
Those developments are recent, but they will feed through. When those children reach secondary school, their experience of school councils in primary school will be of enormous benefit in approaching difficult children who are unable to conform, accept authority, do as they are told and benefit from the education that is offered them.
I am a governor at two secondary schools in Havering, which have a genuine comprehensive intake. One is a mixed comprehensive, Gaynes school language college, which achieved specialist school status on the third attempt; the other is the Sacred Heart of Mary girls' school, which is a denominational school. Both have their fair share of special needs pupils and are highly successful.
Such success stems largely from a dedicated and inspirational head teacher, who in turn inspires everybody else in the schoolnot just the other teachers, but everybody from the school caretaker to the teaching assistants and ancillary staff. The whole school family is inspired and, through the example of the head teacher, takes on their commitment.
I visit all the schools in my constituency regularly. In addition to the head teacher and the staff, parents have the greatest single influence on the success of a school. High parental involvementnot just from parents who turn up to parents' night, but from those who belong to the parent teachers association and help in all sorts of ways with the running of the schoolhas an extremely beneficial effect on the life of the school. The children benefit from knowing that their parents are in and out of school, taking a close interest, making sure that they do their homework and helping them with research, on school trips and in many other ways. School becomes a part of the child's life and is not a separate element; it is part of family life and is discussed at home.
Where exclusion is resorted to, it is the last resort, and I support our policy of allowing head teachers to have the final decision. Such decisions are not taken lightly and head teachers look on exclusion as a failure. It is the last resort when everything else has failed. They come to the point where they have to take into account the welfare of their staff and the other pupils. A disruptive pupil in the classroom prevents other pupils from
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1438
benefiting from their lessons and from the teaching and learning process. When head teachers resort to exclusion, the Government should support them in that decision.
Even at the point of exclusion, parents often do not accept that their child has any faults. They defend their child's bad behaviour to the last, but they do not benefit the child by doing so. When such children deny their bad behaviour, they can never learn to overcome it; they must be helped to take responsibility for their behaviour. In reception classes, I have heard parents say to their children, on their first day at school, "Don't you let them tell you what to do". Those are exceptional circumstances, but such behaviour can start when a child who is knee-high is warned that they do not have to accept authoritythey do not have to do as they are told, sit when they are asked to sit or do as the other children are doing. That is an enormous challenge for a teacher trying to establish a routine with a classroom of new pupils. It needs only one child who has been told that they do not have to conform to double the work load of a reception teacher.
I had some reservations when the Minister for School Standards said that he would help schools to co-operate in accepting excluded pupils. That statement is open to interpretation, but it is quite wrong to force schools to accept excluded pupils if a head teacher feels that it is not to the benefit of the life of the school and its pupils.
Once pupils have been excluded, it is essential that they immediately have full-time alternative provision. My hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) referred to time lapses of about five months before alternative provision was made available for some pupils. Such children need full-time supervision and education that is appropriate to their needs. If they are no longer able to benefit from full-time mainstream education, they need full-time alternative provision.
There are all sorts of ways to make such provision, but pupil referral units, which currently cater for only a limited number of pupils, need to be extended. Whether or not we call them turnaround schools, they should provide a flexible curriculum so that children who may not be academically able or who cannot engage with the academic curriculum have alternativesthey could take practical subjects, as well as learning the basic essential skills of reading, writing and numeracy. They would then be able to take their place in the adult world and be fit for employment. They also need tough discipline. Such courses should not be regarded as a reward for bad behaviour. If those units provide courses which students regard as more exciting, such as electronics, plumbing, bricklaying and other practical subjects, they appear to offer a reward for behaving badly in mainstream education. A sensitive approach is therefore needed.
My local college of further and higher education caters for secondary school pupils, who go there one or two days a week to take courses such as plumbing. However, supervision is required. If students have been unable to conform in mainstream education, they often lack the personal discipline to adapt to a college environment, where there is less discipline than at school. They must be far more motivatedif they play truant in mainstream education they are equally likely to do so in college, but it is less likely to be picked up. I recently visited a school where a large group of such
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1439
pupils went to their local college of further and higher education to take advantage of the scheme. Because the group was sizable, the school made a teacher available to escort them and stay with them. However, when individual children go to college, they do so unsupervised, so it is not certain that they will arrive or have the independent skills to move around a large building with a large community and take full advantage of the course that they are supposed to be taking. If parents were willing to help with supervision and ensure that students arrived and participated in the allocated course, that would overcome some of those problems.
The problem of truancy arises from lack of engagement with the curriculum and is part of the spectrum of the discipline. It comes in various shapes and forms. In the primary sector, for example, it is largely condoned by parents. A certain number of pupils in that age group play truant without their parents' knowledge, but are much more likely to do so with parental consent. Some of them play truant on odd days when their parents want to go shopping or visit someone. Others complain about minor ailments, and it is much easier for parents to say, "All right, you can take the day off" than to persuade them to go to school. One of my children had what is euphemistically called school tummy-ache or abdominal migraine every single day in infant school. She hated going to school, and she cried and had a temperature every single day. I dreaded the day that she went to junior school, because I thought that things would get much worse. However, the problem miraculously disappeared. We never identified the causeit is often difficult to get to the root of why children find going to school difficult, but it is certainly one of the causes of truancy, particularly in primary schoolchildren.
Secondary schoolchildren engage in internal or selective truancy. They absent themselves from certain lessons, or they register for a lesson but then disappear. Because they have more independence to circulate round the building, it is more difficult to keep tabs on them, so there are greater opportunities for truancy, either for part of a day or for a particular lesson. Prolonged truancy results when children are school-phobic and refuse to attend for long periods. They have emotional problems, and the school, the education authority and perhaps even the medical profession must work together to try to overcome them and prevent those children from missing great chunks of their education. When they take exams, we do not want them to have such a gap in their coursework that their chances of success are greatly reduced.
Teachers accused of common assault or sexual assault on pupils should be granted anonymity. There is a fatal flaw in the Government's proposals to speed up the process of investigation, as it gives no protection at all to the teacher. Once their name is in the public domain, even if the investigation takes only a month, that is enough to ruin their reputation. It is therefore important to protect them at least until they are charged. I say so advisedly because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) ably explained, if a teacher is found not guilty when a charge is made and a case goes to court, that does them no good. Their reputation is in
13 Dec 2004 : Column 1440
tatters, and their sense of injustice when waiting for their case to come to court is sometimes sufficient for them to become so depressed and demotivated that they leave the teaching profession altogether.
One of my friends was an experienced teacher of many years' standing when he was accused by a child of sexual assault. The accusation turned out to be malicious, but the case took two years to come to court. During that period, my friend was suspended and lost not only his reputation, but his income and home. When the case came to court, he was found not guilty, but that did him absolutely no good. It was a further two years before the education authority decided that he was a fit person to go back on the list of supply teachers. He started to apply for jobs, but every time that he got work as a supply teacher, after a few weeks, once he had settled in and the head teacher was extremely pleased with the job that he was doing and the relationship that he had formed with the children, the whispering would start at the school gates. Someone would say, "That's the teacher who was accused of assault, and there's no smoke without fire." The head teacher would therefore have to ask him to leave, even though he was innocent of any offence.
After several attempts at working as a supply teacher, my friend decided that it was impossible to continue, so he is now lost to the teaching profession. He was also a lifelong foster parent, and had given many decades of service to the scouting movement. He was therefore lost not only to the teaching profession but to the scouting movement and to fostering. Everything that happened resulted from the accusations of a child who was dropped from the football team for misbehaviour. Some children know which trigger words to use. The word "abuse", for example, starts an investigation and triggers a teacher's suspension. The child may not realise the long-term implications of their action, but once that path has been embarked on, things must run their course. The teacher is the victim, so it is essential that we give as much protection as possible to teachers. We must allow for the possibility that occasionally accusations are genuine, but a high proportion of them are false allegations, so we must give maximum protection to the teaching profession.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|