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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I am certainly sympathetic to the hon. Lady's case, and most members of the Education and Skills Committee agree that, when things go wrong, they go very wrong indeed and destroy people's lives. However, are there not mechanisms in place to address the problem without the need for legislation? The Conservative party constantly says that there is too much legislation and red tape, but under its proposals we would end up with much more red tape. A better resolution of the problem is possible without legislation.
If only it could be resolved. We hear about more and more cases in which teachers are subject to false allegations. They lose their reputation and are subsequently lost to the teaching profession, so we must protect them from publicity. There is legislation to protect the child. We must balance that by giving equal protection to teachers. I have reservations about maintaining anonymity up to the point at which the
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teacher is charged. I wonder whether that is enough. I ask hon. Members to give that serious consideration, in the interests of natural justice.
Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): The debate has been interesting and well informed, although it is disappointing that, given the importance that head teachers, teachers, parents, governors and pupils place on school discipline, only one Labour Back Bencher spoke in the debate, whereas there were three contributions from the Conservative Benches. Those who read the debate carefully will question the emphasis placed on school discipline by Labour Members. I know that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and other members of the Select Committee were meeting this afternoon to discuss "Every Child Matters", so that accounts for the absence of some Labour Members, but not all.
Mr. Sheerman: This is the second time that an Opposition Day debate has taken place when the Select Committee was meeting. On the first occasion we postponed our meeting, but today we could not. All the inspectors attended and the meeting took a long time to arrange. If the general public were watching the debate on television, they would see that very few hon. Members were present. As this is an Opposition Day, I should have thought that the Conservative Benches ought to be rather fuller than they are.
The subject is important and I shall deal with some of the points made in the debate. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg), spoke about the Government's plan to share the misery among schools by requiring them to take pupils who have been excluded from other schools. In response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), the Minister provided a gloss that we were not aware of when he said that that referred only to pupils coming out of pupil referral units. In his speech on 18 November, the Secretary of State made no reference to pupils who have come out of pupil referral units. He spoke about in-year admissions being a headache for head teachers and the guidance that should be created. He also saidthis demonstrates his method of intervening in the matterthat
That reflects the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight that it is not just about pupils who have been excluded from schools. It is about imposing on schools a system of managed moves.
The hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), who spoke on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, supported the concept of anonymity up to the point of being charged for teachers who face allegations. However, for some pupils, best practice in our schools is not enough. There are some pupils who will not respond to the
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strategies that are in place. For those pupils, we need turnaround schools to help modify their behaviour and raise their attainment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells made a thoughtful speech that captured some of the complexities of school discipline and behaviour. He mentioned a school in his constituency where, in order to turn the school around, the head teacher had to expel more pupils. That caused problems but eventually led to an improvement in standards in the school. We need to recognise that the enforcement of rules and discipline is an important part of raising standards in schools that suffer the most. It is not only areas of deprivation that are affected. From talking to head teachers in schools that might be described as being in good areas, I have noticed that they too, at both primary and secondary level, identify problems of behaviour as a growing issue in their schools.
My hon. Friend made a point that reinforces our plan for 24,000 places in our turnaround schools. He spoke about a delay of four or five months in placing a child who has been excluded in alternative provision. Such a delay is unacceptable. What happens to those children until they are in alternative provision? Are they roaming the streets? Are they being given a proper education? They are outside schools and pupil referral units for too long. Our plans to introduce turnaround schools will close that gap, so that children who are excluded can go quickly into alternative provision that will tackle the causes of their poor behaviour.
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, who speaks with great experience of these matters, having been a teacher and involved in education for a number of years, highlighted the issue of suspension from schools. From speaking to the leaders of teachers unions, it is clear that many were concerned about the lack of support for heads and teachers who are suspended. At times, a decision to suspend a teacher is made quickly, without considering the circumstances, leaving the teacher vulnerable and isolated. As part of any package to protect our teachers, we need to examine the rules surrounding suspension, to give them the support that they need.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) spoke from experience based on her involvement in education and local government. She was right to say, as did other hon. Members on both sides of the House, that exclusion was a last resort. But she also made a point that is often missing from our debates about school discipline about the vital role that parents play in supporting schools. Too often parents undermine the discipline and rules that are in place in our schools. I talk to head teachers who have spent a disproportionate time trying to deal with parents who question the rules.
We know from our constituency case work and from the statistics that have been quoted throughout the debate that school discipline is a huge problem. A survey of National Union of Teachers members showed that they thought that the highest barrier to effective teaching was effective discipline in our schools. In his
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opening remarks, the Minister painted a rosy picture, saying that things were getting better. He quoted examples of surveys of the views of head teachers and teachers, yet in a recent survey of public opinion, 72 per cent. of respondents thought that discipline in schools had worsened in recent years. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers believes that the number of assaults is on the increase and that attacks on its members increased fivefold between 1998 and 2002.
We know also that where there is poor discipline in our schools, it has a corrosive effect on the morale of our teachers. In a survey carried out last year, a third of teachers who thought they would leave the profession within the next five years cited poor behaviour as the cause. Poor behaviour affects not just the morale of teachers, but children who cannot learn because of the actions of one disruptive pupil in a class and the life chances of the child who cannot behave.
It is clear that we need to take action to improve discipline in our schools. We have set out three ways to tackle the issue. The first is to restore authority to teachers. As has been reflected in the comments of hon. Members during the debate, schools work well where there is a clear set of rules and guidelines that are enforced. I visited a school this summer that had come out of special measures and spoke to pupils about what had changed in that school. They said that rules that were in place before but not enforced were now being enforced. That was the major factor that they saw as having changed the nature of the school and enabled them to learn.
We need to go one stage further. We need to go beyond the statement of clear expectations to which the Secretary of State referred in his speech of 18 November and have a binding contract between schools, parents and pupils, setting out the clear standards of behaviour that are expected. We should also give head teachers the authority that they need to implement that contract, so that if the rules are breached, it can be a factor in deciding to exclude pupils from school. If parents have signed that binding contract, they should recognise that it is their responsibility not to undermine those rules but support them, both in implementation at school and in the home, so that there is a cycle of virtuous behaviour in school and at home.
We also believe that, if we are to restore authority to teachers we need to scrap the independent appeals panels. Too often they second-guess the decisions of head teachers. Head teachers spend long periods trying to ensure that they have dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's so that an independent appeals panel cannot overturn their decision. It is a lengthy process that harms the morale of the staff who have to teach the pupil to be expelled, diverts senior management time away from their core task of leading the teaching and learning in the school and forces pupils who want to learn to put up with a child who sets out to disrupt every lesson. Scrapping the independent appeals panels would give head teachers control over discipline and the power to enforce the home-school contracts that are in the interests of all our schools.
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We also need to ensure that proper provision is in place. The Ofsted report published last week on out-of-school education demonstrated that children are being failed by the current system. The report states:
We cannot allow that to continue. We have talked about the link between exclusion and crime. Part of the reason for that link is that there is insufficient effort in pupil referral units on changing the behaviour of those children to encourage positive behaviour and break that link. We want children at pupil referral units to be expected to be there all the time. The Government say that every child should have 25 hours of education a week in pupil referral units, but the sad fact is that about half the children receive less than 20 hours a week and those children are being failed. There is no requirement on pupil referral units to publish their attendance figures. No data are collected on whether children are attending them. That needs to change. Our turnaround schools will ensure that attendance is monitored. They will ensure that children receive the education that they deserve. They will ensure that there is a real emphasis on attainment, that children will be entered for exams and that the units will be accountable if the children do not achieve. Turnaround schools are not a dead end but a revolving door. They are there to try to change behaviour and, where that improves, pupils will be given a certificate to enable them to be reintegrated in mainstream schools. For them, there is a real chance to succeed.
The other aspect of proper provision that we need to think about is that a child with special educational needs is four times more likely to be excluded from school than a child without such needs. It is clear from talking to organisations such as the human rights action centre on education and the independent panel for special education advice that they see a real problem in many of our schools, where the needs of children with special educational needs are not being met. Whether with regard to behavioural issues or conditions such as dyslexia or speech and language difficulties, often the children's needs are unmet. We need to ensure that the right specialist provision is in place and that requires special schools that offer such support to remain open, rather than being closed, as happens now. If we are to meet special educational needs, we need to ensure that there is good-quality provision.
During the past seven years, the Government have talked tough on discipline. They have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on trying to crack down on truancy and bad behaviour. They have introduced exclusions targets that they had to drop because they added to the disruption in our schools. Truancy targets have not been met. That sums up their policies during the past seven years and it sums up the failure at the heart of the Government: empty promises, poor value for money and meaningless targets.
It is clear to Opposition Members that school discipline is a vital issue for all those involved in education. Without school discipline, we cannot raise educational opportunity. Without school discipline, few can learn. Without school discipline, highly qualified, well-motivated staff will quit the profession. At the next
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general election, the people of this country will know that only one party is committed to school discipline and that is the Conservative party.
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