Education Bill

Memorandum submitted by Sir Alan Steer (E 16)

The Education Bill consists mainly of adjustments to previous enactments. This process of modification, addition and deletion contains little that is completely new and this is true with regard to the measures relating to behaviour and discipline. Other proposed changes which might appear to be outside this area are likely to have a profound impact on behaviour and discipline standards in our schools. Overall I find it difficult to foresee the likely effect of the Education Bill and this will be reflected in my comments.


1. Power of members of staff at schools to search pupils. In my view it is right that designated teachers and other staff should have the powers to act in the manner of a reasonable parent. In 2005 the Practitioners’ Group was advised that a general power of search as envisaged in the Bill would create legal problems. For this reason the 2006 Act gave the power of search for specific items only. If the legal opinion has now changed I am happy to support the extension of the power of search. I also support the specific powers relating to electronic devices. The problems involved in the misuse of mobile phones have grown in recent years and the damage caused to children and adults needs to be recognised.

2. Exclusion of pupils: review panels. I argued strongly against the previously stated intention to abolish independent appeals panels. Together with the headteacher associations, I believed that abolition was a denial of the right of a citizen to appeal against a decision of the state and that it would have unfortunate consequences for schools as there would be a rise in litigation on behalf of parents. I am pleased that it has been decided to retain an external body to review the decision by a school to exclude a child.

3. Repeal of the requirement to give notice of a detention to the parent of the child. I do not support this proposal which I regard as being foolish and counter productive to the pursuit of high standards. In the time that I worked as a government adviser on discipline and during my 23 year service as a headteacher, I cannot recall anyone identifying the requirement to give notice of a detention as being a problem to them. Schools with high standards of discipline and behaviour understand the necessity of behaving well themselves in their practices and in showing respect to parents and pupils. Alienating parents by behaving discourteously towards them will undermine the school-parent relationship. I suspect that the great majority of schools will share my opinion and ignore this change in requirements.

4. Repeal of the duty to enter into behaviour and attendance partnerships. I regard the repeal of this duty as being a major error. While I strongly support school autonomy, it is my belief that the exercise of autonomy has to be placed within a context if the needs of society are to be met. Schools operating without a sense of responsibility to other schools, or the needs of the wider community can become destructive forces, denying parental rights and damaging the education of children. Behaviour and Attendance partnerships were still in an early stage of development and needed the framework enacted in order to progress. Partnership working offers schools opportunities to jointly employ specialist staff and to share training expertise without adversely restricting individual school autonomy. This is particularly important in the case of small secondary schools and primary schools. By encouraging schools to set rules for partnership working it could be hoped to avoid the situation in which a school in an area was forced to admit an undue number of challenging children, thus creating a difficult climate for establishing good behaviour standards.

In the White Paper it was suggested that in future schools might be held responsible for the provision and future outcomes of the children they exclude. I support this idea and hope that after careful consideration it will be implemented. If that does happen it will be essential that schools work in partnership with their neighbours as individual schools would find it very difficult to deal with such situations on their own. There are already a number of schools in different parts of the country who are dealing very successfully with excluded pupils. To my knowledge they are all working in partnership with other school and agencies.

5. Admissions. The issue of school admissions closely relates to the establishment of good standards of behaviour and discipline. I was very pleased to note the commitment of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Education to reducing the gap in achievement between children of differing social groups. I had understood that there was a similar commitment to maintaining the Code for Admissions.

I am disappointed to note in the Bill that the role of the school adjudicator has been significantly weakened in respect of admissions for academies. As the number of academies rise there is an increased likelihood of bad practice taking place which is detrimental to the interests of children and a denial of the rights of parents. Where this has occurred in the past there has been an increase in behaviour problems at other local schools and an alienation of parents from the school system. Most school leaders behave honourably and in accordance with the Admissions Code. Some do not and in a culture of high accountability it is naive to assume that poor practice will not increase.

6. Other comments. The knowledge of how to maintain high standards of behaviour in schools already exists as do the measures necessary to support teachers in their work. What is needed is to disseminate that knowledge and remind teachers repeatedly of the powers they possess. I would urge the DfE to work closely with the teacher professional associations and to identify a strategy which covers a lengthy period.

I also look forward to the Green Paper on Special Educational Needs. It would be extremely helpful to identify practical and effective measures that would make a reality of the general commitment to early intervention for children experiencing difficulties. This would require an examination of how resources could be targeted to meet the identified need.

February 2011