Behaviour and Discipline in Schools - Education Committee Contents

5  Equipping teachers with the skills and tools to manage behaviour: new powers

63. The Government published a Written Ministerial Statement on 7 July 2010, announcing new measures to tackle behaviour and discipline in schools. These proposals were fleshed out in the White Paper The Importance of Teaching; some will require legislation. We consider some of the main proposals.

Powers of search and restraint

64. The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 introduced a power for members of staff to search pupils for knives, offensive weapons, alcohol, controlled drugs and stolen articles. The Schools White Paper proposes to extend that search power to include pornography, tobacco, and fireworks. The White Paper includes a commitment to "legislate through the forthcoming Education Bill to give teachers a more general power to search for any item which they reasonably believe is going to be used to cause harm to others or to break a law so that, for example, teachers can search for items such as phones or cameras which they believe are going to be used in this way".[121]

65. The Children's Rights Alliance for England argued that the extended powers "constitute a significant intrusion into children's privacy, which must be shown to be necessary and proportionate in order to be lawful"; and it claimed that legal advice given to Sir Alan Steer questioned the legality of any general power to search.[122] Several memoranda[123] argued that the extension of the power to search would make teachers uncomfortable or could put them at risk and inflame difficult situations. However, Mr John Bangs, until recently Head of Education at the NUT, welcomed the expansion of categories of item for which pupils can be searched, stating that "allowing pupils to be searched for weapons, drugs or stolen goods but not, for example, for an irritating and concealed electrical device, represented an arbitrary distinction".[124] Evidence from the Teacher Support Network also highlights the findings of the Network's 2010 Behaviour Survey, which found that

the majority of teachers who responded said that the expanded set of search powers, announced by the Department, would be important or essential in improving behaviour in their current or most recent school. 69% of teachers who responded to the 2010 Behaviour Survey regarded powers 'for teachers to search pupils for stolen property and any other item which could cause disorder or pose a threat' as important or essential for the future. However, a greater majority said that 'additional training for teachers on challenging behaviour and using restraint and search powers' would be important or essential.[125]

66. Daisy Christodoulou, an Ambassador for Teach First, highlighted the importance of new powers as 'deterrents', explaining that "it's not particularly that I want to search a pupil's bag, but if there is a law and the school has the power to do so, it sends a message. That's what I like about it. That message does get through to kids, and it makes them think".[126] Other teacher representatives expressed similar views,[127] although the National Union of Teachers called for an "unequivocal statement from Government that if teachers use their powers to search pupils or their rights regarding physical restraint there will be no unforeseen consequences arising from their actions [...] Many are currently not confident that if they take such action they will be supported by senior leadership teams, parents or the local authority should an inquiry be conducted".[128]

67. With regard to the Government's proposals to improve guidance regarding teachers' use of force or physical restraint, it was put to us that existing guidance was already adequate. Ofsted told us that "the guidance on teachers' disciplinary powers appears to be clear and Ofsted has no evidence to suggest that schools do not understand these powers or that they need to be extended". It did, however, acknowledge that "it may be useful to schools to have these [powers] reiterated in succinct guidance"[129]—which is precisely what was proposed in the Schools White Paper.[130] Mr Bangs added that teachers may benefit from greater training in how to restrain, commenting that "the availability of good training is again patchy and needs fundamental improvement in availability. Teachers, themselves, need to be asked whether or not they feel they would benefit from such training".[131]

68. We support proposals in the Schools White Paper to extend powers relating to search and to clarify powers of restraint, in the interests of supporting teachers' authority in managing behaviour. Guidance on use of powers to restrain should include specific advice on restraining pupils with Special Educational Needs or disabilities in the interests of protecting both pupils' and teachers' safety. School staff will only feel confident in using their powers if they are regularly trained and if they sense that they have the full support of school leaders in their use.

69. A separate point on pupil restraint was raised by Treehouse, a national charity for autism education. Treehouse expressed "serious concerns" should the requirement to record and inform parents about incidents when force has been used on their children be removed, explaining that

As autism is a disability affecting communication, many children and young people will not be able to inform their parents if force has been used on them. Communication difficulties may also mean that children with autism do not know what 'appropriate force' is, or why they are being disciplined. It is therefore vital that schools keep parents informed about incidences when force has been used to ensure that these practices are transparent and accountable.[132]

It is unclear from the White Paper whether the requirement for schools to record incidents will be removed. As it stands, the White Paper states that "we will give schools greater discretion to decide on the most appropriate approach to monitoring the exercise of these powers".[133] We believe that the requirement to inform parents of incidents when powers of restraint have been used on their children is in the interests of building trusting relationships between schools and parents.

Abolition of 24 hour notice of detention

70. Many of our witnesses were wary of the Government's proposals to abolish the requirement for schools to give 24 hours' notice of detention outside school hours. Their concerns were summed up by the Association of School and College Leaders:

For after school detentions there are a number of practical considerations to take into account. Firstly there is the safeguarding for the child; is it appropriate to delay a 12 or 13 year old on a dark evening to then potentially travel home alone without having warned the parents (who may not be able to collect the child)? For many schools there are transport issues where students travel to school by coach and parents would need to make arrangements to collect their child after the detention. The 24 hour gap also gives a "cooling off" period for the teacher who may have made a hasty decision. The school will also need to consider the relationship with the parents/guardians and a lack of prior notice, even if supported by statute, is likely to irritate them. For these reasons we can see a large number of schools not making use of this provision.[134]

71. The impact of removing the notice for detentions on school-parent relations was raised by several witnesses as being potentially extremely damaging, with Sir Alan Steer commenting that "it is disrespectful. You do not teach good behaviour by behaving badly".[135] However, the National Union of Teachers welcomed the proposed new flexibility, "with the caveat that sensitivity regarding no notice detentions, where such action could make a child vulnerable, is retained and schools themselves are trusted to make such judgements".[136] This concurs with the Schools Minister's stance that "this isn't a prescriptive policy [...] This is a permissive power that says that if you do not wish to give 24 hours, as a school, you do not have to. Schools are public bodies and as a public body they have to behave reasonably, so I don't believe that any school would—well, any school would simply not be permitted to—act unreasonably in giving a detention".[137]

72. We acknowledge proposals in the Schools White Paper to legislate to abolish the requirement for schools to give parents 24 hours' notice of detentions outside school hours, and trust that schools will make sensible and appropriate use of these powers. Schools must be particularly sensitive to the needs of young carers and those with transport difficulties.

Independent Appeal Panels for school exclusions

73. At present, there is a two-stage appeal process against permanent exclusions, firstly to the governing body and secondly to an independent appeals panel. The Conservative Party announced in an April 2008 Working Paper on behaviour and schools that it would, if it came to power, end the right to appeal to an independent panel against permanent exclusion.[138] The Conservative Manifesto for the 2010 Election appeared to confirm this policy, saying that "we believe heads are best placed to improve behaviour, which is why we will stop them being overruled by bureaucrats on exclusions".[139]

74. Our evidence showed very strong support for retaining Independent Appeal Panels. However, there were mixed views as to whether Panels should retain the right to re-admit excluded pupils. On the one hand, NASUWT asserted that "independent appeals panels should not direct the reinstatement of a pupil where the disciplinary process has been carried out without any procedural irregularities of a kind that might have affected the fairness of the procedure".[140] On the other, head teacher Charlie Taylor told us, "having sat in a former life as an LEA representative on those panels, the decisions that actually did get turned over made me think, 'Damn right', because the school had run the show appallingly, had failed to follow procedures and things hadn't been done right."[141]

75. The Schools White Paper proposes reforms to the exclusions appeals process whereby Independent Panels would be retained but would lose their powers to reinstate pupils. If Panels were to judge that there were flaws in the exclusion process, they could request that governors reconsider their decision, and schools might be required to contribute towards the cost of additional support for the excluded pupil. Schools would not be forced to re-admit pupils who they had excluded.[142]

76. We support the retention of Independent Appeal Panels for exclusions. The new proposals for their functioning as outlined in the Schools White Paper will need to be monitored and evaluated to assess whether they strike the right balance in the interests of schools, pupils and their parents and carers when exclusion occurs. We do not believe that schools should be able to abdicate all responsibility for disruptive children. However, it is important that school governing bodies are equipped with the right knowledge and expertise in order to arrive at fair judgments. While the focus should be on justice and reasonableness, governing bodies do also need to be familiar with training on exclusions protocols, which should form part of the training for governors that we endorse in paragraph 62 of our Report.

121   The Importance of Teaching, para 3.10 Back

122   Ev w138 Back

123   e.g. Ev w142 [Southampton Psychology Service]; Ev 129 [Voice]  Back

124   Ev w3 Back

125   Ev w119 Back

126   Q 249 Back

127   e.g. Q 130  Back

128   Ev 117 Back

129   Ev w161 Back

130   The Importance of Teaching, para 3.9 Back

131   Ev w3 Back

132   Ev w94 Back

133   The Importance of Teaching, para 3.9 Back

134   Ev 141 Back

135   Q 78 Back

136   Ev 117 Back

137   Q 263 Back

138   Giving Power Back to Teachers, Conservative Party Working Paper, April 2008  Back

139   Invitation to join the Government of Britain, Conservative Manifesto 2010, p 51 Back

140   Ev 125 Back

141   Q 131 Back

142   The Importance of Teaching, para 3.29 Back

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