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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 10:15 GMT 11:15 UK
Crackdown on truants
Teachers say pupils' behaviour is often too aggressive
Intensive truancy sweeps are to be introduced in problem areas across England, as the government urges education officers and the police to get tough with disruptive young people.

The month-long drives aim to pick up truanting pupils in the 33 worst performing local education authorities.

Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris: Keen to be seen to be responding to teachers' concerns
Funds will also be made available to introduce electronic registration systems in some secondary schools so that pupils can be tracked throughout the school day.

And schools which need learning support units - where disruptive pupils receive specialist help - will be given the money to set them up.

The measures - costing 66m - are part of the 87m pledged by Chancellor Gordon Brown in last week's Budget to tackle poor discipline in schools.

That money was not "new" - but drawn from cash the Department for Education did not spend in the financial year just ended.

Behaviour forum

Details will be outlined by Education Secretary Estelle Morris during a behaviour and discipline forum at the department on Thursday.

The forum was organised in the wake of complaints from teachers' unions over pupil behaviour.

"If children are not in school they won't learn, and if, when they are in school they're really badly behaved, they don't only ruin their chances, but they ruin the learning chances of everybody in their class," Ms Morris told the BBC.

The minister dismissed the idea of bringing back corporal punishment.

"What I do believe in is ordered schools where children know what the rules are and they know the consequences if they break the rules," she said.

'Reformed' pupils invited

Pupils who have "reformed" their disruptive ways are among those invited to the behaviour summit to discuss ways of tackling discipline problems.

Charlotte Fox, 16, from Theale Green Community School in Berkshire, is one of those taking part in the forum.

Charlotte Fox
Charlotte Fox: "It was good to talk one-to-one"
She said that, but for a learning support unit, she would have been expelled from school.

"It was just good to come here and talk," she said.

"It just wasn't built up in a lesson - I was just able to talk one-to-one and it didn't seem to matter anymore.

"I used to think it was really awful... but, thinking about it in the long-term, it's done me a lot of good," she said.

"Success story" youngsters like Charlotte joined head teachers, teachers, parents, mentors, representatives from the police and health care professionals, including school nurses, at the forum.

They were debating issues such as what counts as bad behaviour in 2002, the role of the teacher, parents and government.

Quick action

After poor pupil behaviour proved a hotly-debated issue over the union conference season at Easter, the government is keen to be seen to be introducing measures that make an immediate impact - not in several months' time.

These measures will hopefully make a contribution towards combating this deep-seated problem

Eamonn O'Kane, NASUWT
"This is a quick cash injection to start to tackle the problem now - not next year," a department spokeswoman said.

"This forum is bringing together the people who're going to make that happen."

Plans to extend parenting orders to the parents of disruptive children previously are due to come into force in September.

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of NASUWT teachers' union, said misbehaviour was one of the biggest disincentives either to entering, or remaining in, teaching.

Support from society

"These measures will hopefully make a contribution towards combating this deep-seated problem which ultimately will only be solved if teachers are given the unstinting support of government, parents, pupils and society in general," he said.

David Hart, general secretary National Association of Head Teachers, said: "If schools can tackle bad behaviour before this leads to truancy and exclusion, it will make a major difference to the lives of their fellow pupils and to their teachers."

But Mr Hart said the measures should not be a quick fix that benefited only a small minority of schools in crime hot-spot areas and deprived communities.

"Many heads, outside the targeted primary and secondary schools, will rightly expect this to be a "down payment" on the forthcoming comprehensive spending review money."

The BBC's James Westhead
"The crackdown will include intensive sweeps by police to pick up truants in high crime areas"
Education Secretary Estelle Morris
"What we are concentrating on is the whole bad behaviour area"
See also:

22 Nov 01 | Education
Truancy rates rise
18 Apr 02 | Education
Unspent funds tackle unruly pupils
20 Mar 02 | Education
One-a-day violence against teachers
26 Mar 02 | Education
Daily abuse teachers are facing
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