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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 July, 2005, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Blair seeks to curb barred pupils
youth in street
Tony Blair does not want suspended pupils on the streets
The prime minister is suggesting parents should be forced to give up work to supervise their children if they are suspended from school.

He thinks there is no point excluding for bad behaviour if the youngsters simply go and cause trouble in local shopping centres.

He is asking the newly-formed behaviour task force of head teachers to consider how to tackle this problem.

But others have said his idea might cause more problems than it solves.

'Crucial sanction'

The taskforce was formed in May under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Steer, head of Seven Kings High School in Ilford, Essex.

Should we legally require suspended students to stay at home, accompanied by a parent, rather than allowing them freely to cause a nuisance ... ?
Tony Blair
It was asked to advise on "strategies to ensure effective school discipline, improve parental responsibility for their children's behaviour and deliver a culture of respect in all schools".

In a letter to Sir Alan, Tony Blair notes there are now 344,000 suspensions a year involving 200,000 individual pupils, on average for four days.

Suspension is, he says, "a crucial sanction for head teachers" - but needs to be seen as a punishment.

"Should we legally require suspended students to stay at home, accompanied by a parent, rather than allowing them freely to cause a nuisance on the streets or in shopping centres?"

Drawbacks

He also wonders if there might be a greater role for pupil referral units, which mostly cater for children on longer-term exclusions and whether children who are suspended should be made to do community service.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly told the Today programme on BBC Radio Four some parents needed to be forced to take their responsibilities seriously.

"It might be that the head and the local authority think that family and that parent needs particular support perhaps in managing the behaviour of their children and that they're having difficulty in the home as well as at school, because often the two things are linked," she said.

"Now in that situation, of course we'd be prepared to help and that's what parenting contracts are for and parenting classes.

"But there are other cases where parents just don't take their responsibilities seriously where quite honestly we're just not prepared to stand by and see that happen."

It's all very well saying parents should be taking time off work - I'm not sure their employers would be too delighted about that
Education solicitor Julia Thomas

Education solicitor Julia Thomas of The Children's Legal Centre charity, thought the proposals "ill-conceived".

"It's all very well saying parents should be taking time off work - I'm not sure their employers would be too delighted about that," she said.

If the parents lost their jobs and were forced onto benefits, it was hard to see what was being gained.

Onus on schools

Pupil referral units tended to be full already, Ms Thomas said.

Likewise, community service order teams were overstretched and anyway were not an instant solution.

When courts used them, they usually required an assessment first to see what the young person was suitable to do, and that took time to prepare.

"It's not a case of we take them and stick them in someone's garden to do some work."

Ms Thomas agreed there was a gap in the system.

For fixed-term exclusions, schools were supposed to provide work for children to do at home, but often this was inadequate or unsuitable.

She felt schools should be required to have a policy on how they would provide for pupils they suspended.

Out of control

The general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, John Dunford, said a clear list of parental responsibilities was needed.

Schools were not in a position to supervise suspended pupils - but he would see a problem with forcing parents to do it.

Very often such were not under the control of their parents.

"Pupils are disruptive in schools for many different reasons and one of the reasons can be the problems they are experiencing at home, and we certainly don't want to make those more difficult," he said.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear what the new task force hopes to achieve



SEE ALSO:
Advisers to tackle unruly pupils
20 May 05 |  Education
Blair pledges new 'yob' crackdown
12 May 05 |  UK Politics
Teacher union hits out at parents
18 May 05 |  Scotland
Your views on school discipline
17 May 05 |  Education
Head teachers complain of abuse
29 Apr 05 |  Education
Fewer children banned from school
27 May 04 |  Education


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