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Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Heads debate Hague's idea
Angeles Walford
Angeles Walford: "Too many dysfunctional children"
One of the head teachers mentioned by the Conservative leader, William Hague, when he outlined his plan for disruptive pupils gave him "10 out of 10" for his idea - provided it is properly funded.

Another head said the issue was complex and there was a danger that specialist units could be like prisons - producing better criminals.

We can deal with naughty children. But when it comes to dysfunctional and highly disruptive children, schools can not and are not coping

Head teacher Angeles Walford
The government says Mr Hague's proposal for out-of-school "progress centres" to which disruptive pupils could be sent were no more than a change of name for the existing pupil referral units.

But primary school head teacher Angeles Walford said there was no such unit in her area - and they tended to cater for secondary school pupils, which was often too late to make a difference.

Mrs Walford described at last week's conference of the National Association of Head Teachers how she had excluded a 12-year-old boy for hitting a teacher but had to take him back on appeal - whereupon he hit another teacher.

'Teachers, not psychiatrists'

Mrs Walford said there were "many, many dysfunctional children in society".

"We can deal with naughty children. But when it comes to dysfunctional and highly disruptive children, schools can not and are not coping.

"We're teachers - we're not psychiatrists, we're not social workers, we're not doctors and nurses and we're not minders."

"And if there was somewhere they could go ... to get specialised help with their problems then come back into mainstream schooling, that's what we need - and I think all heads would agree with me.

'Start young'

"We just need somewhere they can go even on a temporary basis, and I think William Hague has got that right."

But she warned him that there would have to be properly-funded and staffed units to cater for very young children.

"I can identify them when they come into the nursery and they start smashing up the play corners. By the time they get to high school, bless them, they've had it."

In her school, The Priory primary in Wimbledon, south-west London, the governors had funded a scheme to get specialist help within the school for a dozen disruptive pupils - all boys.

It had been only partially successful, again because the staff who came in were not used to dealing with younger children - but at least the pupils involved were now doing their homework.

Expensive support

"A small step, but a massive leap," she said.

The big problem was the cost: 10.71 per pupil per hour, or about 5,000 a term.

"And this was cheap, because it was in part charity-funded."

Another head teacher, Eric Spear, said the biggest problem was the government's "plain ridiculous" targets for reducing exclusions by a third by 2002.

"Saying 'reduce your exclusions' - who thinks we are trying to increase them?" he said.

So he backed Mr Hague's promise to scrap the targets.

In-school help 'better'

But properly-resourced remedial units within schools could be the ideal solution, he said.

"Putting kids into sin bins is a bit like putting people into prison - they learn the tricks of the trade from each other and come out more accomplished criminals than when they went in," he said.

Limited use of such off-site institutions could be the answer but giving schools the resources to deal with the problem was better.

He saw dangers in Mr Hague's pledge to free all schools to make their own policy, he said there was no such thing as complete freedom.

Schools had been thrust into a "competitive and cut-throat world" over the last 20 years.

"There will be some who will willy nilly exclude pupils without any particular concern about their welfare to protect the image of the school and their standing in the league tables," he said.

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06 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Hague promises to tackle school 'thugs'
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