Page last updated at 09:28 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 10:28 UK

Behaviour experts to help schools

Fighting children
Schools are reluctant to permanently exclude, say the Tories

Teams of behaviour experts will be sent into schools in England where behaviour is rated as merely "satisfactory", Schools' Secretary Ed Balls has said.

Government adviser Sir Alan Steer has said in a key report on discipline that "satisfactory isn't good enough".

Figures obtained by the Tories suggest the number of children repeatedly suspended for a fixed period is rising.

But Mr Balls says the government supports head teachers where they need to permanently exclude pupils.

Sir Alan's report said there was much evidence that behaviour in schools was good and improving.

At the annual conference of the Nasuwt teaching union, some teachers questioned this view.

'Queuing up'

Where Ofsted rates a school's behaviour as "satisfactory", local authorities should see this as a trigger for additional support, Sir Alan's report said.

He said no new legal powers to discipline pupils were needed, but that awareness of them needed to be raised.

And his report recommends many ways to liven up lessons to hold pupils' attention, including borrowing techniques from game shows such as Who wants to be a millionaire? and Blockbusters.

Or teachers could ask pupils to speak on a topic without hesitation or repetition, in the manner of Radio 4's Just a Minute.

Top tips for lively lessons
Choose a purposeful start to lessons such as 'word bingo' or word association
Ask pupils to agree on what they learned last lesson
Who wants to be a millionaire? questions in pairs to see who becomes richest
Question pupils in stages of difficulty to increase knowledge
Use the 'no hands up' rule to encourage all pupils to think
'Snowballing' - ask another pupil to respond to the previous answer
Use self or peer-assessment
Ask pupils to use traffic light colours to show level of understanding
Give pupils a 'big question' to be answered at the end of the lesson
Source: Learning Behaviour: Lessons Learned, Sir Alan Steer

Sir Alan's recommends the use of "withdrawal rooms", or other alternative provision, to remove a disruptive child from a class until behaviour improves.

But some teachers have warned these can be abused.

Teachers at the Nasuwt conference said some pupils wanted to be sent out of lessons.

Jules Donaldson, a teacher from Sandwell, said: "They're supping their cups of tea and toast. At some schools they're queuing up to get into the withdrawal rooms."

Just under 30% of schools have a behaviour rating of satisfactory.

"If a school is rated satisfactory, and you look at the detail - I don't find it very satisfactory, to be honest," Ed Balls told Radio 4's Today programme.

"Sir Alan Steer is saying they should expect independent experts from the outside to go in to help the school to improve.

"I want all schools to learn from best practice when using techniques such as withdrawal rooms," he said.

"I intend to ensure all schools have the information and support they need to effectively use strategies such as withdrawal rooms for internal exclusion."

'Better to expel'

The Conservatives claim the government has made it more difficult for schools to permanently exclude children from school, but Mr Balls denied this.

The number of children excluded more than 10 times in a single year went up from 310 in 2004 to 837 in 2007, the figures show.

Sir Alan's report questions the value of repeatedly excluding a child, and Mr Balls said where a child was being excluded eight or 10 times "it isn't working, and it would be much better to expel".

Where weak leadership was not tackling discipline, it would be challenged, Mr Balls added.

Permanent exclusions, sometimes referred to as expulsions, have been falling over recent years, and 8,680 pupils were excluded in this way in 2006-07.

If a child has been seriously disruptive or violent, they should be properly removed
Nick Gibb, shadow schools minister

But fixed-term exclusions, commonly known as suspensions, are rising.

There were 425,600 fixed-term exclusions of pupils of all ages in 2006-07.

The majority of exclusions are given to secondary school pupils - and these rose from 288,040 in the school year 2003-04 to 363,270 by the end of 2007.

Shadow schools minister Nick Gibb said: "Suspending a child from school over and over again does them no good at all.

If a child has been seriously disruptive or violent, they should be properly removed so they can get the specialist help they need to return to mainstream education."

Mr Balls said one or two short suspensions could help a child get back on track but accepted that a child who is repeatedly suspended should be expelled.

Sir Alan said schools must ensure parenting contracts are used where necessary.

And he also called on the Training and Development Agency for schools to review how initial teacher training equips new teachers to deal with challenging behaviour.

Mr Balls said he had produced a leaflet together with the Nasuwt union to set out the powers available to teachers to discipline.

'Work together'

Sir Alan said that school provision out of the classroom should be used as part of a planned early intervention strategy and, if possible, before incidents of serious misbehaviour occur.

If a child is permanently excluded from school, there can be an appeal to an independent panel to try to be reinstated.

The Conservatives say they would abolish these panels, but the Steer report says they are necessary to avoid schools having to justify decisions in the courts.

They also say that potential fines for permanently excluding badly-behaved pupils mean schools are choosing to repeatedly exclude for a fixed period instead.

Mr Balls said discipline in schools had improved in the last few years but where there were problems, teachers should be tougher and have the support of governors and parents.

"If you expel the pupil and then they are out on the streets or in the parks, it's a different kind of problem for society and that's not good enough," he said.

"These kids should be in education and so we are also saying schools should work together even if a pupil is excluded."

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