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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 14:37 GMT
Blair warns parents over unruly children
Tony Blair in class at a school in Crumpsall, near Manchester on Friday
Tony Blair says education remains the "passion"
Parents of unruly children should be prosecuted if they do not curb truancy, Tony Blair has said in the wake of rising concern about youth crime.

The prime minister, speaking at a school near Manchester, said local authorities had the power to take action against parents of persistent truants.


It is completely unacceptable that young people out of control, excluded from school can roam the streets causing misery

Tony Blair

Mr Blair also used the speech to launch an attack on education traditionalists, whose "snobbery" had damaged the British education system for more than a century.

That warning prompted Chris Woodhead, the former schools chief inspector, to accuse Mr Blair of "confused thinking".

Expulsion problems

But it is Mr Blair's remarks on school discipline which will get most prominence in a week when crime topped the political agenda.

He stressed the need to ensure children expelled from schools still received structured and intensive teaching.

"It is completely unacceptable that young people out of control, excluded from school can roam the streets causing misery and mayhem and absolutely nothing is done about it," he said.

Damian Green, Conservative shadow education secretary
Blair is admitting failure on truancy, says Damian Green
Youth crime formed a major plank of this week's cabinet-led summit on tackling the mounting problem of street robberies.

Mr Blair said the government had been working on tackling the problem of bad discipline in schools over the last five years and was not simply reacting to the latest publicity on the issue.

Local councils had the powers for the first time to provide extended compulsory schooling for excluded children, continued Mr Blair.

'Right to be worried'

There were also new pupil referral units and new mentoring schemes to help problem children.

"Local authorities have the power to prosecute parents and enforce parenting orders against those who by failing to do anything about their child's truancy are colluding in it."

The prime minister acknowledged: "There is no doubt that behaviour has deteriorated over the last 20 years.

Chris Woodhead
Chris Woodhead says academic excellence must be protected
"I think parents and teachers are right to be concerned."

Mr Blair's speech was seen as an attempt to emphasise that education had not been forgotten amid the recent focus on health and transport.

Education remained the government's top priority - a "passion" for ministers.

Conservative shadow education secretary Damian Green said the speech was an admission that Labour had failed to get to grips with the truancy problem.

"Five years on we should be seeing the effects of his action, not just more empty words," said Mr Green. "Truancy rates are going up, and it is not surprising that all too often this leads to the start of a criminal lifestyle."

'Outdated taboos'

Mr Blair also used his speech at Abraham Moss School, Crumpsall, to attack "snobbery" towards vocational courses and attempts to get more young people into university.

Such "outdated taboos" from education traditionalists caused class divisions and had to be broken down, argued Mr Blair.

"They represent a sort of cosy elitism that actually bedevilled and weakened our education system for more than a century," he said.

"Because for a small number of people it means the best academic education in the world, that type of elitism, and the top universities in the world.

"But for the majority ... it means a system with no proper vocational route and second rate opportunities to get to university."

'Confusion'

Those comments prompted criticism from Mr Woodhead, the former head of schools watchdog Ofsted.

Mr Woodhead told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme the government was confused in trying to equate vocational qualifications with academic courses.

That approach meant academic courses were dumbed down while proper vocational education was not delivered.

"The challenge this government faces, and which it appears unable to grasp, is to ensure that young people who are intellectually capable of benefiting from university education from deprived backgrounds get there," he said.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Mike Baker
"There is a realisation now, if they are going to tackle discipline in schools, then parents have got to do their part"
See also:

22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Magistrates raise 'young thugs' fears
22 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Blair denies 'exploiting' family
21 Mar 02 | Education
Keeping pupils away from crime
20 Mar 02 | UK Politics
Likely Budget winners and losers
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