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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 July 2007, 10:47 GMT 11:47 UK
In full: Cameron on school discipline
Here is the full text of Conservative leader David Cameron's speech on school discipline on 31 July 2007:

I'm grateful to Policy Exchange for hosting today's event. In the 1970s your predecessors - the Centre for Policy Studies, the Institute for Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute - played a central role in planning the policies of the Conservative government of the 1980s.

There's an important lesson from those days. Think-tanks can tell you what you should do, but they can't tell you what to think.

In the case of Mrs Thatcher, the grocer's daughter knew, before any economist told her, that you earn before you spend, and you save before you borrow. She had instincts, born of experience, to guide her.

If the challenges in the 1980s were primarily economic, the challenges for our time are primarily social. Not runaway inflation, but runaway fathers. Not an uncontrolled money supply, but an uncontrolled drugs supply. Not business failure, but family failure.

So I am pleased that Policy Exchange and other think-tanks and academics on the right are now turning their attention to social breakdown. For too long we have neglected this subject and allowed the Left to monopolise it.

Iain Duncan Smith tells the story of when he visited a rundown estate in one of our poorest communities. Someone said to him, 'what are you doing here? This is Labour territory'. And he replied 'yes, and look around you'.

He was absolutely right. I've always been a One Nation Conservative. I aspire to govern for the whole country, not just a part of it. And that means, most of all, engaging with the causes and consequences of social breakdown.

And in many ways that comes down to how we treat children. Here again, academia and expertise can only get you so far. In the end it's personal instinct and experience that tells you what to do. Let me tell you about my personal beliefs here.

I had a childhood that was certainly privileged materially. But the greatest privilege by far was my family. Everything I am, I owe to my parents and to my wider family. And today, as my wife and I bring up three small children, it is our families whom we depend on for the support we need.

To my mind, the family is not merely a unit of society. It is the origin of society. It is the family which gives an individual his first lessons in how to relate to others, the meaning of right and wrong, the to-and-fro of giving and receiving.

From those early experiences, all follows - a positive or a negative idea of human relations. The aggregate of every individual's experience of their families, makes up the experience of our whole country. If the child is the father of the man, the family is the father of society.

For most families, school is or should be a further extension of its own role and authority - a place for professional attention in addition to the informal instruction of home. For a minority of children, however, school supplies what the family fails to give - it conveys the life lessons that have not been learned at home.

And that is why it's so important that schools are properly independent institutions, properly part of the community that they are in.

Another thing I know, both as a parent and from observing many different classrooms in my role as a politician, is this: bringing up children means clear boundaries - standards of behaviour which must be enforced with fairness and firmness.

Yet the need for common rules doesn't mean every child needs an identical experience of education. Children aren't all the same. They have differing abilities, talents, problems. And as parent or a teacher you need to tailor the attention you give a child to their different characters.

When you understand these differences, that is when you can begin to fulfil the obligation to help the most vulnerable among us. It is indeed a vital measure of our society, how we fulfil this obligation.

These are fundamental values. So how should they be translated into action? Well, there is a further principle, which helps us fulfil all the others. The state is not the whole answer. A large part of the answer is found in families, independent institutions, voluntary bodies and social enterprises - in society, not the state alone. Social responsibility, not state control.

Before detailing a clear plan of action for the future, let us look at where we are today.

Of course I don't blame the government for everything - it is the essence of social responsibility that we look to ourselves and our neighbours before we summon or blame the government. But government has a crucial responsibility itself: to perform its own functions in a way which further the positive processes of society, not frustrate them.

Instead, we have government directly fostering family and social breakdown. The wrong values - left-wing values - have been applied for too long.

There is the unwillingness to send unambiguous messages, through tax and benefit and law, about families. When Iain Duncan Smith's proposals to support marriage in the fiscal system were published last month, ministers were unable to even say whether they thought marriage was a good thing or not.

In education, the whole country is still suffering from a series of orthodoxies which are a sort of hangover from the 1960s.

First, the idea that we should treat every child not as unique, but as identical - that equality and equal rights mean throwing every child into the same class in the same school.

It is this that has bred the doctrine of inclusion for all - the idea that schools should cater for everyone, no matter what their needs, aptitudes or behaviour. The result is special schools closed, and some children with special needs inappropriately included in mainstream education. Bright kids are held back and less able kids are left behind.

Second, the orthodoxy that education is a process not of learning from a teacher, but of solitary discovery - that the child should guide himself to knowledge. The result is the lack of rigour and falling standards we are becoming so familiar with.

And finally, the orthodoxy that schools should not be independent institutions, accountable to parents and the local community, but local outposts of the central state. The result is a target culture which makes it far harder for heads to create their own ethos for their school - and that includes rules on discipline.

So this is what is happening at the moment under Labour. They're not backing families. They're shutting special schools. They're putting kids with special needs into Pupil Referral Units where they don't get the care they need. They're intervening too late and in the wrong way. They're not giving heads the powers they need to control their own school. They're marginalising the voluntary sector.

And then they're surprised when we have too many children out of control, bullying and being bullied, committing crime and joining the conveyor belt that leads from Anti-Social Behaviour Order to Young Offenders Institute to prison. Instead of going from Key Stage 3 to GCSE to A Level, too many children are going from ABSO to YOI to HMP.

Over 1700 children were thrown out of school for assaults on teachers last year - over 1200 for assaults on other pupils. And we know that's just the tip of the iceberg. The recent Channel 5 series Classroom Chaos lifted the lid on what is going on. And right now teachers in Oldham are considering striking in support of a teacher who was suspended after he published a diary about the awful behaviour of students.

So going back to my question, how do we translate our values into action?

To reprise those values. Families as the origin of society. The role of schools in backing up and adding to the lessons of home. The need for clear boundaries and rules of behaviour. The diversity and differentness of children. The obligation to help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Earlier this month I spoke about families. Most of all, we need to encourage stable parental relationships for example, as Iain Duncan Smith has suggested, through removing the bias against cohabitation in the benefits system and using the tax system to support married couples.

Yesterday I spoke about special educational needs. We need to reform the statementing process to give parents what they need, including a more sensitive and flexible system of categorising special needs. Parents need greater choice between specialist and mainstream schools. And till the system is properly rebalanced there should be a moratorium on the closure of special schools.

Today I want to explain something of what we'll do to improve behaviour in mainstream schools.

Sometimes those who discuss education give the impression it's a kind of complex alchemy. It's not. We know what works because we see it, in our own country and abroad. The best schools, whether they are private schools, academies, grammar schools or comprehensives, have some simple things in common. Most of all, they have an independent ethos and clear rules on acceptable behaviour.

Schools should be places where teachers teach and children learn - not holding centres for kids no matter how badly they behave. Most of all, they should be places where the kids respect, and even fear, the teachers, not the other way around. If we want our children to grow up in a loving environment, they need to know where the lines are and not to step over them.

Heads need to be able to impose real codes of behaviour and discipline and be backed up by parents.

Teachers often say to me that they set clear rules, enforce them and then the parents take the side of the child. This completely undermines the authority of the school and contributes directly to bad behaviour.

Many schools have home-school contracts, setting out in black and white what is expected of the school, the child and the parent. I'd like to take this idea further and make them enforceable, as requirements of admission and grounds for exclusion.

Head teachers should be able to say to parents, if you do not sign up to this code of conduct for yourselves and your children, your child cannot come to this school.

And I want to strengthen the position of teachers further. More must be done to protect teachers from the tiny minority who are bent on undermining authority in schools by making false allegations of abuse against the teacher. A recent survey in SecEd magazine indicated that 20 per cent of teachers had been falsely accused and 55 per cent of teachers knew a colleague in their school who had been.

The Teacher Support phone line is taking almost twice as many calls about pupil allegations than it did a year ago. Yet in the past ten years only three per cent of serious allegations have resulted in a conviction. We believe teachers must have the protection of full anonymity until the case against them has been dealt with.

Given the elementary principle that a head teacher must have control over the standards of behaviour in his or her school, this must mean, as a last resort, the power to exclude students whose conduct badly disrupts the education of others.

At the moment, if a head excludes a pupil, the child has a right of appeal to an external panel run by the local authority. And currently a quarter of the exclusions which are reviewed by appeals panels are overturned. More than half of these pupils are then returned to the school they were expelled from.

Imagine what that does to the standing of the head in the eyes of the students. To see a child, expelled for bad behaviour, swaggering back in. It sends completely the wrong message about the relative power of the school and the child. The local authority should be there to serve the school, not the other way around.

I want to see an end to the system of appeals panels second-guessing head teachers' decisions. These decisions should be taken in schools.

At the same time, we have to expend real effort and enterprise in dealing with the children who get excluded.

Let's be clear what happens now is not working. It costs 17,000 per annum for a place in a Pupil Referral Unit. Ofsted has said they're the weakest link in the education system.

I want to see less reliance on PRUs. Instead, we will take three actions to improve the provision of education for excluded children.

First, as I have said, we will stop the closure of special schools. Over 60 per cent of children in PRUs have special educational needs. That's too many, we need to ensure there is the proper provision for these kids.

Second, we will ensure there is earlier intervention for kids with emotional and behavioural difficulties. After all, ask a primary school teacher with a class of 5 year olds, which ones are likely to be in trouble in 5 or 10 years' time, and chances are, the teacher will be able to tell you with total accuracy.

So given this, why do we wait until kids are 10 or 15 before we try to intervene? Why do we wait till the problems have got worse, and the kids are bigger and more angry and more upset?

I would like to see kids with emotional and behavioural difficulties picked up much earlier, at the start of primary school, rather than later in secondary school when they cost far more to look after and are far less likely to change their ways. Schools specialising in emotional and behavioural difficulties do an important and difficult job - too many have closed or are facing cutbacks.

Third, and vitally, we need a whole new relationship between state schools and those voluntary bodies and social enterprises which have real expertise in turning around kids who get excluded.

I have seen some extraordinary projects - places like the Lighthouse Group in Bradford, Amelia Farm in Wales, Base 33 in my own constituency, Hill Holt Wood in Lincolnshire - where tough kids are turned around through a mixture of discipline and kindness and hard work.

What do these places all have in common? They tend to include a mix of youth workers and teachers and other professionals specialising in working with children. The people who work there have a vocation not just to educate but to bring up the kids they're trusted with. They provide holistic, personal care.

These projects are community-based and entrepreneurial and flexible. Many challenge children with new skills and experiences, working with animals or on conservation projects, for instance. And almost all have a better record than PRUs.

I would like to see independent providers like the Lighthouse project have a right to supply education to children excluded from school.

This will require a whole new relationship between the statutory sector - state schools and local authorities - and the voluntary and social enterprise sector. It's time to recognise the incredible work that voluntary bodies and social enterprises do in turning around young people.

It's time for the state sector to say that when it comes to these children, we're doing a bad job and you're doing a great job, we want to trust you with more of the resources, more responsibility, longer contracts and more freedom.

I do not believe we can achieve miracles overnight. Changing our culture is the work of a generation or more. I will not promise a sudden outbreak of good behaviour if a Conservative Government is elected. But I do promise that the state will play its part, and enable families, schools and voluntary organisation to play their parts in healing our broken society.

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