Conservatives can be proud of the reforms we are making to schools. We’re expanding academies so that teachers rather than central and local government run schools and the first free schools are opening this September. We’re ensuring a greater emphasis on rigorous academic subjects and focusing on raising standards of reading in primary schools. But we’re also making progress on another issue parents say they are particularly concerned about: behaviour. Effective teaching needs effective discipline. Teachers need to be able to keep control in the classroom.
Sadly this is not the case in too many schools. The figures speak for themselves. Nearly 1,000 pupils are excluded every day for poor behaviour, abuse or assault. Serious assaults on teachers have reached a five-year high. Over the last decade, 330 teachers had to be rushed to hospital as a result of violent assault. This rising tide of bad behaviour was ignored by Labour and it has taken this government to address it.
We are absolutely determined that teachers should have more powers to enforce discipline. Moreover, they should feel confident in using the powers they already have. Stifled by excessive and unclear guidance, schools have sometimes found it difficult to deal with bad behaviour. ‘No touch’ rules have been adopted by some schools, even though they are not required by law or expected by government. Heads have been reluctant to expel pupils fearing that their decisions will be overturned. And according to one survey, only around half of teachers believe there is appropriate support available in school for teachers struggling to manage pupil behaviour.
It is for this reason that we have condensed official guidance on discipline from more than 600 pages to just 52. The guidance, published this week and effective from this September, gives teachers clear and unequivocal direction on the powers available to them. It makes clear that teachers can use reasonable force to control disruptive pupils or to prevent children leaving classrooms. It informs heads that they can search pupils without consent for an extended list of items including alcohol, illegal drugs and stolen property. And it makes it absolutely clear that schools should not have a “no touch” policy. It is often necessary for a teacher to touch a child for example when dealing with accidents or teaching musical instruments. Where there was previously confusion, we have brought clarity and common sense.
Teachers also need to know that when they are maliciously accused of crimes they did not commit, we’re on their side. As many as one in four teachers have been subject to false allegations by pupils. Too many careers have been ruined by allegations that have turned out to be false. So heads can now temporarily or permanently exclude pupils who make false allegations. In extreme circumstances, they can involve the police if there are grounds for believing a criminal offence has been committed. We are legislating to give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils unless and until charges are brought. We are working with the police to speed up the investigation of such allegations. In addition, the new guidance states that teachers should not automatically be suspended when accusations are made, and that unsubstantiated or unfounded allegations should not be included in employment references.
With these new measures, teachers can at last begin to get a grip on unruly classrooms. It is only with better discipline that there can be better teaching.