David Cameron has challenged the government to do more to tackle school discipline, arguing schools should be places of education not “holding pens” for problem pupils.
The Tory leader spoke in defence of teachers – and said he would back them in the face of the minority of parents who undermine schools’ attempts to discipline their children.
Despite this, Mr Cameron was careful to say “families are the origin of society”, arguing the role of schools is to “back up and add to the lessons of home”.
To do this, education policy must focus on improving behaviour in mainstream schools.
He said: “Schools should be places where teachers teach and children learn – not holding centres for kids no matter how badly they behave.”
Mr Cameron called for compulsory home-school contracts. All parents should sign up to acceptable standards of behaviour for themselves and their child as a condition of admission to a school.
He argued schools must be places where children “respect – and even fear – teachers”. Parents risk undermining this authority by siding with children in disputes and contradicting rules set down by teachers, Mr Cameron argued.
Mr Cameron argued for further support for teachers, saying they should be protected from false allegations of abuse. He pointed to research that found 20 per cent of teachers have been falsely accused of abusing children.
In response, he argued for full anonymity for teachers until the case has been resolved.
The Tory leader also called for the abolition of appeals panels, arguing head teachers must have the power to disrupt problem pupils. At present, more than half of expelled children are returned to their school, undermining the standing of the head teacher, he argued.
Mr Cameron argued the government should focus on how it supports children who have been excluded.
The present system of Pupil Referral Units isn’t working, he argued. These cost £17,000 a year per annum but have been described as Ofsted as the “weakest link in the education system”.
Instead, Mr Cameron argued the government should reverse the closure of special schools, 60 per cent of pupils in units having special educational needs.
Pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties should be identified at the start of primary school.
He also argued for a new relationship between state schools and voluntary bodies, pointing to pilot schemes that mix teachers with youth workers and other childcare professionals.
Mr Cameron argued educational policy had been hamstrung by orthodoxies carried over from the 60s and 70s, including the idea that equality means treating all children alike.
The National Union of Teachers (NUT) welcomed Mr Cameron’s focus on pupil discipline and support for teachers, but questioned some of his conclusions.
John Banks, head of education at the NUT, said it was right teachers’ anonymity should be protected if they were suspended after an abuse allegation, but pointed out it was impossible to do this once a court case began.
Speaking to politics.co.uk, he stopped short of supporting Mr Cameron’s call for the abolition of appeal panels.
Mr Banks acknowledged in some cases head teachers may take a wrong decision and procedures should be in place to address this. But he agreed excluded children should not be returned to their original school.
While welcoming Mr Cameron’s continued focus on pupil discipline, Mr Banks acknowledged the government had already taken moves to address it, including the legal right to discipline.