Education & Family

Teachers urged to 'get tough' on bad behaviour

Boy being bullied
Image caption Some 700,000 pupils remain in schools where behaviour is "not good enough", a government spokesman said

Teachers in England can dispense "tough but proportionate" punishments to tackle bad behaviour in schools, Education Secretary Michael Gove says.

Possible sanctions, included in updated guidelines, include weeding school grounds and tidying classrooms.

There had been "significant progress" on indiscipline since 2010, but "there is much still to do", Mr Gove said.

Unions said many of the deterrents were already used and teachers did not need "one-size-fits-all advice".

Labour's Tristram Hunt said allowing unqualified teachers was "damaging standards".

The updated guidelines - which now specify suitable punishment for dealing with bad behaviour - will be sent to all schools in England next week, the Department for Education said.

It said persistent absence and exclusions for abuse and assault were down significantly since 2010, but that 700,000 pupils remained in schools where behaviour was "not good enough".


The education secretary's announcement does not involve new powers for teachers - Mr Gove is urging the use of existing sanctions available to schools, and there will be no need for new legislation.

He told BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "The one in three teachers who say they are uncertain, in polling, about the measures that they can deploy in order to keep order should be reassured by the government that they have a full range."

Mr Gove said action to tackle bad behaviour ranged from verbal reprimands "up to and including community service".

He added: "People need to understand that there are consequences if they break those rules and that teachers have the power to enforce them."

In the interview, he also said that teachers were allowed to use "appropriate physical intervention" to separate fighting students or to restrain unruly pupils.

Other issues he discussed included:

  • His desire to lengthen the school day to provide extra-curricular activities
  • The importance of a school's right to punish parents who take children on holiday during term time
  • Tests for four year olds when they start primary school, which he insisted would not be stressful for children.

'PR exercise'

The Department of Education said the updated guidelines would make it clear that punishments were "as crucial to an effective education as praising and rewarding good behaviour".

It said the current guidelines stopped short of outlining potential sanctions, which had left many school heads and teachers unclear on what action to take, and also with health and safety fears or concerns about litigation.

Mr Gove said: "Our message to teachers is clear - don't be afraid to get tough on bad behaviour and use these punishments.

"The best schools already ask pupils who are behaving poorly to make it up to their teachers and fellow pupils through community service.

"I want more schools to follow their example by making badly-behaved pupils pick up litter or help clear up the dining hall after meal times."

The guidance has been described as "a PR exercise" by the National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Russell Hobby.

He said: "It's always been about finding a balance - the best schools know you need to reward as often as punish.

"But this is nothing new, teachers have been balancing that for years."

'Ongoing support'

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers accused Mr Gove of "increasingly bizarre" behaviour and said that schools did not need "one-size-fits-all advice".

"While he says he wants to give school leaders and teachers the power to make the right decisions for their schools, he takes every opportunity to tell them what to do," said general secretary Mary Bousted.

She said behaviour was good or better in over 90% of schools, according to Ofsted - and that what teachers needed was schools to have effective behaviour policies which were consistently applied, and support from parents.

National Union of Teachers deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said: "It has to be remembered that the majority of our schools have good levels of behaviour and many of the deterrents mentioned, such as litter detention, will already be used in many schools."

He said training and support was needed to give teachers the confidence to deal with such issues, adding that Mr Gove's policy of abandoning Qualified Teacher Status and "running down local authority support services" undermined both of those.

In 2012, rules were relaxed for academy schools in England - meaning they are now allowed to employ teachers who are not qualified, bringing the semi-independent state schools in line with free schools and private schools.

Mr Hunt, Labour's shadow education secretary, said: "This is damaging standards in our schools. They should end this practice and commit to Labour's pledge to ensure all teachers are qualified and have the training they need to control behaviour in the classroom."

Katharine Birbalsingh, who is set to open a free school in London later this year and has previously spoken at the Conservative party conference, told BBC Breakfast she approved of the plans.

She said: "I think it's excellent that we're getting advice from the top and hopefully that we're going to hold heads to account for their schools."

But Ian Finn, headteacher of a school in Burnage, Manchester, told the programme the guidelines were not necessary as behaviour was "better than ever".

He said: "To think we need to hark back to the 50s and 60s... I think is wholly wrong and we need to reject it."

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