Pupil discipline is a matter for teachers, not judges

Ed Balls' plans to allow parents to take schools to court when discipline is poor are right to identify behaviour as a concern, but wrong to use the legal system to deal with it.

Ed Balls’ plans to allow parents to take schools to court when discipline is poor are right to identify behaviour as a concern, but wrong to use the legal system to deal with it.

Schools can and should get behaviour right without resort to the courts (and for that matter without involving the police and in almost all cases without exclusions). Outstanding headteachers and teachers help kids to stay on track by setting and enforcing clear boundaries through proportionate sanctions and rewards, fully engaging with parents and delivering an exciting and innovative curriculum. Surely this is how it should be done? A system where the courts had a role would risk both teachers not taking responsibility themselves and parents escalating problems which could otherwise be resolved in a school setting. It is the role of Ofsted and Local Authorities to be responsive to parental needs and monitor whether schools are enforcing discipline properly, not judges and juries.

What’s more, children, especially teenagers who have hormones flying about, have always and will always misbehave. Schools are environments where they must be allowed to learn from their mistakes. Teachers are not police officers, and should focus on formative punishments so that pupils learn how to behave responsibly in the outside world.  However, if teachers thought that if they didn’t act with an iron fist, they would risk the school being taken to court, the temptation would be to exclude kids instead of dealing with the problems in school. This would result in more kids floating around Pupil Referral Units, struggling to get a proper education.

Finally cases where pupils disrupt the learning of others are rarely clear cut – particularly when parents are involved. In my experience as a Head of Year, feuds were often related to tensions going on outside of school. If the families had a right to escalate concerns to a legal level, it would have made them much harder to deal with in school.

So, of course, discipline must be dealt with and there are always a tiny number of cases which warrant permanent exclusions or other tough sanctions. But if we are serious about an inclusive education, we should focus on challenging schools to get things right, rather than using other agencies.

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