HC Deb 17 January 1978 vol 942 cc235-7
10. Mr. Townsend

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps she is taking to encourage improved standards of discipline in schools.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I am concerned to promote good standards of behaviour in schools, as I am sure both teachers and local education authorities are also. Her Majesty's Inspectorate has recently been engaged in a survey of a number of schools which are considered to have been particularly successful in dealing with problems of truancy and indiscipline, and I hope that, on the basis of this, it will be possible to publish advice on good practice.

Mr. Townsend

Why do the Government pay comparatively little attention to the problem of discipline in schools? Does the Secretary of State appreciate that in the London borough of Bexley we wish that rather less Government attention was paid to the structure of our education system and rather more interest was taken in the general problems of discipline in schools throughout the country?

Mrs. Williams

One of the three sessions at the conference on comprehensive education at York was given up to the whole question of pastoral care and discipline, and from that many good suggestions came. I say strongly to the hon. Gentleman that it is not possible to divorce the question of discipline, first, from the relationship between schools and parents, with which the Taylor Committee, for one, concerned itself, and, second, from the commercial pressures on children, which are now extremely strong and to which the Responsible Society referred only yesterday in one of its reports.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is desirable that any framework of discipline in school should be obvious, fair and understood by all? Does she agree that one of the difficulties of those who constantly ask questions on this subject is that they have experienced or know of discipline in selective schools, where it is easier to enforce because there is always the possibility of expulsion, which does not apply in most other schools in this country?

Mrs. Williams

I agree with what my hon. Friend said, and I add two points. It has emerged more clearly that in cases where schools have good relationships with parents it is much easier to adopt a sensible system of discipline. Second, in the case of very difficult children, the separate units that give them intensive care with experienced teachers are already proving to be a much more effective method than some of the more lurid methods that are often peddled in the Sunday newspapers and elsewhere.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does the Secretary of State agree that one cannot divorce discipline from moral and religious education in schools? Will she take this opportunity to deny the report in the Daily Telegraph which said that the Government intend to introduce legislation to alter the religious education provisions in the 1944 Act?

Mrs. Williams

On the first part of his question, I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I think that it would be wiser if he did not use such phrases as "trench warfare", which seem to be sensationalising the situation of a small minority of pupils. [Interruption.] I am sorry; it did not come across like that. The hon. Gentleman will therefore be free to say that if he was given misleading reports from the Press, so was I. If he reads Hansard, he will find that I answered a Written Question precisely on this issue last Friday.