HC Deb 26 February 1997 vol 291 cc325-7
5. Mr. Patrick Thompson

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what measures she is taking to enforce discipline in schools. [16057]

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)

The current Education Bill, now in another place, includes a package of measures to strengthen schools' ability to take action in the face of poor behaviour and discipline, to help ensure there is proper support for schools in dealing with pupils with behavioural problems, and to promote effective provision for such pupils out of school where necessary.

Mr. Thompson

Bearing it in mind that good classroom discipline and structured teaching are essential to a successful education, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government's welcome new approach to teacher training will give every new teacher rigorous instruction in classroom skills and handling techniques? Will he take this opportunity to accentuate the positive and pay tribute to those teachers who are now achieving good disciplinary standards in the classroom?

Mr. Forth

Throughout his many distinguished years of service in Parliament, my hon. Friend has a long and distinguished history of fighting to bring this matter to the attention of the Government and the House. As usual, he has accentuated two important points. First, the annual Office for Standards in Education inspection of schools and Her Majesty's chief inspector's report always emphasise that the vast majority of our schools and classrooms are orderly and disciplined places in which pupils learn and education is effectively carried out. Secondly, the Teacher Training Agency's current proposals on improving initial teacher training, which are out for consultation, emphasise the need to ensure that all newly qualified teachers have a firm grasp of classroom management techniques and the role that good discipline plays in good education.

Mr. Sheerman

Is it not important to get the relationship right in schools? I was pleased to hear the Minister congratulate the majority of teachers on being competent and having good discipline in their classes. Perhaps a better example would be set if the Government could show a little more discipline in the way in which they organise themselves.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman makes a typically ungracious contribution to the day's proceedings. I will join him in the first part of his comments and welcome the fact that there is common ground in acknowledging all that is good in education—there is much that is good. I will leave the latter part of his rather sad comments unresponded to.

Mr. Rowe

My right hon. Friend will remember that, in the inspector's report on The Ridings school, one of the comments was that, in classrooms where children were engaged in what was being taught, there were no disciplinary problems. That is clearly the beginning of discipline. Does my right hon. Friend agree that schools that make imaginative use of children in the enforcement of discipline throughout the school are making extraordinary strides towards achieving it?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Our recent experience demonstrates clearly that when a school develops a discipline policy, and when it involves the teachers, parents and staff to give them all a sense of ownership of that policy, unsurprisingly the discipline record is vastly better than it is in schools that do not follow those practices. We in the Department are disseminating those good practices and urging all schools to follow them, when they consider it appropriate to do so in their own circumstances.

Mr. Dafis

Does the Minister agree that adequate provision for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties is essential? Has not that been a Cinderella service in the past? Does he also agree that the too inflexible imposition of the national curriculum can create difficulties for schools that deal with children with such needs, and that primacy must be given to the therapeutic element of their education? Will the Department agree to continue discussions with the National Association for Therapeutic Education, which has considerable experience and knowledge of the matter?

Mr. Forth

I hope that the Department will always engage in dialogue with bodies of the kind the hon. Gentleman mentions, and that it will be a mutual learning process. That is an important part of what the Department does and will continue to do. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that we should expect any less of young people with emotional or behavioural difficulties or any other learning difficulty, or that we should expect them the less to meet the needs of the curriculum. I believe that there are other effective ways of dealing with the issue. We have the aspirations and objectives of the curriculum in place. What we must do and are doing—not least through the special educational needs code of practice, for example—is to identify the needs of each pupil and ensure that we provide pupils with the support that they need in order to meet the requirements of the curriculum. That, I think, is the right way round.