HC Deb 12 July 2002 vol 388 cc1143-64

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Joan Ryan.]

9.33 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

I am pleased to have the opportunity to open today's Adjournment debate on improving behaviour in our schools—my first opportunity to open an education debate from the Dispatch Box.

I shall say a few words about education more generally. Education is at the heart of what brought me into politics and the House. As I am sure is the case for Members on both sides of the House, my parents, but especially my mother, greatly influenced my outlook. From a working-class background in the east end of London, my mother passed the 11-plus and went to Dame Alice Owen's school but was expected to leave at 15, which very much affected her outlook and the way she brought up my sister and me. We were very much encouraged to regard education as a way forward in our lives.

Education provides a ladder of opportunity. It unlocks talent and empowers people, so it is a vital weapon in the fight against disadvantage, deprivation and poverty. It also enables us to promote a society in which rights and responsibilities are valued. Behaviour in our schools is at the core of many of the key challenges facing us in debates on education policy, including the debate on how we can improve standards in all our schools; the inclusion debate, on promoting inclusive education and equality of opportunity; the debate about truancy, violence and street crime; the debate about how to give a platform to young people—empowering them, listening to them and acting on what they say; and, of course, the crucial debate about how to recruit and retain the best possible teachers in all our schools.

Behaviour in schools is an important issue with far-reaching consequences, which is why we take it very seriously indeed. It is a priority not just in the Department for Education and Skills but across Government. Poor behaviour has a ripple effect throughout society. From the occasional truant to the hardened street criminal, from heckling in class to serious incidents of bullying, poor behaviour leaves its mark on those whom it touches. For example, low-level disruption in class can demoralise teachers and pupils alike. Behaviour such as talking over the teacher and deliberately distracting others can have a long-term cumulative effect. The atmosphere in class changes, gradually grinding down pupil and staff morale, often resulting in lower standards overall and difficulties in teacher recruitment and retention. That is just one way in which poor behaviour can manifest itself.

The statistics on behaviour in our schools speak volumes. Forty-five per cent. of teachers leaving the profession cited poor behaviour as the main reason.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

I am following the Minister's arguments with considerable interest. I taught for a year before going up to university—it was an interesting experience. One thing I learned was that communication is sometimes more important than education when one is trying to involve the class. However, a sanction is also needed. Does the Minister appreciate that many teachers feel that because they have virtually no sanction any more to punish, in the broadest possible sense, they can do very little to achieve good behaviour in a class where there is a will against such behaviour?

Mr. Twigg

The hon. Gentleman said that teaching was an interesting experience. I am sure that it was interesting for him, as well as pupils and fellow staff members.

The hon. Gentleman is correct—we need to get the right balance between carrot and stick. Young people need positive incentives to be in school and behave well, but schools must also have the capability to deal with bad behaviour. I shall come to that in a moment. As I said, almost half the teachers who leave the teaching profession cite poor behaviour as the main reason for doing so. Getting to the root of behaviour problems before they result in a child falling behind in lessons is therefore imperative. Once a child has fallen behind, it is hard for them to catch up again. It is all too easy for them to continue playing up in class or playing truant, perhaps even ending up being excluded.

Once children have been excluded, it is much harder to reintegrate them into the mainstream and help them with their problems. It is at that point that many of our young people fall into a spiral of decline. We know that exclusion can swiftly lead a young person down a slippery slope, with 72 per cent. of excluded children committing an offence while out of education.

At the same time, the numbers of children with behavioural problems are increasing: 6 per cent. of children have clinically identifiable behavioural problems and 4 per cent. have emotional problems. Up to one in four of the children who do not reach their attainment targets has behavioural problems, which of course can mask underlying learning difficulties. As 80 per cent. of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties are in mainstream classes, their learning and the learning of those around them will be affected.

Poor attendance at school and truancy are obviously indicators of wider behavioural challenges. Addressing them as part of the overall strategy to improve behaviour is vital—the children concerned are vulnerable and at risk of becoming victims of crime, or drifting into crime themselves as perpetrators.

We are well aware of the impact of alcohol and drug misuse and abuse on the behaviour of young people. The children of our country are the future of our country, and their life chances cannot be jeopardised. There are clear and unarguable links between drug and alcohol use and offending by young people—we know that from the street crime initiative that the Government launched a few months ago. More needs to be done in this regard, in particular in addressing alcohol abuse by young people. In the autumn I will issue new guidance to schools on alcohol education. I will also seek the views of young people as to how we can most effectively take forward our strategy on alcohol and, in particular, alcohol education in schools.

I know that there will be concern about the announcement this week reclassifying cannabis from a class B to a class C drug. Some teachers may be concerned that young people will view that as a licence to bring cannabis into schools. Let there be no mistake: we will not tolerate drugs in schools, and we will do all that we can to support teachers and other staff in making drug-free schools a reality.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

Does the Minister accept that while it is the task of Parliament and Ministers to pass legislation, the message sent from this place is equally important? Does he therefore also accept that the message sent this week to children about drugs is wrong?

Mr. Twigg

No, I do not accept that. There are good arguments for the reclassification, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary this week. As it happens, yesterday afternoon I visited the Highlands school in my constituency and spoke to a group of 12 and 13-year-olds. The reclassification of cannabis was a live issue with them, as it was the leading news story yesterday. We are dealing with sophisticated young people. We can certainly send out a powerful message, but they can differentiate. They understand what we mean when we say that we want to focus police time, effort and energy on hard drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine, but they also understand that we are not in any way saying that cannabis is acceptable in our schools.

Mr. Robertson

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again; he has been generous. Does he accept what many police officers tell me—that most heroin users start off with cannabis?

Mr. Twigg

We are in danger of straying into a different debate, but I know that that proposition is contested.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Most alcoholics start off with half a shandy.

Mr. Twigg

My hon. Friend makes a point about alcoholism. It was one I discussed in the school that I visited yesterday. Alcohol has a considerable effect on peoples' lives: many die on our roads and in our hospitals as a result of it. I do not want to go too far down that route, but it is clear that there are differences of opinion on both sides of the House and within the police force. The leadership of the Metropolitan police and the Association of Chief Police Officers have endorsed the announcement that was made this week.

Whatever happens on that issue, all of us in the House can agree that improving drugs education is vital, and conducting our drugs education in a style and in language that will resonate with young people is crucial if it is to be effective—indeed, if it is to be more effective than in the past.

Another key issue that we need to tackle head-on is bullying in our schools. That is a crucial element of any successful policy to improve general behaviour in schools. I know that most schools treat the matter extremely seriously, and that there are many positive examples of schools which ensure that their pupils know that bullying is wrong and they cannot get away with it. In September we will re-issue our anti-bullying guidance pack. We wild do all we can to ensure that we are working with and assisting schools so that pupils are not left to suffer in silence.

All bullying is wrong, whatever form it takes. We know that there are aggravating circumstances in certain instances of bullying. A great deal of work has been done, for example, to tackle racist bullying, which involves children being picked on because of the colour of their skin, their religion or their ethnic origin, and the bullying of disabled children or children who are a little bit different.

Michael Fabricant

I am encouraged to ask the Minister whether he is aware of bullying that goes on in Scotland against English pupils there whose parents have moved to Scotland to work? Does he agree that that is also a deplorable form of bullying?

Mr. Twigg

Of course. Racist bullying, whatever form it takes, is wrong and must be tackled.

Let me focus briefly today on homophobic bullying. A survey in 1996–97 showed that only about 6 per cent. of schools referred specifically to homophobic bullying in their written anti-bullying policies. Such policies are now a legal requirement, and I fervently hope that more of those policies in schools will acknowledge homophobic bullying and set out how it should be tackled. That is very important not only in dealing with a serious problem but in helping those who suffer homophobic bullying to overcome any reluctance to report it. For too long, this form of bullying has not been given the priority that it deserves. I want it to be addressed in a sensible and sensitive way in our schools.

The trauma caused by homophobic bullying—whether the pupil is gay or straight, or whether the pupil knows what their sexuality will be—can have a huge impact on learning and emotional development. Many callers to Childline report feeling suicidal because of the homophobic bullying that they are facing. However, there are many examples of good practice to draw on.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

I am delighted that the Minister is including homophobic bullying in his speech opening the debate. Will he also address the problem of homophobic bullying of teachers? That is a very real issue. Is he aware that section 69 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 contains an open agenda for the homophobic bullying of teachers in single-faith schools where, because homosexuality is not an accepted part of a particular faith, it could be a reason for a teacher to be sacked or not to be employed at that school? Will the Minister give an undertaking to look into the matter and to issue guidance?

Mr. Twigg

I am happy to give an undertaking to examine the matter. I am aware of it. The message that must go out from the House and from Government is that such bullying and behaviour are unacceptable anywhere in our society and in any school.

I am pleased to say that there are some positive examples of good work that is being undertaken to tackle bullying and discrimination against pupils and also against teachers. I put on record a tribute to the teaching unions, which have been in the vanguard of work on the issue, even when it was much less easy for people to speak about it, and to the Stonewall group.

I should like to cite an innovative project—the Bolton homophobic bullying forum, which uses various methods, such as staff awareness training, follow-up work in personal, social and health education lessons, and theatre work to target homophobic bullying in its pilot schools. I am pleased to pay tribute to that excellent work in Bolton and in some other schools. I want to work with schools generally to make such initiatives the norm, rather than the exception.

Naturally, we all want to do all that can be done to persuade schools and others that all forms of bullying need to be tackled decisively, and not swept under the carpet. I hope that as many schools as possible will obtain a copy of our new anti-bullying pack when it is launched in the autumn. All of that highlights the need to deal with behavioural problems before they adversely affect other pupils.

We have invested significant amounts of money to improve behaviour and to deal with those issues. More than £600 million has been made available through the standards fund to tackle bad behaviour and truancy. Last year, £163 million was allocated to tackle truancy and exclusions.

More than 1,000 learning support units are helping to prevent disruption to mainstream classes by providing separate short-term teaching and support for disruptive pupils at risk of exclusion. Such units can have a profound effect by helping challenging pupils to improve their behaviour. We recently published good practice guidance based on the experiences of the best learning support units so that they can extend their influence, as in-school centres of excellence in behaviour management, to helping teachers in the classroom with advice on behaviour improvement strategies that really work.

Under the excellence in cities programme, 3,500 learning mentors are developing one-to-one relationships with children who need extra support, as a result of which pupils can be kept in school and working while their behaviour problems are tackled.

I pay tribute to the work done by the Connexions service, working closely with pupils over the age of 13. Connexions is now up and running in half of England, and will go national next year. More than 2,000 personal advisers are already in post, with a large proportion based in schools, helping pupils to raise their aspirations and motivation, and working with them to tackle issues and barriers that could lead to poor behaviour, truancy, exclusion, and on to crime. Excellent work is being done in many schools and I am delighted that it is being extended.

More than 330 pupil referral units have been set up for children who need additional support and whose problems cannot easily be tackled in school. They deal with children who have been excluded or who are simply not managing in mainstream classes, and they are successfully improving behaviour, attendance and attitudes to learning because of the broad, tailored curriculum and support that they are able to offer to pupils. The 2002 report from the chief inspector of schools pays particular tribute to the improved and improving performance of those units. Clearly more needs to be done to achieve excellence throughout, but progress is being made.

Simply targeting the pupils who are posing the problems is not the most effective way of raising standards of behaviour. We must lay the foundations of promoting good behaviour in the classroom. That does not just mean good classroom management, although that is important; it means giving interesting lessons that capture and hold pupils' attention, and teaching styles that engage in order to encourage pupils to stay in school in the first place. We are working through the key stage 3 strategy to ensure that the pace and quality of lessons improve, so that children are keen to learn.

More widely, we are encouraging schools to develop far greater engagement of their pupils, so that schools become places where children want to be. Some schools offer activities such as arts, sports and voluntary learning activities for pupils before and after school and in the holidays. Evidence shows that those activities help pupils to gain new skills and increase their confidence, and that their behaviour and attitude to learning improve.

Michael Fabricant

I am grateful to the Minister for generously giving way to me a third time. I totally agree with what he says about morning and evening clubs, but does he appreciate that many teachers nowadays feel unable to do such extra-curricular activities because they are bombarded by the Department with more and more paperwork and obligations which take up time outside teaching? Would not a little less bombardment from his office and a few more of the sort of clubs to which he has just referred be a better option?

Mr. Twigg

We are well aware of the concerns about work load and bureaucracy, and the Department has made the reduction of that a priority. Many of those activities do not directly involve teachers; sometimes they do, sometimes they do not. We are not in the business of imposing new burdens on teachers; we are in the business of making the best use of our schools and giving those opportunities to young people.

Through personal, social and health education and citizenship classes, children can learn to appreciate the effect of their actions on their own lives and the lives of others. They can learn to understand the difference between right and wrong and the fact that rights and responsibilities go hand in hand, and to consider their behaviour both in and beyond the classroom towards those in authority and each other.

We are also keen, on a cross-government basis, to promote opportunities for young people to speak up for themselves. We are keen to encourage school councils in every school—they have a real ability to have an influence within the schools—and a role for young people within some of the governing bodies of our schools, giving young people a chance to have their voice heard.

Those are just some of the existing general initiatives, but we are not resting on our laurels. In the Chancellor's Budget statement this year, £66 million was given to the Department for a programme for behaviour improvement.

We chose to invest that money in the local education authorities that have the highest levels of truancy and street crime. More than 80 per cent. of recorded street crime is committed in 34 local authority areas, and each of those has a grant of almost £2 million for the coming year for that programme. The idea is to enable LEAs to build on existing best practice around promoting positive behaviour, and allow us to test what really works as a basis for more general action.

Local education authorities can pick the measures that complement their existing provision from a range that includes learning support units, additional support staff and e-registration. All children at risk of truancy or exclusion will have a named key worker with whom to work. We have also set those LEAs the challenge of providing full-time supervised education from day one of temporary or permanent exclusion in schools involved in the programme—hundreds of schools throughout those 34 LEAs. Plans include in-school and out-of-school provision and, in some cases, working with external providers.

All the LEAs involved will be working with the police on that project, building on existing police involvement in schools that has previously been primarily a teaching role or in citizenship education. A police presence in schools will help to reduce victimisation, criminality and antisocial behaviour within the school and its community. I know that there are sensitivities about police being placed in schools and I pay tribute to the positive developments taking place in many schools, which involve them working with the police and local education authorities to ensure that we tackle criminality in and around our schools.

We know that the earlier a behavioural problem manifests itself, the more serious it will become and the more expensive it will be to remedy. The diverse causes of behavioural problems can result in a range of piecemeal, short-term interventions that do not present long-lasting solutions. That is why we are encouraging LEAs to develop behaviour and education support teams with part of their behaviour improvement programme funding.

Each team will contain four to five professionals, who between them have a complementary mix of education, social and health skills to meet the many needs of children, young people and their parents. The aim of the BESTs is to offer intensive support, using key workers, to young people aged five to 13 who show signs of emotional or behavioural problems, and to their parents, providing an over-arching service.

We have not just plucked the idea out of thin air. It builds on existing schemes, the evaluation of which has shown the many benefits of agencies working together with young people to deliver results. The evaluation that I have seen showed that teachers gained greater confidence in their ability to manage challenging behaviour and felt that they had acquired more strategies for working with difficult pupils.

We are also working on removing one of the root causes of truancy and poor behaviour: the boredom and alienation that is felt by many young people in respect of the traditional curriculum. The Green Paper "14–19: Extending Opportunities, Raising Standards" proposes offering to all young people a wide range of academic and vocational options, to help ensure that schools and the wider education service offer something relevant to all I young people and not only those who are academically able, thus giving everyone the opportunity for success. A very positive feature of our recent consultation on 14 to 19-year-olds was the high level of participation by young people. That was a deliberate aspect of the consultation and is a very welcome contribution to the ongoing debate about where we should go with that age group.

However, good behaviour in individual classrooms is not enough. To ensure consistency, schools need to adopt a whole-school approach. Strategies that set the tone on behaviour issues, such as anti-bullying and discipline policies, pupil and community involvement and behaviour audits, are very important in providing a consistent approach. That is why we are working hard to ensure that schools have the confidence that they need to develop those whole-school approaches to promoting good behaviour and to develop and maintain positive learning environments for all children and have access to additional support for children who are experiencing problems.

We are currently designing comprehensive training materials for classroom teachers and developing the role of the lead behaviour professionals. Their role will be to take the lead on all aspects of behaviour in the school by training and supporting their peers and colleagues in the classroom and around the school, and in turn receiving ongoing mentoring support themselves. We are also responding to the strong requests from school staff for support in improving their skills in behaviour management. For example, we are providing such support in the programmes for continuing professional development for senior staff, some of the new leadership programmes and qualifications, the new "Leading from the Middle" programme for middle managers and the programmes for teaching assistants and trainee teachers, all of which now involve training in behaviour management techniques.

Of course, that is not all that is involved if we are to improve behaviour. Children are in school for a significant amount of their time, but school is only part of their life as they grow up. Schools cannot be expected to take the entire responsibility for improving behaviour and raising standards. This is an issue that the wider community needs to tackle. In particular, we need to tackle it with the help of parents, whose participation is vital to our success in this behaviour project.

Greater parental involvement is surely one of the benefits that is to be gained from extended schools. We are encouraging more schools to consider extending the services that are offered on the school site to benefit not only pupils but their families and the wider community. New services could include health and social care, child care, community learning opportunities, information and communications technology and sports facilities.

Through the provision of easy-to-access services, schools can forge better links with parents and encourage them to become actively involved in their child's education. The provision of other services on the school site can help pupils and families to deal with any problems that can contribute to poor behaviour. Schools that maintain and develop strong links with parents and the wider community can share responsibility for children's behaviour and their emotional and social well-being.

We are also emphasising parents' responsibilities towards their children by, for example, challenging the attitudes of those who condone their children's absence from school and extending the use of parenting orders to emphasise the importance of those responsibilities. The truancy sweeps that were conducted in May, focusing on the 34 local education authorities to which I referred, sent out a very strong message both locally and nationally that trivial excuses for missing school are unacceptable. Last week, we launched a new toolkit for schools on dealing with abusive or violent adults—often parents—to ensure that schools are aware of the legal avenues that are open to them in such cases, as well as to reinforce the fact that such action is intolerable. Of course, the vast majority of parents are not abusive or violent, but the clear message to those who are is one of zero tolerance.

We want to create a culture in schools that supports the emotional well-being of children and staff. I believe that the measures to which I have briefly referred will help us to accomplish that aim. They will help to ensure that improvements in achievement and behaviour are ongoing and nationwide, and that children who are at risk of developing behavioural problems will be helped within a supportive framework. Our main objective is to safeguard the interests of all children and to ensure that they have the chance to achieve their full potential by making sure that their educational options are not limited by their own poor behaviour or that of others.

As I am sure hon. Members in all parts of the House will know, in many communities it is the behaviour of pupils when arriving at and leaving school that determines the local perception of what that school is like. In turn, that local perception, which is shaped by the behaviour of pupils at school, can determine the views of local parents in making choices about which school they would prefer for their own children. For many schools—especially some of those in challenging circumstances—behaviour policy is therefore absolutely central to school improvement.

In the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools to speak to pupils, staff, governors and parents. It is absolutely clear that behaviour is a key concern in all those groups, whether it means that pupils are living in fear of being bullied, members of staff are considering quitting the profession because of the pressure or parents feeling that they have no ability to choose to send their children to the local school because of the behaviour that they see at the local bus stop. I want to work with schools, young people and local education authorities to promote good behaviour. I hope that today's debate can play a positive part in this very important area of work to promote the best behaviour in all our schools.

10.7 am

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

I am pleased to respond to the Minister this morning. He said that this was the first time he had been able to open a debate from the Dispatch Box. Like him, it usually falls to me to wind up debates, so I sometimes feel that I am always the bridesmaid and never the bride. The benefit of this being a Friday debate is that we both get to open this important discussion.

The Minister also spoke a little about his background and some of the reasons why he cared so much about education. Without taking too long a trip down memory lane or into family history, I reflected that while his parents were living in working-class areas of the east end of London, mine were living in Salford in similar circumstances. Obviously, something went horribly wrong, either in his case or mine, and one of us took a wrong turning in life. Perhaps we can decide when that happened and help to put it right in this debate.

The Minister spoke of education as a ladder of opportunity. In particular, he referred to a balance of rights and responsibilities in education—a point that I strongly endorse—and went on to refer to the now well-known research showing that 45 per cent. of teachers leaving the profession cite pupil behaviour as their principal reason for making that career move. That is an especially strong indicator of the scale of the problem that we face in our schools.

Improving pupil behaviour in our schools is not a simple problem. It is not easy to tackle because many factors lie behind it, ranging from the pressure of examinations to bullying, mental health issues, drugs and the Government's exclusion policy. The spectrum of pupil misbehaviour ranges from persistent low-level disruption to vicious assaults on other pupils or teachers.

Schools face a massive challenge, which affects academic results and teacher recruitment and retention. I recently met a teacher from a preparatory school in London. I asked him whether he had always taught in the independent sector or whether his background was in the maintained sector. The reply was the latter, and when I asked him why he had moved from the maintained to the independent sector, he immediately cited pupil behaviour. He said that he could not bear it any longer and that it was so bad that he would prefer to sweep the streets than continue in his previous school. That is appalling, and none of us can rest easy as long as it pertains.

The scale of the problem is shown in the research that Warwick university undertook on behalf of the National Union of Teachers. A third of the teachers who responded to the study said that they had witnessed offensive weapons in their schools; 83.2 per cent. reported threatened pupil-pupil violence, and nearly half experienced that weekly. More than half the respondents experienced threats from third parties, usually parents, and less often, former pupils, through written comments.

Nearly two thirds of respondents reported offensive language at least weekly. Damage to property was a routine occurrence in the working lives of almost half the respondents. Nearly half—46.8 per cent.—encountered persistent disruption and defiance weekly. More than four fifths of teachers regularly experienced disruption to their teaching. More than half the respondents encountered pupil-pupil bullying regularly. A tenth of teachers regularly experienced violent threats. Those are shocking statistics; I know that the Minister agrees.

One of the most worrying aspects is the evidence that suggests that the problems are getting worse, not better. An annual survey that Keele university conducted in November of the views of thousands of pupils in England and Wales recorded more than 40 per cent. saying that their lessons were being disrupted. That is a third more than when surveys began 10 years ago.

I shall read some comments by pupils in response to the research. A female pupil said: In some classes you can't concentrate because people are messing around. Sometimes the teacher doesn't even get round to setting the work because he/she is dealing with a child that is misbehaving. Another female pupil said: Our lessons are disrupted every lesson—we rarely get more than 10 minutes' worth of work done in an hour. A male pupil said: The school would be a much better place if expulsions were increased and they were to adopt a zero tolerance level to all badly behaved pupils. The school would be a better place if they could make a pupils' council to allow recommendations from the pupils. It is striking that not only the teachers who face abuse, violence or threatening behaviour in schools are worried and want action to be taken—pupils are also urging action.

We read more and more reports of horror stories that strike fear into the heart of any parent. This week, the Evening Standard reported a story, which appeared in several national newspapers, under the headline: "School told to let sex assault boy back in". The article stated: A 14-year-old boy expelled for indecently assaulting two girls at school has been allowed back by governors…The headmaster permanently excluded him from the Nottingham comprehensive. but the boy—who cannot be named for legal reasons—appealed to the governors, who said he should be allowed to return…The head told a newspaper, 'I believe the governors acted in good faith, but they were wrong to let him back in. I believe that what he did merited nothing less than permanent exclusion.' The chairman of the governors said: 'Education is a right for everyone.' I shall consider the comment of the chairman of governors shortly.

Another dreadful story made the national newspapers in March. I shall quote BBC Online's version: A pregnant teacher suffered a miscarriage after she was assaulted by rowdy pupils she was trying to discipline, an employment tribunal heard. The incident took place in Islington Green school in London. The article continued: Mrs. Blackburn told the tribunal there was a culture of violence at the school and teachers were routinely attacked by pupils, yet were instructed to intervene if pupils or staff were at risk of injury. She did that. The article stated: One pupil had already threatened to go round to her house and beat up her baby, the tribunal heard. 'I reported the incident to the head teacher. The student was given a suspension, I cannot tell for how long' said Mrs. Blackburn. 'She was subsequently readmitted to my class, over my objections.' We should reflect on those two stories. Education is a right for everyone, but should it override that of other pupils to personal safety? Should it force a teacher to face young thugs in her class who have threatened to assault her or her baby? No hon. Member would tolerate that environment for his child; we should not tolerate it for other people's children. We need a clear, unequivocal message that violent or abusive behaviour will not be tolerated.

As the chairman of governors at the excellent King David high school in Manchester said to me recently when I visited the school, pupils should be grateful that they are allowed to be part of a school. That does not happen if they are told that they have a right to be at the school, regardless of their behaviour. He said that they must feel proud of their school and that they owe something to the school community as well as having a right to take something from it. That reflects the Minister's point about the balance between rights and responsibilities, which is too often tipped in the wrong direction.

Exclusion is not the only solution or the end of the story. The Government continue to expand the pupil referral unit, and we welcome that. The Government are right to do it. However, a clear and robust strategy for improving pupil behaviour should be underpinned by the knowledge that appeals panels and Ministers will back up teachers and well-behaved pupils. The disruptive few must not be allowed to ruin educational opportunity for the hard-working many.

I want to consider the problem of drugs in our schools. The message is hopelessly confused, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) said in an earlier intervention. After the Home Secretary's statement this week, schools are in a state of uncertainty and confusion. Problems were already experienced in schools, and we considered that when the Education Bill was in Committee in January. I pressed the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), to give clear guidance to schools about drug abuse. I asked him to issue guidance to make it clear that pupils who had been excluded for drug abuse should not be readmitted. He said: It is unacceptable to take any illegal substance to school, but it is right that head teachers are allowed the discretion to make judgments about the powers at their disposal, whether that is no action, fixed-period exclusion or a permanent exclusion."—[Official Report, Standing Committee G, 10 January 2002; c. 370.] I accept that head teachers should have the discretion to make decisions. However, when they make such decisions and reach a conclusion about the appropriate disciplinary policy, they are too often undermined on appeal. Ministers should get to grips with that.

Between January, when I had exchanges in Committee with the Under-Secretary, and May, the Government appeared to have moved—at least, they were going to toughen up their rhetoric. Statements were made to the press, and a new tough line on discipline and drugs in schools was widely reported. However, on closer inspection, the Government's new tough policy was limited to those who deal in drugs. The sort of guidance for which I pressed would be given to appeals panels only when a pupil was excluded for dealing, not other instances of drug abuse. The head should set a disciplinary policy for the school; Ministers talked tough, went to the press and said that they endorsed that, and supported heads and parents who wanted a clear and tough policy. However, the small print made it clear that little movement had occurred. That confusion can only increase following the Home Secretary's statement this week.

As evidence of that, it is only necessary to cite the concerns raised by some of the head teachers' leaders. To quote from The Times of 11 July: Head teachers struggling to prevent cannabis use said yesterday that David Blunkett's decision would make it harder to convince children of the dangers of the drug. John Dunford, the general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the move sent a mixed message to children. 'For many years now, cannabis has been understood to be a dangerous drug. The Government is now re-categorising it, with limited explanation, and without the support of its drugs czar"'.

That concern was also picked up by David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers—

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)


Mr. Sheerman

He does not usually comment.

Mr. Brady

The Chairman of the Select Committee thinks it extraordinary that the general secretary of the NAHT should wish to comment on such an important matter, but I think it is entirely right. The comments that Mr. Hart made in the statement issued by the association raised those concerns and sought to send the sort of clear message that I would like the Government to send.

The NAHT has stated that decriminalisation of cannabis should not be allowed to undermine school drugs policies. Schools need robust guidance from the Department for Education and Skills that drug abuse will not be tolerated. When heads exclude a pupil for offences connected with drugs, that decision should not be overturned on appeal.

The same confusion underlies the Government's whole policy on exclusions. The rhetoric is tough but the practice is weak. Three years ago, the Government deliberately set about undermining discipline in schools.

Mr. Willis

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive my interrupting him as he prepares to move on to another point, but I would like to ask him a question before he leaves the drug issue. He has made it clear that Conservative Front Bench policy is to exclude all youngsters who bring drugs into school or who deal in drugs. Is that it? What would happen to those youngsters at that point? They do not get excluded from society; they have to go somewhere. I know that the hon. Gentleman is sincere in what he says, but will he give us some insight into Conservative policy on excluded youngsters?

Mr. Brady

I am flattered by the hon. Gentleman's compliments about my sincerity, but I fear that he was not paying sufficient attention to my remarks. As I made clear earlier, it is not our view that all pupils who are involved with drugs, in whatever way, must be permanently excluded. It is right that the head teacher should make such decisions. Our concern is that, all too often, the decisions taken by the head are subsequently undermined on appeal. Heads across the country are worried about that, in relation not only to drugs, but a wide range of other disciplinary problems. We believe that that needs to be tackled. There must be clear guidance from Ministers—the kind of guidance that they have been prepared to give in relation to part of the problem—namely, those who deal in drugs, but not to other aspects of it. I think that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) was present in Committee when we considered some of these problems during our deliberations on the Education Bill earlier in the year.

One of the difficulties for heads now is that, in a climate in which the Government have prompted a fairly major debate on what is appropriate behaviour in the context of drugs, they are left in the position of having to make individual judgments not only on the particular circumstances of a case and what is appropriate for a particular pupil, but on what is expected of them by society in our country today in terms of whether it is a serious disciplinary offence for a child to take drugs.

Ministers have repeatedly refused to help head teachers with that issue. They issue tough-sounding press releases to the Daily Mail, saying that they are going to crack down on drug abuse, but the small print makes it clear that the guidance applies only to drug dealing. Once again, heads are left to draw their own conclusions. That is not fair on the heads or on the schools, and it will certainly lead to wild inconsistency across the country in the way in which similar cases are dealt with.

The same confusion that we find in the Government's approach to drugs in schools underlies the whole policy of the Government on exclusion. The rhetoric is tough, but the practice is weak. Three years ago, they set about deliberately undermining discipline in schools. Their circular 10/99 required schools to undertake a variety of prior alternative strategies. What prior alternative strategy to exclusion could be appropriate in a case such as that of Linda Townsend, whose case was reported in the education section of The Guardian this week? She is a teacher who was covering a lesson for a colleague when she was assaulted. A boy attacked her because she asked him to leave the room. She was kicked and punched to the floor. She said: The first punch concussed me and after that I was like a rag doll. She says that she suffered bruising over her whole upper body and lost cartilage in both knees. She was off school for a month. She said: I couldn't sleep. I was having flashbacks. I was an emotional wreck. Again, we have to think back to the 45 per cent. of teachers leaving the profession who cite pupil behaviour as their principal reason for doing so. That becomes all too readily understandable when we hear of cases such as this.

Mr. Pound

The tone that the hon. Gentleman has struck in his current comments is rather at variance with the much more supportive and, perhaps, henotic statements that he was making earlier. On the prior warning indications, does he not realise that he is doing a grave disservice to teachers and educational professionals by implying that they do not do that anyway? Even in the extreme cases that he cites, the school community will address those issues at the earliest identification in every case. Bad cases make bad law, and the case to which he referred could easily be one that suddenly appeared; but, in the majority of cases, it is early identification that the educational professionals want, and on which the Government want to support them.

Mr. Brady

I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's point. I fear that the truth of the matter is that it was the Department for Education and Skills' circular that did a grave disservice to those professionals in the world of education, for precisely the reason that he cites—namely, that heads already undertake a variety of alternative strategies when it is appropriate and possible to do so. I never encounter heads in my constituency or in the many other schools that I visit around the country who are gung-ho about excluding pupils. That is not what they want to do, so they will certainly seek appropriate other strategies when such strategies exist.

I shall return to the case that I was describing a moment ago. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound) says that hard cases make bad law; they sometimes also illustrate a wider point, however, and I think that that is the case here. It is clear that the incident in question was not an isolated one. The report in The Guardian goes on: The boy had already threatened a teacher that day and been involved in other violent incidents at the school, including another assault on a teacher. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that this kind of problem is directly attributable to the Department's guidance, which has undermined schools' ability to enforce proper and appropriate discipline. When a child has assaulted a teacher once, it is quite remarkable to suggest that anything other than exclusion is appropriate; the fact that we expect a teacher to go back into a classroom with the same pupil who has assaulted him or her on a previous occasion—or occasions—is a remarkable comment on what we expect teachers to face in carrying out their duties.

Michael Fabricant

It is not just a matter of how teachers will react to that appalling situation when they meet those children again. Does not the fact that those children will be back again, with the same teacher, wrongly signal to other children in the class that they can do the same?

Mr. Brady

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fixing a target to reduce the number of exclusions, the Government were motivated not by educational good practice but by the policy of the social exclusion unit—it was a social, not an educational, policy. There may be some merit in its aim, but the result in our schools was, in some cases, horrific.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North is an amateur comedian from time to time, but, if he will allow me, I will make the slightly more complimentary remark that behind it all he is a level-headed sort of chap—[Laughter.] My remarks are provoking considerable dissent on the Government Benches. I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the scenario that I have described is not an isolated one, even in that school, let alone in many other schools around the country and that it is not acceptable. The fact that the Department for Education and Skills issued guidance that prevented head teachers from excluding pupils who had committed any disciplinary offence, without having prior alternative strategies in place, was clearly wrong, especially in the light of those hard cases of the most appalling abuse and violence. The policy could have been introduced only by people who are out of touch with what really goes on in schools and classrooms around the country.

Eventually even the Government accepted that the policy was wrong and was doing more harm than good and, thankfully, they have moved to water down and change the policy. It is now possible, for a limited number of different offences, to exclude on a first offence and without undertaking those prior strategies. Despite that, time and again I hear head teachers say that the difficulty is that they arrive at what they believe to be the right and necessary solution to deal with a problem in their school, and take what they believe to be the appropriate disciplinary action to exclude—it is not a decision that they take lightly—only to find that their decision is undermined on appeal.

Mr. Pound

Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?

Mr. Brady

How can I resist?

Mr. Pound

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will get no comedy from me today—this is not a humorous subject. The worst case of a primary school pupil assaulting a teacher was found, on examination, to have behind it the fact that the seven-year-old child involved had been systematically brutalised by his mother and her boyfriend. In fact, the child was simply repeating the behaviour that he had seen that morning. The school was anxious not to exclude the child, even though he had committed a horrendous assault on the teacher. For every terrible case and example that the hon. Gentleman can bring to the Dispatch Box, Members can bring others. Let us try to discuss the generality of the issue, not individual cases.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

Order. That was a little long for an intervention.

Mr. Brady

None the less, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. His example supports my point—a head teacher took the appropriate action, identified a problem that ran deeper than the superficial difficulties, and tried to respond in a way that would benefit the child concerned. That is welcome and appropriate, and is the kind of good practice that goes on in schools throughout the country every day. It cannot be appropriate to undermine that through appeals panels and Government guidance. The Government must be clearer and more robust in what they say appeals panels ought to do.

Listening to the hon. Member for Ealing, North, I am tempted to refer to just one other hard case to give a measure of what some heads and teachers around the country are dealing with. I shall not name the school in question, but it is the worst case that I have ever encountered. It has had 13 heads over six years. There have been two shootings and a fatal stabbing outside the school gates in the recent past.

Mr. Pound


Mr. Brady

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is correct, but I shall not reveal the school's identity. The list of problems goes on, and they are genuine and huge. The Government owe it to parents, teachers and the country to take those problems seriously and to tackle them. Their school discipline policy has been, to date, a massive fraud on the parents of Britain. They have talked tough at every turn, but they always act weakly.

Mr. Pound

Your heart is not in it.

Mr. Brady

The hon. Gentleman says that my heart is not in it.

Mr. Sheerman

This is supposed to be a speech, not an exchange between you two.

Madam Deputy Speaker


Mr. Brady

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), is trying to encourage a dialogue between himself and me.

Mr. Pound

It is a colloquium.

Mr. Brady

The hon. Gentleman says that this is a colloquium, but the crucial point, however much Labour Members try to divert us from it and however much they are not prepared to take it seriously, is that heads and teachers in schools up and down the country are struggling to maintain discipline. The impact on the schools' academic results and on their ability to attract and retain good teaching staff is being severely affected. We must have a clear and robust strategy from the Government, not just a strategy for the press and for broadcasting. It must get through to schools and be able to tackle this pressing problem.

10.37 am
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I had some severe doubts and felt some trepidation about the debate when I realised that it would be on a Friday because, first, I have to be here on a Friday, which is not my favourite time to be here, and secondly, because it would encourage the type of speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), a gentleman of whom we are all rather fond. He is certainly not unpopular in the House. The bulk of his speech was about some horrific cases, but we would like to have much fuller details, such as what the head teacher did and whether there was immediate exclusion after the violence or an appeals panel. He seemed to link a previous case with a case that was reported only last week.

I welcome the Minister to his job—it was nice to hear him make his first speech at the Dispatch Box—but he is not going to get an easy ride. During the debate, even he fell into the trap a little. Having listened to this debate, which has lasted for more than an hour, one would think that our schools are falling apart because of bad behaviour. That is not the case. This country has successful schools, where pupils learn and get good teaching, and where there is little incidence of poor behaviour. I would love it if Opposition Members would sometimes quote what Ofsted, rather than the Daily Mail, thinks about behaviour. In fact, behaviour is unsatisfactory in only one school in 12, according to Ofsted.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon)

Is it not the point that it takes only one or two children to disrupt a class? The fact that, overall, only one in 12 schools has a behavioral problem does not provide an answer for parents whose children's classes are being disrupted by those one or two children.

Mr. Sheerman

I am trying to correct the untrue impression that there is poor behaviour in every school.

Mr. Brady


Mr. Sheerman

I shall not give way for a while; let me get into my speech.

According to Ofsted, only one school in 12 has a problem with poor behaviour. Even small incidents of bad behaviour—and large ones in the 8 per cent. of schools in which that is a problem—can be incredibly disruptive. All my children have attended state schools and have had problems with their studies because they were sitting close to students who were not keen on the lessons. My children have come home and said, "We had an interesting history lesson, but some people in our class would not let the teacher teach." That is to be deplored. We need a bill of rights or a charter for parents, teachers and pupils, with the centre of a bill of rights for pupils being the right to learn and to get on with their studies.

Mr. Brady

The hon. Gentleman thinks that I went too far in my remarks. Is there not a danger that he is sounding complacent? He refers to a tiny minority of cases and schools. How can that possibly explain the 45 per cent. of teachers leaving the profession, citing pupil behaviour as their main reason for doing so? It is a much more widespread problem than he is prepared to accept.

Mr. Sheerman

If the hon. Gentleman listens to my speech, he will realise that I have great concerns about bad behaviour. I am interested in the ways in which we can interpret and analyse that on the basis of good research, before we bring in policies to try to remedy the situation. There is no doubt that a child's learning will be disrupted when there is bad behaviour in the class.

I have asked consistently—colleagues may ask why I am asking it again—what is most important in education and schooling. It is the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom. Anything that disrupts that must be deplored.

When I go around schools—I am not ambulance-chasing here—I hear head after head saying that something happened to the moral standards of this country under Thatcher. There was a moral vacuum; it was a time of "anything goes" materialism and the quick buck. During the Thatcher period moral values seemed to disappear. Something happened in that 18-year period of Conservative rule to undermine all behaviour in all schools, and that is to be deplored. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West ought to visit his schools and speak to some of the older heads who have been around for while about the moral decay of the Thatcher years. I hear about that very often.

There are real problems, and the links to crime are worrying. Statistics from Ofsted and the Home Office show the relationship between poor behaviour and exclusion, and the dreadful cycle of decline into petty crime, more serious crime and prison. What is shameful is our track record of failure in the education of people who are in prison. I am keen that the Select Committee should look at prison education soon, as that subject has only come into our remit since Ofsted was given a role in that matter.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is absolutely right that the figure of 70,000 people in prison for non-violent offences is far too high. We must track back with prisoners to see what their educational experience was. We must learn from that—what happened to their education and how and why did that occur?

Family background is very important and we can be too politically correct in this House. I visit schools in my constituency and around the country. What kind of behaviour can we expect from the children of the large number of drug addicts in this country? What kind of behaviour can we expect from the children of those affected by that much more common drug, alcohol? There is disruptive and violent behaviour by parents. What is it like to go to school after a night lying in bed hearing your parents fighting and screaming? What sort of misery does that bring to a child? What chance does a child who has been physically and sexually abused have of an education? We know the statistics. What kind of behaviour can we expect from families with a range of dreadful problems?

There was a disruptive child in a school in my constituency. He never went to bed; he fell asleep in an armchair. He stayed up at night, watching pornographic videos with his parents. What sort of behaviour does that teach a child in terms of his fellow pupils and their parents? There are horror stories, but we must remember the background of many children in our country.

The Minister rightly said that bullying in schools was a dangerous form of bad behaviour. One third of all girls and one quarter of all boys are afraid to go to school at some point because of bullying. That figure comes from the Department for Education and Skills website. Whether it is physical, verbal or indirect bullying—psychological bullying, especially among girls, is very often more damaging than physical bullying—it has a long-lasting effect on people and can result in a loss of confidence and truancy and can adversely affect school achievement, creating a life of misery.

Anti-bullying packs have been sent to all schools and the DFES has produced an excellent website on the theme of "Don't suffer in silence." I do not think that the Minister mentioned that good innovation this morning. Nevertheless, however good these measures are, bullying still occurs far too regularly.

Where I have seen good and well-managed schools, I have seen very little evidence of bullying. The lesson is that good, well-managed schools with consistent policies can, over time, sort out bullying and poor behaviour. We need to tackle the root causes of bullying and other forms of bad behaviour in schools, and we must also support the teaching profession when bullying occurs. How do we begin to improve behaviour? How do we turn bad behaviour into good?

Good behaviour is linked to better attendance rates and better opportunity so that those from deprived backgrounds are not restricted in what they can attain. It is linked also to the wonderful work that the Select Committee has seen on the sure start initiative. The Government are very reluctant to say what the future of sure start is. When the Select Committee considered early years education, we looked at sure start. In terms of breaking the cycle of social deprivation in education, sure start has been extremely successful. It engaged parents, including the pre-birth period involving the pregnant woman and her partner.

We have seen classes promoting the early stimulation of children. We know the importance of playing with, stimulating and massaging the baby. It is important to tell the stories that one assumes every parent in the country knows. I am blessed to have my first grandchild. I got great pleasure only yesterday, seeing her at nine months old, and trying to remember—my wife is much better at it—all the nursery rhymes that form part of our heritage and oral tradition.

Mr. Pound

"Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out, out, out."

Mr. Sheerman

I have not tried that; it is a good one. I do not know whether I will try that when I am jogging her up and down on my knee, but I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion.

We must talk about tackling the language barriers, about which the Minister was reticent. If a child cannot speak the language, bad behaviour can be a problem as students can become very frustrated. We have been too politically correct for too long about the absolute importance of insisting that new arrivals to this country learn English, which will open up their full potential in their education and in their working lives. For too long, we have been too deferential, saying that it is up to the individual to learn the language. I do not think that the rights and responsibilities of our country should be enjoyed until people can speak the language of this land. In Denmark and Sweden there is an insistence on children and their parents learning English. In Denmark, if immigrant parents do not learn English they do not receive the full benefits.

Mr. Pound


Mr. Sheerman

They do not have all the benefits taken away, but they do not get all of them if they cannot show that they are trying to learn the language of the country. I feel strongly that learning English is important, and it is linked to behaviour.

Mr. Willis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Sheerman

No, I shall not give way, because this is a debate on behaviour. The hon. Gentleman was badly behaved last week, and I am excluding him from intervening on my speeches until I have an apology from him.

Families take their children away from school at particular times in their education, sometimes to disrupt it. Young girls of 13 are taken to Pakistan for long periods, and their language and education are disrupted. That is not good for their education. We need a consistent policy. I ask the Minister to consider language and how difficult it is for schools.

Those of us who are interested in education visit many schools, and we know that there are high pupil turnovers, especially in inner-city schools—not in the leafy suburbs or at Eton, Harrow and Winchester. Those high turnovers are to be found in areas where, according to the statistics published this morning, there are high levels of street crime. In many schools, teachers tell me that they do not know who they will be teaching when they walk into school in the morning. A batch of new pupils has come in and another batch has gone out. What sort of education can be provided in those circumstances, and what behaviour can we expect when students are struggling to understand the lessons because they have poor English? We have underestimated the importance of knowing the language and understanding and communicating better. We need a holistic approach: not short-term, one-off measures, but a policy over years that is much better than the present one.

I do not want to speak for much longer, but I cannot deal with better classroom management in isolation. Good classroom management is as important as good school management. There is a dramatic difference between a classroom in which the teacher understands good classroom management and has been taught the relevant skills, and a classroom in which the teacher does not have those skills. We have an excellent, wonderful teaching profession. It is important to give teachers good classroom management skills. For too long, we have taken it for granted that it is enough for someone to be a good maths teacher, a good physics teacher or a good language teacher. Only late in the day did we understand that classroom management skills were vital to an understanding of how to regulate and manage behaviour.

There should be dialogue with parents. I was not condemning parents in my earlier remarks: I was just saying that some parents have great problems, which they inflict on their children. Children often have problems at home, but is there anything the school can do to help? Is the link between the school and the parents good enough? Is there enough counselling and support networks for parents? Some of the measures that the Minister told us about are interesting, but some teachers feel that they cannot cope with so many initiatives.

I want to emphasise the quality of teaching. Ofsted has just published an interesting report. It showed that the weaker teachers are given the 11 to 14 year group. It is good to see my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) in the Chamber. The Government are particularly interested in 11 to 14-year-old students, as is the Select Committee on Education and Skills. We are considering that age range because that is when bright kids come out of the primary school system and their interest in education and their attainment reach a plateau or decline. That transitional age is a real problem, because it is when behavioural problems commonly tend to set in.

We must consider closely Ofsted's report last week, which suggested that some of the weaker teachers or supply teachers are shifted into 11 to 14 education. Poor behaviour starts somewhere, and if Ofsted and other experts have identified that 11 to 14 is the crucial age, we must ensure that those children are stimulated and that their interest in education is maintained.

Good management and good teaching are the key to our multifaceted approach, but so is consistency. I make a plea to the Minister and to the Government to ensure that policies are consistent and are carried through. I do not mind initiatives, but I want them to build one on the other and to be consistent over time. Governments owe it to schools to be consistent in their management and policies. Ofsted has shown that successful schools are consistent in their plans and policies, and do not chop and change in short-term programmes. Children must have stability, and need to be supported by effective, long-term policies.

Two areas need particular attention: the 11 to 14 age group and ethnic minority pupils, especially black boys. At a recent seminar with the Select Committee that was held in the House of Commons, Professor David Gillborn said that the behaviour of black children can be misinterpreted and read as aggression, resulting in their being placed in low sets, well below their real ability. Assessing ethnic minority children on the right basis, rather than on the basis of prejudice, is very important. Ofsted says that in black culture what really works is emphasising respect for every pupil.

These may not be all the answers, but I am conscious that a statement will be made at 11 o'clock. I shall end by making an appeal. Good management, policies over time and consistency are what the education system deserves from Ministers, the Government, teachers and heads. There are some good, well-intentioned people in the education sector. I hope that they will take those long-term views and values to heart.

10.58 am
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

I was desperately hoping that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) would carry on for another two minutes.

I tried to intervene on him to help him in that mission. I congratulate the Minister on his opening speech. The Prime Minister was exceedingly wise when he chose him to take up this portfolio. His approach to the debate in covering a wide range of issues is a credit to him, and set a good tone for the whole debate. I thank him for that.

Mr. Pound


Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman should not presume that there was to be a "but". I was about to say that I am delighted that the Government take the problem of homophobic bullying seriously. In 1990, I drew attention to the research paper by Ian Rivers "Social Exclusion, Absenteeism and Sexual Minority Youth Study", which showed that 72 per cent. of young lesbian and gay men and women had experienced extreme bullying at school. That issue is very serious, but has often been clouded by debates about whether advice should be given.

It being Eleven o'clock, MADAM SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).

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