Documents leaked to the Guardian reveal that, among a series of changes to school policies, the government will back headteachers to improve behaviour and support them to create “safe and disciplined school environments”.
Two measures in the briefing paper are likely to be universally welcomed – a £3.5bn increase in schools funding and an increase in teachers’ basic pay to £30,000pa – but there is likely to be concern over its focus on discipline.
The paper states, according to the Guardian: “We will back heads to use powers to promote good behaviour including sanctions and rewards; using reasonable force; to search and confiscate items from pupils (including mobile phones); impose same-day detentions; suspend and expel pupils; ban mobile phones.”
One key phrase – “reasonable force” – is immediately proving itself a subject of concern, with the vagueness of the term and potential openness to interpretation leading to some alarm.
Some teachers pointed out that the term is already used to cover staff when they have to physically intervene to stop a child hurting themselves or others.
They argued that it essentially means teachers aren’t forced to stand by and allow children to get hurt for fear of legal action.
Commenting on the leaked paper, Siobhan Freegard, founder of ChannelMum.com, said “reasonable force” is a fluid term, and believes headteachers will want to see what it means in practice before deciding whether to implement, “as some might be uncomfortable with the idea”.
“Firm guidelines will need to be put in place to protect both child and school,” she added.
But Freegard said it’s also important to remember most schools don’t have a serious issue with discipline or pupil behaviour.
“For those pupils who do regularly exhibit challenging behaviour, it’s unfair for teachers to expected to sort it out alone,” she told HuffPost UK. “Often there are serious issues at home or with bullying, or in some cases the parent or carer lacks the basic skills to support the child properly.
“In this instance, pupils need support from home, school and where necessary, other agencies such as social services working effectively and in tandem.”
“For those pupils who do regularly exhibit challenging behaviour, it’s unfair for teachers to expected to sort it out alone.”
Corporal punishment was outlawed in state schools in 1986 and private schools in 1998. A 2011 YouGov poll found that while 64% of over-60s were in favour of reinstating it, just a third of 18-24-year-olds felt that schools should be allowed to physically punish children.
Additional elements outlined in the leaked government paper include a reduction in the number of teaching assistants – something the paper’s authors suggest should be “handled sensibly” so as not to “undermine the ‘hearts and minds’ aspect of the announcement with the numerous audiences we know value TAs – parents, teachers, heads and [the] SEND [special educational needs and disabilities] lobby.”