Teachers could be allowed to use 'reasonable force' in behaviour crackdown

Ministers could be preparing a crackdown on bad behaviour in schools with teachers to be allowed to use "reasonable force" and urged to confiscate mobile phones, according to a report.

Wednesday, 28th August 2019, 8:24 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th August 2019, 9:24 am
Teachers could be allowed to use 'reasonable force' in behaviour crackdown

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that it had seen a briefing document from the Department for Education, dated August 22 and marked "Official-Sensitive", which included a slew of controversial new measures for schools, including harsher rules for tackling unruly pupils and cuts to the number of teaching assistants.

The proposals will be spearheaded by a £3.5 billion funding announcement and plans to increase teachers' basic pay to £30,000 by 2022.

But also set to grab headlines will be suggested plans for more stringent rules to help schools in the fight against ill-discipline.

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Confiscating mobile phones, same-day detentions and even the use of reasonable force were measures said to be outlined in the briefing note, with headteachers to be given further powers when it comes to suspending and expelling disruptive children and youths.

Cuts to support staff could also be forthcoming, with the number of teaching assistants set to be reduced if the details of the report are correct. Further free schools could also be rolled out, along with a fresh push to convert local authority grant-maintained schools to academies.

The DfE said it did not recognise the "figures" reported by the Guardian and said priorities for the new Secretary of State, Gavin Williamson, would be announced "in due course".

According to the report, the DfE paper includes a major focus on poor behaviour in schools.

"This government backs headteachers to improve behaviour and will support them to create safe and disciplined school environments," the document is said to state.

"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."

The headline figure for the £3.5bn funding boost is broken down into an additional £2.8bn for primary and secondary schools up to the age of 16, including £800m for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). The details for an extra £800m for sixth form and further education colleges are still under discussion with the Treasury, according to the Guardian.

Last year, the Institute for Fiscal Studies estimated per-pupil funding had been cut by 4% in real terms since 2015, after a freeze was imposed by the Government. It estimated returning school funding to 2015 levels would require nearly £2bn.

The leaked paper was also said to contain evidence that Downing Street and the DfE had calculated that there are too many teaching assistants (TAs) working in the education system.

"No 10 and HMT (the Treasury) have been keen to publicly express concerns about the rising number of TAs and set out Government's commitment to more effective deployment of TAs being integral to more efficient use of school spend," it states.

The document, according to the newspaper, advises against going public with the possibility of TA cuts, warning "it would undermine the 'hearts and minds' aspect of the announcement with the numerous audiences we know value TAs - parents, teachers, heads and (the) SEND lobby".

"This needs to be handled very sensitively if we are to protect the positivity of the announcement," the leaked note says.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called the alleged details of the briefing "concerning".

She said: "Time after time Boris Johnson has backed Tory cuts to school budgets that created the crisis in our classrooms, while slashing taxes for the richest.

"Johnson shows no sign of taking the action needed to undo that damage, and isn't even proposing to reverse the Conservatives' cuts to schools since 2010.

"It is concerning that this leaked document shows senior Tories casting doubt on the value of teaching assistants and suggesting that more cuts are on the way, despite the vital work they do, such as supporting children with special education needs.

"The next Labour government will fully reverse Tory cuts to our schools, increasing per pupil funding in real terms and offering a real-terms pay rise to both teachers and support staff."

A DfE spokeswoman said: "We do not comment on leaks. We will announce further information on our domestic priorities in due course."