Monday, May 11, 2009

'Give unruly kids a right royal rollicking' (whatever that is) says British nut

School behaviour tsar spells out his solution to Britain's unruly classrooms: don't suspend pupils, just send them to the head. Talk without the cane to back it up is unlikely to achieve anything, though

A good old-fashioned bawling out in the head's office can be a better way of dealing with badly behaved pupils than suspending them, the Government's behaviour "tsar" says today. Sir Alan Steer, a former headteacher, warns that schools that frequently suspend pupils for two or three weeks at a time should review their policies because they are failing to tackle poor behaviour.

"Sending them to the head and giving them a right royal rollicking could be better than giving them a fixed-term exclusion," he said in an interview with The Independent. "Some schools seem to have very high levels of fixed-term exclusions," he said ."I don't see that as showing you're tough on discipline. It could be absolutely the opposite. It is not being very effective and you might need to rethink your strategy if a pupil is excluded again and again. They just get used to being out of school."

Sir Alan, a former head of Seven Kings school in Ilford, Essex, who is coming to the end of his four-year tenure, was speaking for the first time since his "swansong" report on discipline last month. His comments also come on the day a new report shows that bright pupils in disadvantaged schools are missing out on GCSE grades because of the anti-learning culture of other children in the school.

The report, by the education charity the Sutton Trust, revealed talented pupils in the most disadvantaged schools underperform compared to pupils from the suburbs by half a grade per GCSE.

Sir Alan also discussed his plan to enshrine in law the teacher's right to impose discipline – making measures such as detention and confiscating mobile phones legal. He considers the new powers necessary because too many parents challenge school discipline rather than support it. As a result, some schools are reluctant to use traditional methods of discipline.

Sir Alan also warned that schools are flouting a new law under which children expelled or suspended are entitled to a full-time education after six days out of the classroom. By not sticking to the rules, excluded pupils are left to roam the streets and are falling prey to gang influences. "They're not likely to go to libraries," he added.

Figures show that, while the overall number of permanent exclusions has fallen to around 8,680 a year, the number of suspensions has risen. In particular, according to figures released by the Conservatives, the number of children excluded more than 10 times in a year has tripled in four years.

Michael Gove, the shadow Education Secretary, says that headteachers should have more freedom to exclude pupils permanently by abandoning the right to appeal against exclusion, but Sir Alan said he believed Mr Gove's case to be "misleading". "It is said that 25 per cent of pupils successfully appeal," he said. "Well, there are 8,680 permanent exclusions – 970 of which went to appeal. Of these 250 were successful but only 100 of them ended with the pupil being reinstated. You can see where they got the 25 per cent figure from, just about, but the number reinstated was about 1.2 per cent of the total."

Sir Alan also wants new powers allowing teachers to search pupils for weapons, drugs and alcohol to be reviewed in three years' time to see whether they are effective. He said: "If you're faced with a 6ft 6in teenager you suspect of having a machete, I would be the first to say it's a case for bringing in the boys in blue rather than searching for it yourself."

Sir Alan, who caused controversy when he launched his latest report at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers' conference with a declaration that "there is no behaviour crisis in schools", stuck to his guns. "I really strongly believe we don't have a crisis in our schools," he said. "We have problems and we have to tackle them but there have always been problems. Most kids are great. Why don't we think more of the 150,000 kids who are sole carers for their family – or the tens of thousands who spend hours and hours volunteering in the community? We have a tendency to be constantly negative about children."


Students at top British university revolt over teaching standards

A PRESTIGIOUS university has been hit by Britain’s first tuition fee rebellion from hundreds of students angry at reduced teaching hours and attempts to have essays marked by undergraduates instead of lecturers. Some 600 students reading economics and finance at Bristol have signed a complaint arguing that the university has failed to improve its teaching since tuition fees were raised to more than £3,000 in 2006. Instead, they claim standards have deteriorated. In a seven-page complaint to the university they write: “Since 2006 the university has charged more and delivered less. We demand results today.”

The rebellion may be copied by students at other universities as the number studying for degrees increases while funding to teach them is squeezed. It will make it harder for universities to justify a further increase in fees in a review this summer by John Denham, the universities secretary.

Eric Thomas, Bristol’s vice-chancellor, has argued that the £3,145 limit on tuition fees is too low, although he acknowledges the recession has ruled out an early increase.

The protests at Bristol have been led by Robert Denham, a former grammar school pupil from Croydon, south London, and Roderick McKinley, who attended the independent Westminster school. “Bristol gives a good education, but it is not good enough,” said Denham (who is not related to John Denham). “There had been a lot of general moaning but the spark was a decision to cut the length of exams from three hours to two.”

One academic at Bristol, who declined to be named, said: “It has created a sensation at the university. This is the most important student rebellion in this country in a generation. They should be proud.”

The complaint by Denham, McKinley and fellow students analyses the university’s finances and points out how it has benefited from increased income. “Revenue per student from tuition fees has increased and we simply ask that the quality of our education be improved accordingly,” it says, before listing grievances, all of which it claims have been sparked by the university's cost-cutting:

- Some student essays are already being marked by fellow undergraduates, instead of academics, in a trial that could see strugglers giving marks to high-flyers.

- The prospectus suggested lectures would be given to groups of about 100 students. In reality, they contain up to 380, although 150-200 is more typical.

- Tutorials for small groups have been withdrawn for many students. Some of the rest contain up to 30 undergraduates. “The [department] should be providing more contact with academics, not less,” the complaint states.

- Money from tuition fees is being diverted to other parts of the university rather than improving education for undergraduates.

David Willetts, the Tories’ shadow universities secretary, who has helped broker negotiations at Bristol, said: “The students have done a very impressive and thorough analysis of the education they are entitled to expect for paying their fees. This will be a powerful trend that universities ignore at their peril.” He added: “The only way universities could ever win an argument for higher fees is to show this would benefit the students and parents paying the fees. They have to wise up.”

The dispute at Bristol - which the complaint acknowledges still offers a “top-class education” - shows even the most prestigious universities are under severe pressure from Labour’s mass expansion of higher education. Universities say that they may have to make thousands of redundancies to achieve £180m efficiency savings by 2011. Academics are being balloted by the University and College Union on action in support of a 6% pay claim.

The previous hike in fees sparked one of the most serious backbench rebellions of Tony Blair’s premiership.

Bristol, which celebrates its centenary this year, is still negotiating with students over their complaints. A spokesman said several of the changes described by the undergraduates as a decline in quality had been carried out only after consulting them - for example, changes to class size and to exam time. He said that students were not receiving less teaching time than those studying economics and finance at rival universities.

Bristol has described as “not true” the idea that increased tuition fees were intended to lead directly to improved teaching. Instead, it says they are aimed at strengthening the finances of universities.

Bristol University came 16th in the latest Sunday Times University Guide rankings, and would have been higher but for poor student scores. It was ranked sixth by head teachers and ninth by academics, but data from the National Student Survey showed undergraduates were less positive, putting it 109th, with just 11 institutions below it.


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