The coalition’s Schools White Paper seeks to strengthen teachers’ powers to challenge difficult behaviour. This week’s Behaviour Matters examines the proposals set out in the document

The Schools White Paper The Importance of Teaching, published in November 2010, states that ‘teachers report they often feel unsafe in schools’ and that, in many cases, ‘they are unclear about the powers they have to deal with disruption in the classroom.’

The document seeks to strengthen and simplify teachers’ existing position and powers, ensuring that they feel supported and protected when addressing difficult behaviour. There is also an intention to strengthen powers to search pupils, issue detentions and use reasonable force where necessary. In addition, section 3.6 of the White Paper states proposals to:

  • support teachers to challenge behaviour by legislating to grant them anonymity when accused by pupils and speeding up investigations
  • strengthen headteachers’ authority to maintain discipline beyond the school gates and improve exclusion processes
  • expect headteachers to take a strong stand against bullying – particularly prejudice-based racist, sexist and homophobic bullying
  • focus Ofsted inspections more strongly on behaviour and safety, including bullying, as one of four key areas of inspection
  • change the current system of independent appeal panels for exclusions so that they take less time, and ensure that pupils who have committed a serious offence cannot be reinstated
  • ensure that all children being educated in alternative provision get a full-time education
  • improve the quality of alternative provision by giving existing providers more autonomy and encouraging new providers – including new alternative provision free schools
  • pilot a new approach to permanent exclusions where schools have the power, money and responsibility to secure alternative provision for excluded pupils; increase the authority of classroom teachers and support them to discipline pupils appropriately.

Practical tips

Before looking at the proposals highlighted in the White Paper, it is worthwhile taking some time to audit or compare your current understanding and practice in relation to existing legislation and guidance. Does your school behaviour policy give clear directions regarding your powers to discipline? Particularly reference this to:

  • a hierarchical and consistent approach to discipline and managing difficult behaviour
  • the use of detention and the agreed in-school processes
  • how the current sanctions available to you reflect your own professional judgement and your knowledge of individual students
  • the powers to use force or physical restraint that are currently in place. Are you fully conversant with these, and how the White Paper seeks to strengthen them? There will be a ‘short, clear and robust guide’ on teachers’ powers to use reasonable force and the government will also give schools greater discretion to decide on the most appropriate approach to monitoring the exercise of these powers
  • current guidance regarding the confiscation of students’ personal property and the powers teachers have regarding searching students

As well as strengthening disciplinary powers, the White Paper also comments on intended changes to the following:

  • further protection for teachers regarding false allegations
  • the authority of headteachers beyond the school gates
  • support for schools, and particularly headteachers, in taking a stand against bullying
  • encouraging Ofsted to focus more strongly on behaviour and safety
  • confirming powers to exclude pupils and improving provision
  • reforms to the exclusion appeals process
  • improvements to the quality of alternative provision
  • intentions to pilot a new approach to permanent exclusions
  • further guidance and advice on screening, searching and confiscation, the use of force and restraining pupils.

While the proposed changes within the White Paper may be aimed at strengthening current powers, this is also an excellent opportunity to ensure that current guidance is fully understood and applied consistently. There is no doubt that teachers who don’t properly understand what is available to them will have difficulty responding to challenging behaviour. A frustrated, angry teacher can all too easily fall into the trap of issuing threats or making the wrong response due to a lack of clarity in their understanding of existing guidance.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2011

About the author: Dave Stott has 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools, and Local Authority behaviour support services. Dave is now a writer, consultant and trainer.