There are few things more appealing to the right of the Tory Party than a bit of good old-fashioned discipline. Nothing whets the appetite like a bit of comprehensive school chaos, children running riot and feckless public servants losing control.
Into this fertile territory, steps Michael Gove – not quite whip in hand, but keen and stiff-backed – with his ‘new guidance‘ for tackling naughtiness in schools.
And what a hotch-potch it is. It’s more a series of random, disparate and occasionally dotty ideas – or a repetition of powers that already exist – than anything that could accurately be described as a ‘plan’.
So here we have, to much fanfare, the announcement that teachers can use reasonable force in the classroom. Splendid stuff, except this power exists already – nothing new. Same with powers to exclude pupils who make malicious allegations – nothing new.
Then there is the slightly bizarre proposal that, in cases of malicious allegation, the ‘default position’ is that the teacher has behaved reasonably ‘unless a complainant can show that a teacher has behaved unreasonably’. Read that a couple of times. Is that not a statement of the blindingly obvious – a re-iteration of ‘innocent until proven guilty’? Good to know – thanks Michael – but it’s very hard to see, beyond the headline, what concrete difference this makes to the school day.
Where the guidance is worthy of a press release, the ideas seem designed for the Daily Mail rather than for the classroom. How often, for example, will a power to prosecute children who make malicious allegations be applied? Never, would be my guess. Such a proposal fits the bill for a Secretary of State that wants to talk tough, but is destined to achieve next to nothing in the real world.
On exclusions, Gove is broadly incoherent – citing the number of kicked-out kids as evidence that schools are out of control, yet also urging Heads to take action (which suggests more exclusions, not less). Added to this morass is a new proposal to make schools accountable for the educational outcome of excluded pupils. How a Head should navigate all that is anyone’s guess.
The reality is that the new guidance is a muddled and modest affair, unremarkable and uninspiring. And it’s all stick and no carrot, but my guess is the spin machine at Education HQ will be quite pleased with this – what amounts to nothing more than a bureaucratic tidying up of fairly dry guidance has provided fodder for much talking tough. On closer inspection it seems this was all cooked up for the Telegraph, not for teachers.