Zero-tolerance schools should be ‘unreservedly celebrated’, says MP

A teacher-turned-MP said schools with zero-tolerance behaviour policies should be “unreservedly celebrated” for ensuring staff aren’t “treated as punch bags”.

In a Westminster Hall debate on exclusions yesterday, Jonathan Gullis, the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, dismissed concerns schools were on a “exclusions spree”.

If we do not have zero-tolerance policies or exclusions, where is the protection for our teachers

He even said he’d witnessed headteachers keep children that should have been excluded in internal exclusion for fear of “triggering an Ofsted inspection and breeding further stresses for teachers, pupils and parents”.

The debate was moved by Labour MP for Croydon Central Sarah Jones, who said increasing numbers of school exclusions was “one element of inequality in society that is moving in the wrong direction”.

Gullis, who was a teacher for eight years before becoming an MP at the recent election, said: “There is not some excluding spree going on; it is not a decision taken lightly.”

“We should unreservedly celebrate schools with high expectations and zero-tolerance policies,” he added. “We should follow the example set by Michaela Community School, in Brent, and Magna Academy, in Poole, both of which have excellent Ofsted ratings, excellent results and the highest standards of behaviour.”

He said such policies protect teachers from being “treated like a punch-bag”.

“Policies and laws are in place to protect our police, emergency workers, nurses and so on. If we do not have zero-tolerance policies or exclusions, where is the protection for our teachers?”

He also said there’s a culture in schools “that means we must try to find an excuse for poor behaviour of young people”.

“It is time we start to back our teachers, not run them down. It is forgotten far too easily that teachers spend the vast majority of their time and energy to help and support the 2 per cent to 3 per cent who display poor behavioural discipline, neglecting for large portions of the school day those pupils who behave correctly and simply want to learn.”

Edward Timpson, the Conservative MP for Eddisbury and former children’s minister, also used the debate to challenge the government to accelerate implementation of the recommendations of his review into exclusions.

Timpson asked when work on the accountability of excluded children will be “stepped up and shared outside the Department for Education”.

He also asked when a promised consultation on reducing the upper-limit of fixed-term exclusions will happen and for more information around plans, revealed by Schools Week, for large academy trusts to open their own AP.

On accountability of excluded pupils, the schools minister Nick Gibb said expectations for pupils in AP “have not been high enough in the past”.

“As part of our drive to improve quality across the AP sector, we will consider how we can better assess performance and strengthen accountability for pupils in AP. We will have more to say on that in due course.”

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  1. It does not follow that in not having a zero tolerance approach that teachers will be used as punch bags.
    Neither does it follow that not having a zero tolerance attitude that the school doesn’t have ‘high expectations’.
    There are many outstanding secondary schools which don’t have zero-tolerance policies. Why, then, just praise those that do?

    • Mark Watson

      I agree. Nice schools in leafy Home Counties suburbs, filled with well-behaved children of middle-class families, don’t need a zero tolerance approach and probably have extremely high expectations.

      But perhaps Jonathan Gullis has personal experiences which don’t chime with that. Perhaps in schools where discipline and standards disappeared a long time ago there is a need for dramatic action to turn things round.

      I would say it’s totally wrong to think that every school must have a zero tolerance approach. But I would argue it’s equally wrong to think that no school should have a zero tolerance approach.

      • Mark – you’re right that behaviour policies are a matter for individual schools. But alarm bells ring when only one method is held up as being worthy of praise.
        Gullis taught in Faifax, an academy in B’Ham which has been praised for the good to outstanding behaviour of its pupils consistently, even before it converted to an academy in 2011. I can’t say whether it had a zero tolerance policy throughout this time. It hasn’t been basking in the blaze of ministerial approval in the same way as Michaela, so perhaps not.

        • Mark Watson

          Now that comment I totally agree with. And I also think that ‘unreservedly celebrating’ anything is never going to be appropriate.

          Personally I don’t think that “zero tolerance” is likely to be the right thing for most schools. But I can believe that there are some schools where this will be the best idea.

          As you say, “behaviour policies are a matter for individual schools”. But this means respecting schools when they impose a behaviour policy that you might not agree with.

  2. Rich Atterton

    When school is not just the safest place left for some children but the only place left, zero tolerance schools need to consider their duty of care when making exclusions. As local authority cuts continue to bite, schools are left as the 4th emergency service for some of our most vulnerable children. I am sure school that practice the kind of zero tolerance approach we are talking about are aware of their statutory duty to safeguard children.

    • Mark Watson

      In a school where some children present an actual physical danger to other children and staff, what about the duty of care to those being placed in harm’s way by the continued presence of those individuals? What about the duty of care to safeguard the majority of children?

      Just because local authorities have shut down most of their PRUs and shamefully and abjectly abdicated their responsibilities in this area (something which hardly ever gets mentioned) doesn’t mean that schools should have to keep children on roll that not only are a physical risk to others but also take up so much resource that other children’s education suffers.

      When people start complaining about how schools shouldn’t exclude I always wonder how different their position would be if it was their child, or their spouse, going into school every day in fear of being beaten up.

  3. Heather Lucas

    Zero tolerance is not the only way (and I would say definitely not a problem free way) to safety. There is the seduction in simplicity that skims over many long term implications.

  4. Eleanor Wright

    Lovely. He’s celebrating schools which discriminate actively against disabled children by punishing them for behaviour which is the effect of unmet special educational needs. Too often we hear of schools refusing to make reasonable adjustments for this because they say they can’t treat some children differently from others, although manifestly they can: they wouldn’t punish a child in a wheelchair for failing to stand up when told to, for instance.

    What puzzles me about the UK exclusion culture is that it’s used much more here than elsewhere in Europe. How come teachers in other countries can manage to keep children in school when ours apparently can’t?