What steps she is taking to assist teachers in managing disruptive classroom behaviour.
What representations she has received from teachers' unions on the development of policy on preventing disruptive behaviour in the classroom.
We have consulted a range of teacher representatives, including trade unions, on how to tackle poor behaviour in schools. We shall shortly be introducing statutory powers for teachers and other school staff to discipline pupils, as well as a range of other measures.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The Ofsted report shows an improvement in pupil behaviour over the past year, which is reflected in the drop in the number of exclusions in my local authority of Sandwell. Does she agree that more needs to be done and that essential to the campaign to improve pupil behaviour is parental support? Will she outline the steps that the Department is taking to engage parents further in that process?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the involvement of parents and how important it is for improving not only children's behaviour, but their attainment in school. When we asked a group of head teachers—the Steer group—to look at those issues, they came up with a number of recommendations specifically about how parents might better be involved in the process: for example, that parenting contracts should be made available earlier, before a pupil is excluded from school; that parents should be responsible for supervising excluded pupils during the first five days of an exclusion; and that parents should attend a mandatory reintegration interview following their child's suspension from school. Those are all concrete, useful proposals that we shall be able to take forward in the forthcoming education Bill and they will make a difference to the standard of behaviour in schools and, I hope, to the attainment of those pupils.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are four excellence clusters in Lancashire. The schools in those clusters have received about £6 million since 2004, and £3 million just in this financial year alone. Is she also aware that one of those schools has had a 77 per cent. reduction in permanent exclusions since this process started?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the good work that is being done by head teachers, staff and schools in tackling disruptive behaviour in the classroom. That is why we are investing in giving schools the resources that they need to make the improvement sustainable. Of course, we will also take other measures, not just the behaviour improvement programme funding, that teachers will be able to use to improve pupil behaviour further. In particular, it is important that teachers have a clear right to be able to discipline pupils. That was first proposed in the late 1980s—I believe that it was rejected by the Administration at that time—but I can assure my hon. Friend that we will take that proposal forward.
In supporting absolutely what has been said about parental involvement in tackling this problem, can the Secretary of State give a commitment that the necessary resources will be given to help to involve parents in tackling the problem in the home environment?
The hon. Gentleman draws attention to a very important point: how can parents best be involved in their children's education? As I said earlier, that will make a difference not just to the behaviour of those children, but to how well they do at school. One of the proposals made by the group of head teachers that came together under Sir Alan Steer was that dedicated home-school liaison officers should work with the most disadvantaged pupils—perhaps those from particularly complex and difficult family backgrounds—to tackle not just the needs of the child, but to look at the whole family context as well, and we should be able to take forward that suggestion in our coming set of proposals.
One way to combat disruptive behaviour is to ensure that pupils are able to concentrate. Of course, that can be achieved with proper nourishment. Yet I read in the Bournemouth Daily Echo—a fine Dorset paper—that the Government are considering cutting subsidies for school milk—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is stretching a point.
The Secretary of State will know that a lot of what is involved in tackling disruptive behaviour boils down to funds and helping schools. How can she justify giving rural local education authorities, such as that in Shropshire, just half of what London gets per pupil?
I am glad that, in the recent ditch-a-policy-a-day campaign, the Conservative party has now decided to back us on investment in schools, as well as on reform. Of course, that investment is necessary, and it has been taking place in every school in the country. On average, revenue funding per pupil has increased by more than £1,000 under this Government, and we intend to take that programme of investment further forward.
The Secretary of State will be aware that one of the causes of disruption in the classroom is that some children are bored by a lack of challenge and that others are frustrated by lessons that are too difficult. That is why Sir Alan Steer's report links the appropriateness of the curriculum to standards of behaviour. Does she accept, therefore, that to reduce disruption in the classroom it is vital that children are taught to the right level of their ability—that academic children are challenged and that the less able are given time and attention? If she accepts that, what measures is she taking to raise the level of setting in secondary schools from its current position, where just 40 per cent. of lessons are set, including just 51 per cent. of lessons in English?
I am glad that consensus is breaking out right across the House on these issues and that the Conservative party has finally realised that every school ought to have a policy to cater not just for the least able, but for the most talented children in the school. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that there has been a huge increase in setting under this Government. I would have hoped that he would stand up and welcome that. For example, in 1996–97, only 28 per cent. of classes were set. That figure rose to 36 per cent. in 2003–04. In particular, in year 7, when children arrive at secondary school, there has been a very steep increase.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the guidance that we are giving schools to increase setting. I hope that he also welcomes the fact that we are now directing more resources to schools so that, if necessary, they can provide individual support to help children to catch up if they have not reached the required standard at 11, and individual or small group support for the brightest children in the subjects in which they are strong.