Education Secretary launches £10m drive against 'out-of-control' pupil behaviour

7 April 2021, 07:49 | Updated: 7 April 2021, 08:01

Gavin Williamson wrote "there is nothing Dickensian" about a "well-ordered" classroom.
Gavin Williamson wrote "there is nothing Dickensian" about a "well-ordered" classroom. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

The education secretary has launched a new £10 million programme to "help schools to develop and sustain" a culture of good behaviour, following a pandemic year which he says has "inevitably" affected pupils' discipline.

Gavin Williamson said that the periods of remote learning during lockdown had impacted on children's "discipline and order" and that cracking down on "out of control behaviour" is "an absolute must".

"There is nothing Dickensian about a classroom that is a well-ordered, disciplined environment, where firm and fair teaching gives every child the chance to learn and develop at their own pace without fear of distraction," Mr Williamson wrote in The Telegraph.

The minister added he is "totally behind" schools and colleges that take "firm action" to tackle bad behaviour, including "detentions, suspensions or - as an absolute last resort - expulsion".

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Gavin Williamson faced intense scrutiny last summer over his handling of exam results.
Gavin Williamson faced intense scrutiny last summer over his handling of exam results. Picture: PA

The comments come as the Department for Education is set to announce further details on a £10 million "Behaviour Hubs" programme, which will begin operating after the Easter holidays.

Struggling schools will be advised on discipline by 22 "lead schools" - picked by the government - that have a reputation for good behaviour.

The programme is led by former teacher and behaviour expert Tom Bennett, who has previously blamed the problems on teachers who are worried that telling students what to do is "oppressive", and argued students need to be "compliant" in order to be free.

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Mr Williamson has also made clear that he fully supports schools in banning mobile phones, arguing they not only distract from "exercise and good old-fashioned play" but also foment cyber bullying and the inappropriate use of social media.

He highlighted "anonymous Instagram accounts, where students are ranked on their appearance", adding they "can heighten insecurities, damage mental health and encourage harassment".

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"While technology has been invaluable keeping children learning during lockdowns and we support its use, it's now time to put the screens away, especially mobile phones," the education secretary wrote, stipulating he was not referring to the controlled use of laptops of tablets in class.

"While it is for every school to make its own policy, I firmly believe that mobile phones should not be used or seen during the school day," he continued.

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However, on Saturday, Labour accused the government of "letting down" children with a "decade of poor decisions, built on a failing ideology".

"We have to recognise that schools and the professional skill of talented teachers alone cannot fully compensate for the deeply damaging harm done to children by the cruel and devastating effect of child poverty," Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green told the annual conference of the NASUWT teaching union.

"As of the response of the Westminster government, I see a dismaying lack of ambition for every child and a failure to prioritise their success and wellbeing," she added.