Discipline in Academies – the tyranny of legislation

March 7th, 2012 by Edward Capewell

One of the principal planks of the Academy schools programme is that Academies are ‘independent’ schools. The Coalition government’s aim was concisely expressed in ‘The Importance of Teaching’, the white paper which led to the Education Act 2011: “We want every school to be able to shape its own character, frame its own ethos and develop its own specialisms, free of either central or local bureaucratic constraint.”

The School Behaviour (Determination and Publicising of Measures in Academies) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/619) could be seen as just such a constraint however.

In order to understand what they are about it is necessary to refer to section 550ZA Education Act 1996 which, as everyone knows, was inserted into that Act by section 242 Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 and amended by section 2 Education Act 2011. Section 550ZA gives members of staff the power to search pupils for ‘prohibited items’ such as knives or drugs. One of the amendments introduced by the Education Act 2011 provides that ‘the school rules’ can identify ‘prohibited items’ beyond those prescribed by the statute. Mobile phones and ipods are perhaps obvious candidates.

What though, is meant by ‘the school rules’? In the nature of modern legislation this cannot be left to chance, or common sense. In the case of maintained schools they are “measures determined and publicised by the head teacher under section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.” What, though of Academy schools? Surely they can set their own rules without ‘bureaucratic’ interference?

Enter the School Behaviour (Determination and Publicising of Measures in Academies) Regulations 2012. These do not say what the rules should contain, but prescribe the process which the principal of the Academy must follow in setting the rules. So by regulation 2 the principal must consult pupils, parents, staff and the proprietor of the Academy before making any such rules. She must also have regard to any guidance issued by the Academy proprietor. By regulation 3 she must make them ‘generally known’ among parents and pupils and must publicise them ‘in the form of a written document’ and take steps to bring them to the attention of pupils, parents and staff ‘at least once in every school year’.

Surely this was not what was intended by freedom from bureaucratic constraint?