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Riots panel suggests school fines

Schools which fail to teach pupils to read and write should be fined, an independent panel investigating the causes of last year's riots has said.

About a fifth of school leavers have the literacy skills of an 11-year-old or younger, leaving many with no stake in society and no reason to stay out of trouble, the riots communities and victims panel said.

Introducing fines, which would then be used to help bring children up to the required standards, would help ensure the risk of future riots on the scale seen last August was "significantly reduced", it said.

Darra Singh, the panel's chairman, said: "We must give everyone a stake in society. There are people 'bumping along the bottom', unable to change their lives. When people don't feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating - as we saw last August."

The report added: "Every child should be able to read and write to an age-appropriate standard by the time they leave primary and then secondary school. If they cannot, the school should face a financial penalty equivalent to the cost of funding remedial support to take the child to the appropriate standard."

Almost 106,000 seven-year-olds failed to reach Level 2 - the standard expected of the age group - in writing, figures published by the Department for Education last September showed. Just more than 83,000 pupils have a reading age of no better than a five-year-old.

The panel also identified "500,000 forgotten families", citing poor parenting, a sense of hopelessness among young people, no clear path to work, reoffending and a lack of confidence in the police as key reasons behind the riots.

Enver Solomon, policy director of the Children's Society, said: "The panel has rightly identified the need for services to more effectively work with forgotten families and support every child to achieve their potential. Providing children with an advocate so their voices are heard and they are able to hold services to account could make a real difference to whether or not their needs are met."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said he was at a loss to see where the panel had come up with its recommendations. Fining schools would only "add further to the problems they faced", he said, adding that none of the causes of the riots were likely to be resolved by "simplistic solutions or a culture of blame".

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: "Just as the panel has established that there was no single cause of the riots, it is clear that there can be no single solution. But many of the recommendations in the report chime with this Government's clear ambition to give power back to communities, reform and join up public services and extend opportunities for young people."