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LONDON - New laws giving teachers the right to restrain unruly pupils have come into force.

The legal powers, which came into effect in England and Wales today, have, for the first time, given schools the statutory power to discipline pupils for inappropriate behaviour or disregarding instructions.

The measures, contained in the Education and Inspections Act 2006, are designed to stamp out the "you can't tell me what to do" culture among pupils.

Until now, teachers had been allowed to restrain pupils under common law, with the same authority as parents.

But the new powers explicitly state that teachers have the right to physically restrain pupils, use "reasonable force" to break up fights when a youngster or teacher risks being injured and remove disorderly pupils from classrooms.

The powers also extend to when pupils are off school premises -- travelling on public transport or in shopping centres, for example.

Education Secretary Alan Johnson has insisted the greater powers are vital to stamp out bad behaviour and violence.

Teachers often fear any physical contact with pupils could be subject to legal action from parents, and the new laws aim to end confusion over school staff's power to discipline pupils.

The National Union of Teachers, which has campaigned for the right for teachers to restrain pupils to be put into statute, welcomed the move.

Teachers will also have the right to confiscate items such as mobile phones and ipods.

It is hoped the clampdown will help combat "cyber-bullying" -- where children send threatening text messages to other youngsters and "happy slapping", where children are filmed being attacked by other pupils.

An amendment to the Violent Crime Reductions Bill will also enable teachers to search children for weapons.

Schools also now have been the right to give those who misbehave detention outside class hours -- at lunchtime, after-school and on Saturdays -- without asking for parents' consent.

The Act extends schools' powers to make parents take responsibility for their children's actions if they misbehave, through the use of parenting contracts, enforceable with a fine of up to 1,000 pounds.

These measures, and others that stipulate that parents must take responsibility for their children when they are suspended or excluded, will come into force from beginning of September.

- REUTERS