Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A good discipline for schools

Ed Balls may have been on the ropes this morning about his ex-colleague Damien McBride's antics in no 10. But he has a good report from Sir Alan Steer to highlight today at the NASUWT conference on school discipline and behaviour. Having consistent approaches to discipline, with clear sanctions and rewards, has brought real improvements to many schools, and can do so for the quarter or so deemed to be not good enough at the moment. So can the use of 'withdrawal rooms.'

Applying this approach - and using existing powers - is likely to be far more effective than any new legislation - as Sir Alan says, they have the powers already; at no 10, I pressed for a right to discipline which became part of the 2006 legislation - and it has the benefit of being good common sense. (The Tory idea that all heads need is a 'right to exclude without appeal' is fanciful, given that only 100 out of 8680 permanently excluded troublemakers are actually readmitted after exclusion [table 11] and this is one area where the government is right to hold the opposition to account).

I have one niggling doubt about the schools secretary's prescriptions, however: he wants local authorities to send expert teams into schools that don't come up to scratch. It would be far more effective to facilitate groups of heads working together to achieve solutions: heads learning from fellow heads are more likely to heed their advice.


oldandrew said...

This seems more sensible than expected, particularly after Steer was giving interviews a few weeks ago saying there wasn't a discipline problem in schools.

But I am curious about the biggest problems in discipline of recent years:

1) Fines levied by local authorities against schools that exclude.
2) Pressure from local authorities against exclusions.
3) Guidelines from the DCSF telling schools not to exclude children who are on the SEN register
4) Inclusion.

I had a very depressing Labour Party meeting last week, where the education spokesperson for my local Labour group both complained that Local Authorities had no power in education, and insisted that in those areas where Local Authorities do have influence, they should be using it to promote inclusion.

What we've heard today is a step in the right direction, but we need more. We need a cultural shift. We need inclusion (when applied to badly behaved students) to become as unpopular with ministers and local authorities as it is with teachers.

Glen Thomas said...

Pressure to reduce excluions is insidious, with LAs cutting referral unit places before referrals have gone down, Heads deciding on no-exclusion policies to avoid the fines (scrapped in the last few years I believe).

The squeeze on the number of exclusions, an indicator figure, stems from a desire to reduce the need for exclusions, but often translates into a crude manipulation of the indicator itself.

oldandrew: You're right. Most experienced teachers roll their eyes when the staff briefings get onto 'inclusion' issues. It is a silly political term and should be banned from honest discussions in the halls of power.

Joe Nutt said...

I’ve been reading with interest all the coverage and reporting about Sir Alan Steer’s report because in many ways this is the single, most important issue in UK schools today, not because the unions say so, or because the government has commissioned a report, but because in children, lack of discipline is symptomatic of a counter learning culture.

But the corollary is equally true, though far less frequently acknowledged. Where teachers are either disinterested or indolent about exercising discipline, the result is exactly the same: a counter learning culture.

It takes a lot of consistency and effort to be a disciplined teacher. You not only have to predict and design sanctions for a whole range of likely misbehaviours, you have to enforce them consistently and repeatedly. No policy or advice will work unless all teachers shoulder that responsibility and sadly, many UK teachers not only do not: but they reject it as authoritarian.

And the sooner everyone bins that pitiful euphemism “behaviour management” the better. If it was behaviour: it wouldn’t need managing…would it!

oldandrew said...

I have now written a more detailed teacher's eye view of the latest Steer report here.Where teachers are either disinterested or indolent about exercising discipline, the result is exactly the same: a counter learning culture.Although there are teachers who struggle to enforce the rules even where they can be enforced, the biggest issue is that schools are currently set up in ways that make it difficult, even dangerous, to enforce the rules. It's very difficult to get kids to cooperate with you when they know they can tell you to "fuck off" and then walk out and you'll get into more trouble than they do. No amount of "consistency" or "effort" solves this problem.

Joe Nutt said...

I'm interested Andrew, that you think "The biggest issue is that schools are currently set up in ways that make it difficult, even dangerous, to enforce the rules" especially after reading your five lies about behaviour, which are so clearly rooted in your own experience, and goodness me, didn't I recognise much of it from my own too. I do understand exactly why you would put it this way, but at the risk of sounding harsh, isn't it true that weak or poor schools "are set up in this way" is more accurate?

When I was tutoring Teach First graduates (who only work in "challenging" schools) some of them would find it incredibly frustrating that they could maintain discipline in their own classroom relatively easily, but the moment they entered the corridor, it was as though they were invisible. I used to have to reassure them that they needed to settle for their classroom as the only manageable unit of discipline because their school as a community, was unable (but more significantly unwilling) to maintain discipline, and the children knew this. In reality, that "community" failure was the result of a majority of staff, heads and SMTs of course, but also many others, simply being unwilling to agree and pursue, a common disciplinary standard.

oldandrew said...


the point I am making is that what you describe as "poor or weak" is now normal.

I might add that a lot of the time, particularly in compulsory subjects with older year groups, the disorder observable in the corridors is what the students also expect in the classroom and efforts to maintain discipline in the classroom will result in quite a hostile response.