Updated behaviour guidelines sent to schools

“Litter picking in the playground, removing graffiti and cleaning the dining hall are all sanctions teachers should consider to clamp down on bad behaviour, Education Secretary Michael Gove has said.” Read more

In the light of Michael Gove’s comments concerning behaviour and discipline, whether or not we agree with his suggestions, we have to consider the bigger picture.

Firstly, we no longer live in the world of the 1900’s. Most of us now reside in the 21st Century. I mention this to highlight some observations I made whilst visiting both schools and watching a number of programmes on TV that have documented school life in various types of school over a protracted time period.

1. Children can often exhibit some very challenging behaviour.

2. Quite a number of punishments given out by teachers are disproportionate to the “offence” committed – although often in-line with school “rules”.

3. Parents sometimes get angry with the punishments imposed on their children.

To cut to the chase, I would like to see schools taking a serious look at some of their “rules” and “expectations”. These include such things as correct dress, i.e school uniforms, and personal adornments, e.g. make-up and jewellery. The influences in children’s lives are stronger than they have ever been, and I believe this needs to be considered when we remove children from the external context of their ‘outside-of-school’ world and force them to adopt an artificial personal life in the school environment.

People have made a number of arguments for adopting uniforms and not wearing make-up or jewellery – from conformity and control to peer pressure and equality to health & safety. But really, are we being wholly honest about our reasons for perpetuating these “values” in contemporary schooling?

For me, the emphasis should be on both, a desire for teachers to teach well, and for learners to reciprocate by having a genuine desire to learn. Anything to foster this should be encouraged, but I really do not see that a detention for wearing the wrong colour socks or having an earring, is good for either morale or relationship-building.

On the other hand, I do believe that good behaviour towards others should be encouraged. I also believe that “serious” offences cannot be passed over. Perhaps these provide genuine grounds for punitive actions such as detentions – or some sort of within-the-school community actions suggested by the controversial Gove! My caveat here would be, careful selection of the “punishments”. As pointed out by a number of commentators, “extra physical activity such as running around a playing field”, is not the right message to send children as being a “punishment” when, at the same time, we are trying to promote the enjoyment and benefits of exercise and various sports – including running!

Punishments should be seen by all concerned as being appropriate and relevant to the “crimes” committed. Pettiness towards children for “minor” misdemeanours (even if habitually repeated) might in most cases not warrent, what I sometimes consider to be, a bullying approach from a member of staff who simply does not like the child in question exhibiting a personal preference to feel more empowered as an individual. Also, it is wrong to penalise a whole group of children for the “bad” behaviour of one child. Children may be a handful at times, but they can feel injustice very strongly. Furthermore, punishments should be constructive and not just banal and time-wasting for all concerned. Perhaps we should stop talking in terms of punishment altogether. Words such as: ‘not helpful behaviour’ or ‘behaviour that is detrimentally affecting others’ would be a more constructive way of explaining to a child that his or her activity is causing upset with others – both fellow pupils and staff.

I am not intending to be lovey-dovey or simplistic here. I am simply suggesting, that from the perspective of someone who has both worked within the educational system and outside of it, I can see room for improvement in the way we address some traditional issues in our modern world and in particular, in our schools.

Richard Gentle (February 2014)

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