I believe that behaviour is the most important thing for schools to get right and the success or failure of this will be a big determiner of pupil achievement and teacher morale. There seems, to me, little point spending hours in after school meetings about, for example, literacy strategies or formative assessment until each teacher can have a reasonable expectation of an organised and controlled classroom. Despite this, I haven’t heard very much talk about schools which have great discipline procedures and I’m not even sure what one would look like. So I’d like to share how things are like in my school in order to compare with others.
I’m currently working in a school which has significant behaviour problems, but where classroom teachers don’t have the authority to set detentions. This seems strange to me so I’m trying to get a better understanding of why this is. As detentions can only be set by department heads or above, classroom teachers must rely on the school’s other sanction procedures :
Non verbal warning.
First verbal warning.
Second verbal warning.
It’s good that the school has a definitive behaviour policy (I’ve taught in one school which had no formal policy whatsoever) but I think there are slight problems at each stage.
Firstly, I think three warnings are too many. If ten pupils are disruptive at the start of a lesson, that’s thirty warnings before any real action can be taken (and because the rules are up on the wall the pupils know they have the ‘right’ to disrupt three times before being sent out). It also creates a negative classroom atmosphere and feels like I’m constantly drawing attention to negative behaviour through these verbal warnings, when I’d rather be teaching content or praising good behaviour.
For ‘time outs’ the pupil is asked to stand in the corridor for a few minutes to calm down and wait until the I’m able to speak to them. The major problem with this is that only one pupil can be there at a time, so if lots of kids are disrupting then it’s really hard to get a grip on things. Even with one pupil out, it can often end up with them wandering off, peering into other classrooms or arguing with pupils sent out from other classrooms. I also have to find a point where I can give pupils work to carry on with while I stand in the doorway to speak to the pupil, which can be tricky to do during the teacher lead stages of a lesson. Despite these problems, time out is a mandatory stage before any further sanctions can be dealt.
Re-room. This is the worst one for me. Good because it removes the disruptive pupil from the class and lets the others carry on with work, but bad because I have to stop teaching the class to write out a slip (pupil name, teacher name, date, class, period), then have to I check a re-rooming rota to see which classrooms are available, then I have to choose a ‘good’ pupil to leave the room and the re-rooming slip to the designated re-rooming teacher, then I have to wait for the slip to come back and for the other teacher to decide whether he or she would like to accept this pupil or not. Because of where my classroom is, the slip often has to travel the length of the building and back again, during which time no meaningful learning is taking place in the classroom. The disruptive pupil already knows they’re getting sent out so figures they may as we’ll make the most of it before they go. And sometimes the re-rooming slip comes back with the answer ‘No’ (usually because that teacher already has too many pupils re-roomed from other classes) and it means the whole process has to be repeated with a note being sent to a different classroom! Other times the pupil, who’s been having a great time during this note passing stage, will refuse to go. When this happens a deputy head has to be called for via, of course, another note.
Parental alerts are white cards for the pupil to write what they did wrong and how to improve in future, plus an apology and a comment from a parent. I quite like these and think this can be effective if used sparingly, but the school seems to turn a blind eye to the number of obviously forged signatures.
I can’t help thinking it would be easier if I could just give pupils detentions and use the time outs, re-rooming and parental notes for special cases. I’ve been told that the main reason why classroom teachers can’t give detentions is because pupils often don’t attend them. Another teacher told me that the school doesn’t favour detentions because of after school busses and because detentions at break time and lunchtime “would contravene the UN convention on the child’s right to play”.
I know actually carrying out detentions can be a huge drain on time, so it would be good to hear from other teachers (especially new teachers) who do use detentions to hear if they work and why / why not.
I don’t mean to be too critical of the school either, because there is a feeling that everyone is working together to agree an effective discipline policy. I’m just interested to hear what people think that would look like.