Archive for November, 2007


The Two Discipline Systems

November 24, 2007

No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.

Luke 16:13

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them . . . To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

Orwell (1948)

In my experience schools have a split personality where behaviour management is concerned. There are two discipline systems. There is a theoretical one, that appears in the Staff Handbook and anywhere a school governor, a job applicant or an OFSTED inspector might get to read it, and there is the one that actually exists in the day to day running of the school.

The theoretical system will usually follow the following pattern to some degree:

  1. Some offences are to be automatically punished with a detention which parents will be informed of the day before. These may include having a phone on in school, dropping litter, turning up late to lessons. Similarly, certain items (phones, chewing gum, excessive jewellery) will be subject to confiscation.
  2. It is assumed that all teachers can and will set detentions according to the rules and all students will do them.
  3. Form tutors will be expected to ensure their tutor groups all have the correct equipment and uniform.
  4. In the event of a persistent problem, such as failure to attend detentions or repeated disruption of lessons, year heads and other middle managers will be involved.
  5. Serious incidents, such as verbal abuse of staff, will be referred to SMT for exclusion, or similarly serious measure. In extreme cases students will be permanently excluded.

The actual system is usually more like this:

  1. Most offences will be subject to at least one warning. Students will expect a chance to put prohibited items away in their bags and will not expect to be punished as long as they do this. Even in schools where phones are banned outright several students will use them in a lesson and will not expect to be punished when caught as long as they then put them away.
  2. Detentions are seen as discretionary for staff and optional for students. Staff will try as far as possible to keep students in at lunchtime or break or just give short after school detentions without a day’s notice. Teachers who set proper detentions simply because rules are broken may be subject to criticism by management as well as harassment by students. A large part of the student body will be effectively detention-immune. Frequent truants and students with awkward parents are extremely unlikely to have to attend detentions.
  3. Students will turn up repeatedly without the correct equipment or uniform. Form tutors will either tolerate this as they simply do not have the time to enforce all these rules or alternatively the students will simply skip registration in the morning.
  4. Year heads and middle managers will be completely overwhelmed and unable to chase up all persistent offenders. The best of them will communicate to staff just what they are actually able to do to support them. The worst will ignore requests, make promises they can’t keep or blame the teachers involved for the problem they are reporting.
  5. SMT will ignore referrals unless you corner them. The vast majority of serious incidents will end up with year heads (which is a large part of the reason why year heads are always overwhelmed). The two most likely consequences of verbally abusing a teacher are a) nothing and b) a telling off. Exclusions will be saved for ludicrously serious offences, setting fires, bringing in weapons, thumping teachers in the face. Permanent exclusions will virtually never happen. SMT will talk about the lack of permanent exclusions as if it was a good thing.

Of course maintaining two contradictory systems at once is difficult. How does a headteacher tell somebody about the theoretical system in their job interview and the real system once they’ve got the job without seeming insincere or delusional? How do SMT follow two masters, the theoretical discipline system and the actual discipline system? The answer is that it takes a certain amount of “doublethink”. Usually this is done by considering the theoretical system to be a genuine system but one that bad, unprofessional teachers have to use due to their poor relationships with the children and weak behaviour management skills. The actual system, by contrast, is much more lenient because able teachers are so liked by students that they barely have to enforce the rules and therefore this much more casual approach will work. Once this philosophy is accepted it soon becomes clear that every teacher enforcing the rules rigorously, or worse, expecting school managers to support them with enforcing the rules, is incompetent and unable to relate to children. Children can only be found to have broken the rules due to inadequate teaching. Enforcing the rules is simply a symptom of being bad at behaviour management. It becomes more acceptable to complain to management that students have upset you than to report that they cannot be stopped from breaking the rules. Euphemisms help with the process of doublethink. Allowing misbehaviour becomes “strategic ignoring”, inconsistency over the rules becomes “flexibility” and appeasement becomes “building relationships”.

I suspect practising doublethink in this way may be bad for one’s psychological health. Long serving members of SMT can become completely detached from reality. As well as the delusions that the teaching staff are to blame for everything and that anybody who reports a problem must also have caused it, some members of SMT even begin to imagine that they are actually making a positive difference to the lives of the students in their schools.


Orwell, George, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1948


My Dream School: Part 2

November 21, 2007

Dr Goodscholar puts down her cup of coffee to welcome me into her office. She looks like image of middle-aged intellectual respectability, as she peers over her half-moon glasses. Her office is decorated with posters and paintings showing images of the classical world. I consider that a good starting point:

“Can I ask why does a boys’ comprehensive in one of the poorest areas of the country teach Latin and Greek? Wouldn’t Modern Foreign Languages be more usual?”

She smiles, although her eyes show some impatience, as if she’s been asked this question many times before.

“We do teach Modern Foreign Languages. In fact we enter more students for French, Spanish and Punjabi GCSE than any of our neighbouring schools, far more than we enter for qualifications in Latin or Greek. We don’t believe that every boy will benefit from a classical education. Only those in the top stream, those who will be attending a good university would benefit. I’d hate to think that the doctors, academics, teachers and clergy of the future would be without the benefit of being able to read Plato, Aristotle, The Vulgate or the New Testament in their original form.” She shudders at the thought of an insane world where academics and professionals are ignorant of even the basic cornerstones of western civilisation, then continues:

“The aim of our curriculum is to stretch the most able, while ensuring that all have the most intensive academic education possible.”

“Shouldn’t you be providing vocational education? Not every child is academic”

“Vocational education?” she exclaimed “Does this look like a factory to you? Do you think we are training car-fitters or hairdressers? We are a school we are here to educate, not train.”

“Surely that can’t be appropriate for all the boys? Surely the academically weak would be better off learning a trade?”

“Why? Do you want your gas-pipes fitted by an illiterate? Do you want your restaurant meal cooked by somebody who can’t convert Fahrenheit to Centigrade or understand how germs spread? We do help place some students in college courses where they can learn a trade. But while they are in the school the emphasis is on learning to read, write, calculate and appreciate the best of human knowledge and this nation’s culture. Those who are academically weakest are given the most extensive training in English and maths. That’s how they stop being the academically weakest.”

“There must be pressure to find less academic pathways for them”

“Of course there is. Not a week goes by without some fool suggesting the illiterate and innumerate can become the next generation of skilled craftsman without going through the agony of becoming functional adults first. But whenever somebody does suggest this to me I ask them if they would be prepared to let their own children leave school unable to write or do simple maths and not one of them has said “yes”. Vocational education is something people only advocate for the children of others. Now come on, I’ll show you why this school gets the grades it does.”

I am led back outside to the corridor. The school’s Faculty of Letters comprises of the departments of English, languages and classics. Dr Goodscholar indicates a classroom from which I can hear the voice of boys chanting verb conjugations. As we glance in the back of the classroom I am surprised to see students sat at individual desks focused on a seated teacher who is leading them:

“Je aie. Tu aies. Il ait. Nous ayons. Vous ayez. Ils aient.”

“It likes like something from another era”, I say. “It’s what I’d expect to see in a Victorian classroom”.

“An era where boys able to quickly master many languages were needed in order to run an empire. We might not have an empire now but I see no reason why we should aspire to teach them how to order an ice cream rather than identify and use all parts of speech.”

Dr Goodscholar then leads me through to the Humanities faculty. A sign declares that we are in is the department of theology and religion. I can’t help but notice as I glance into the classrooms the diverse nature of those teaching the classes, an Asian woman in a veil teaching stood in front of a board displaying key words from Islam, a tall black man with a booming African voice declaring loudly on the doctrine of the Trinity, a Sikh man in another classroom, and one teacher whose accent, beard and dress strongly suggest he might be a Rabbi. Dr Goodscholar realises what I have noticed:

“It is our philosophy that nobody ever learnt to understand a religion from somebody who doesn’t believe it themselves. We don’t expect anybody to teach about a religion other than their own.”

“Isn’t that hard to organise?”

“Yes. But we’d rather make that effort than waste our boys’ times being taught lists of festivals or colouring in pictures of deities they can’t even name.”

In all the classrooms I see boys are sat at individual desks facing the teacher who is stood or sat at the front. At first it seems that, except for those silent classrooms where boys are doing written work, in every lesson the boys are being lectured by their teachers. It is only after I linger outside a history lesson that I realise that many of the teachers aren’t giving lectures, they are answering questions. I hear one boy asking what effect religious upheaval had on the general population of England, and another ask about Shakespeare’s religious allegiances. Their teacher answers both questions in detail, clearly talking from extensive personal expertise.

We leave the Humanities faculty, (I ask if there are any Geography lessons but I am informed that the school doesn’t consider it to be a proper subject) and walk through the Faculty of Mathematics and Science. I notice that a lot classes seem to contain a large mix of ages.

“We try to set as far as possible by ability rather than age in most of the core subjects. There are exceptions, we find that it helps to have a certain amount of maturity to cope with particular topics, but on the whole we see no reason to hold students back on grounds of age.”

Suddenly the sound of year 10 arriving to my lesson awakes me from my dream. The Oldandrew Academy and its academic ethos fades back into the recesses of my mind as the crowd of students forming around my desk bring me back to reality with their abrasive greetings:

“Why do you have to be here? I hate this lesson?”

“Gimme a pen!”
“Why do we always have to do work in this lesson?”
“Gimme a pen!”
“Are we going to have a fun lesson?”
“Gimme a pen!”
“Where’s my book. You’ve lost my book. I can’t do any work if you’ve lost my book”
“Gimme a pen!”

“Can I sit next to Jordan?”
“Gimme a pen!”
“Why did you give me a detention, I’m not doing it?”
“Gimme a pen!”
“None of the other teachers make us do work every lesson.”


My Dream School: Part 1

November 18, 2007

The Oldandrew Academy for Boys (in the Utopiashire Local Authority) looks a lot like other schools from the outside. It is only as I walk inside it that I see that it is very different in style from conventional comprehensives. As I walk into the plush carpeted reception area I see there are no students in sight. I ask casually about this and am told that this is because student reception is around the side of the school. This helps to establish that there are areas of the school for students and areas for staff, parents and visitors.

The receptionist lets me through a set of double doors using a thumbprint. Apparently all doors between student areas and staff areas are similarly protected. I am directed down several corridors to the Deputy Head’s office. On the way I notice there are no carpets in the corridors, but instead polished wooden floors, unstained by chewing gum. In place of the usual displays of work on the walls there appear to be photos of past and present students emblazoned with their exam results and other academic achievements. Each corridor has the same notice repeated several times:

Please do not make the following choices:

Eating or drinking
Dropping litter
Using a phone

Disobeying a member of staff

Being Out of lessons without permission
Arguing with a member of staff,

I arrive at a door with a shiny copper name plate with “Mr J. Hardbastard BSc (hons), M.Ed” emblazened on it. I knock and a gruff voice invites me in. An imposing shaven-headed man greets me with a handshake and introduces himself as Jonathan Hardbastard, and explains that he is the Deputy Head and has responsibility for running the school’s discipline system. I immediately ask him about the nameplate. Is it really necessary to declare his qualifications on it? Are people really impressed by letters after a name?

“Look, nobody in their right mind chooses their child’s school because of the degree qualifications of senior management. Unlike a lot of schools we don’t include the Head’s qualifications on a sign outside the school or on letters to parents. However, at every opportunity every single member of teaching staff will have their academic qualifications revealed to students. Children in an area like ours don’t plan to get degrees, there may be no graduates in their family, the only place they are ever going to acquire the basic vocabulary of academic aspiration is here in the school. Here it is a big deal whether you make it to university or not and a big deal as to which university you go to.”

“Isn’t that elitist?” I ask.

“Yes of course it is. If we want boys from deprived backgrounds to escape from poverty and become part of the middle class then there is no point pretending there aren’t class divisions in society. That doesn’t mean we are saying that such divisions are a good thing, but we are telling them that those divisions will matter in their lives.”

Changing the subject I ask about the discipline system. How does it work? He passes me a document explaining it.


All students are responsible for behaving in a way that preserves the school as a learning environment. This involves choosing to learn, choosing to allow others to learn, and choosing to maintain order within the school. In order to make it easier for students to understand their responsibilities they are displayed on posters in every room.

If students choose not to live up to their responsibilities then they are choosing a penalty for themselves. Penalties include:

Detention after School – 45 minutes sat in the hall
Isolation – a day in The Inclusion Room working in silence
Internal Exclusion – Enrolment in The Behaviour Unit

Permanent Exclusion – Removal from the school
Prosecution – It is the policy of the school to involve the police where behaviour is illegal.

“Isn’t this very Draconian?” I ask. I can see that Mr Hardbastard is angered by the suggestion.

“The standard of behaviour is one which would be expected in almost any professional workplace in the country. The fact is that schools spend most of their time dealing with the consequences of poor behaviour in terms of lost time and lost learning. Allowing this poor behaviour in schools does not provide freedom, it cripples schools. Students who disrupt lessons are thieves. They are stealing from the other students, they are stealing their education. Most schools accept this theft as inevitable and refuse to countenance the suggestion that this shows a moral failure on the part of the perpetrator. They accept that children cannot control themselves or exercise responsibility. They see the discipline system as something to be used only where persuasion and encouragement has broken down and they blame the teachers for resorting to punishment. We don’t see it that way. The purpose of the discipline system is to identify poor behaviour wherever it exists and punish it. We are proactive rather than reactive on discipline. That’s why the corridors all have CCTV cameras whose footage is monitored for breaches of the rules. That is why all members of staff have a day’s training in using the discipline system every year. That is why we ask all job applicants to provide evidence that they have been regularly issuing punishments during their teaching career. That is why we have a program of lesson observations which we use to ensure that all staff are using the discipline system.”

“All this must use an incredible amount of time and resources? Your Behaviour Unit is almost like another school in itself, and employs many staff. Your brochure says that the facilities exist for up to five percent of the school to be in the unit at any one time. It must be expensive to keep all those students in another building behind a high rule, never mixing with the rest of the school.”

“A properly run behaviour system saves money in the long run. CCTV saves us a fortune in vandalism and cleaning. Having a centralised detention system staffed on a rota uses a fraction of the time it would take for staff to run their own detentions. Removing students from the main school and putting them in the Behaviour Unit where there is a high staff to student ratio is costly but because it stops bad behaviour before it is copied by other students it saves us a fortune. It allows us to teach larger classes where necessary, it reduces staff absence due to stress, and it reduces staff turnover.”

Afterwards Mr Hardbastard escorts me to the office of Dr Goodscholar, the Deputy Head, in charge of curriculum. As we walk from the main school building across the quadrangle to the Faculty of Letters the school bell rings and through the many large windows through which the corridors are visible we can see students simultaneously leaving their classrooms walking quietly to their next lesson, fully aware that running, stopping to chat, or even having their uniforms out of place would be picked up by the cameras (or the teachers who are now appearing at their classroom doors) and would result in a detention or, for the worst offenders, time spent in the Behaviour Unit. At first it’s a shock to see hundreds of boys walking quietly and sensibly, without any of the running, pushing and shoving I had assumed to be normal for teenagers. Has Big Brother produced a school of automata in perfect school uniforms, robbed of their natural exuberance? It is only as I look at their faces that I realise the truth. They are smiling, full of confidence, with the bearing of young adults rather than oversized toddlers. They don’t need to jostle for position, or run away from their peers, because they feel safe, secure and happy where they are. This is probably more than they can say about their lives outside of school. What’s even more jarring though, as they walk contentedly and calmly down those corridors, is that many of the teachers stood at the doors of their classes, many of them veterans of the anarchy that persists in other schools, are smiling back at their students.


In Praise of Harshness

November 14, 2007

These are the reasons why teachers should enforce the rules without any pity whatsoever:

  1. If you make an exception for one child then they will expect you to make an exception for all of them.
  2. If you ignore a rule then they will expect other teachers to do the same, even in situations where ignoring the rules will create anarchy.
  3. If enforcement of the rules is seen as optional for teachers then students will target teachers for “terroring” in order to intimidate them into ceasing to apply rules.
  4. They are more likely to remember a rule if they see someone punished for breaking it.
  5. They deserve it.

Here are the reasons why many teachers don’t enforce the rules:

  1. There aren’t enough hours in the day to give out adequate punishments.
  2. They teach subjects where learning is entirely optional and therefore enforcing rules is seen as unnecessary.
  3. They believe children (particularly those from deprived backgrounds) can’t be expected to behave.
  4. They are worried that senior management will create trouble for them if they give out too many punishments.
  5. No student over the age of 12 ever turns up for detentions anyway.

The Driving Lesson

November 7, 2007

I had a driving lesson recently. My years of teaching have helped me understand how to be a receptive and eager student.

“Hello, Andrew. You have a lesson.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I’ve been waiting outside for ten minutes”
“Yeah, I know”.
“Well why didn’t you come out”
“Couldn’t be bovered”

“Well I’m going to have to charge you for the time I was waiting outside.”
“What? You’re charging me for NUFFINK!”
“Well I think that’s only fair as you’ve left me waiting.”
(We go to the car)
“Okay, lets get started. I think …. Andrew?”

“What now?”
“Why have you sat in the back seat?”
“I like it here. I can see the road better.”
“Look, you aren’t going to learn anything from the back of the car.”
“Why do I always have to sit in the front? My last instructor let me sit in the back. And he let me drive at whatever speed I liked. He was a solid teacher.”
“Just get in the front”
(He waits)
“Come on.”

“I am getting in the front.”
(He waits some more)
“You can’t sit like that.”
“I drive better like this. I can’t drive properly when I’m facing the windscreen”
“I’m afraid you have to face the windscreen. And sit so you can put on your seatbelt. And your feet won’t be able to reach the pedals if they are stuck out of the window. Now what do you need to do before we start?”
“I dunno. You’re the instructor, you tell me.”

“Well you need to do the safety checks. You need to see if the car is in neutral and check the handbrake.”
“Why do we have to do that every lesson?”
“Well you’ll be expected to do that for your test.”
“What? I’ve got to do a test?”
“Yes… you will have to take a driving test to get a licence”

“It’s your fault if I don’t pass.”
“If you’d just like to get started…”
“I am getting started.”
(He waits)
“Well can you turn the ignition, please”
“I am turning the ignition!”
“Now you can adjust the mirrors.”

(He waits)
“I said, you can adjust the mirrors.”
(He waits)
“Andrew, are you listening to me? ANDREW!”
“Can you take those earphones out, please?”
“Why? It’s not hurting anyone?”
“You need to be able to listen to instructions.”

“My last instructor let me listen to music. It helps me concentrate.”
“Look, I don’t care what your last instructor did. We have to do this in a safe way.”
“It is safe. I learn more this way.”
(I relent, take my earphones out, spending a couple of minutes switching my iPod off)
“Okay, we’re ready to go. Make sure you look in all the mirrors and out of the window before you pull out.”
“This is boring. Can’t you make it more interesting?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”

“Well can’t we have a fun lesson, you know one where we just chill?”
“Can I go to the toilet?”
(After a short, further exchange of views we pull out.)
“That was good, now you need to change gears. No. Not like that.”
“But I like doing it that way. It’s better.”
“Look, if you are going to change gears properly you need to use your hand not your knee, okay?”
“But I like doing it that way.”

(A short while later.)
“Okay that’s enough. Please get out. I have to end the lesson.”
“What? We’ve only been driving for ten minutes.”
“I’m afraid I have to end the lesson now for reasons of safety.”
“What? I was driving really well. You said I was driving really well. I’ve driven all the way to the shops””
“You were driving well for a bit, but that’s not what this is about.”

“Well why do I have to stop driving? I’ve driven all the way to the shops.”
“Please, just get out of the car.”
“Why are you making me get out of the car, when I’ve driven all this way? Look at the length of this road. I’ve driven all along it and you are making me get out of the car. For NUFFINK”
“Look, it’s nothing to do with how far you’ve driven. I am asking you to get out of the car because of what you just did.”
“I didn’t do NUFFINK. You’re making me stop driving for NUFFINK”

“I am stopping the lesson because I don’t think it’s safe for you to be driving after what you just did.”
“What did I do?”
“You took your hands off of the wheel in order to answer your phone.”
“So what am I meant to do, just ignore it?”
“Yes. You shouldn’t even have your phone switched in your driving lesson.”
“But it was my Mum.”
“I don’t care who it was.”

“You’re a rubbish instructor. It will be your fault if I fail my test. I hate this lesson.”
(After spending another five minutes arguing I get out of the car.)
“Goodbye, Andrew.”
“Same time, next week?”


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