Non-Discipline DayJanuary 13, 2007
Almost every book ever written about behaviour management will include this piece of advice: “Be consistent”. Now in practice there are some members of SMT who will give the opposite advice (“be flexible”,) but it is generally accepted that consistency is a key part of managing behaviour. Kids should know the rules and that the rules should always apply.
There is, unfortunately, a commonly made exception. Common sense will always retreat in front of tradition and many schools have developed the tradition of having a day where – for charity – some of the school rules, namely the ones related to school uniform, are suspended. On these Non-Discipline Days (more often known as “Non-Uniform Days”) teachers are no longer able to object to the gang colours, short skirts, expensive trainers, sexually explicit t-shirts and identity concealing head gear that a teenager is forced to wear by their peers when not protected by adults. And who could possibly object? It’s for charity.
Well I could object for the following reasons.
- Rules are not something that can be switched on and off. It makes no more sense to have a day when the uniform rules are relaxed than it would be to have a day where students are encouraged to skip lessons, break windows or burn down the canteen.
- School uniforms are one of the most important weapons against truancy. Simply put, if a parent makes sure their teenage child is in uniform and locked out of the house there is a more than reasonable chance they will end up in school eventually. Take the uniforms out of the equation and they are far more likely to race to the nearest amusement arcade, shopping mall or crack house. At Woodrow Wilson School SMT brought an end to the recurring cycle of Non-Discipline Days when it was noted that it reduced attendance in years 10 and 11 by over ten percent.
- Discipline is worse on these days. Children believe they won’t have to work as it is a special occasion. Caps and hoodies provide greater anonymity for truants and trouble makers. At my current school (which has a little bit of an internal truancy problem) I actually caught 14 different children out of lessons in a single afternoon on Non-Discipline day. (Well I say caught, a more accurate observation would be that in most cases I observed them pulling their hoods over their heads and running off.) And this is without mentioning the two girls in Year 9 who don’t do a thing all day because they have decided to do a sponsored silence to raise £1.63 in sponsorship money between them.
- You have to constantly explain which rules are still in place and which aren’t:“No, you can’t dye your hair in the toilets”; “You can’t wear hats indoors”; “Balaclavas and gimp masks are not acceptable”; “Yes, you still have to bring in a pen to write with”.
- Compassion inflation sets in. If the school could abandon the rules for Children In Need then they should do it for Comic Relief, and Jeans for Genes Day, and any emergency in the news, and for the local dogs home, and to fund the school’s awards day. It doesn’t take long before it’s one day a month and there’s still resentment from any teacher with a new good cause if they don’t get a day too.
- It’s a pain to collect the money in.
Of course part of the problem is that with schools failing to carry out their core function of educating children in an orderly environment then there is an abnormally strong desire to get them to carry out secondary functions, such as charitable fundraising, community work or school productions. All these things would be highly desirable if schools were doing the basics right, but seem utterly unnecessary when there is anarchy in the classrooms not being dealt with. I sometimes fear that if given a choice between achieving a 100% literacy rate among students and appearing in the local paper handing over a cheque for £137.50 to a donkey sanctuary, most headteachers would choose the latter. Nobody wants to be seen as uncharitable. Running a rubbish school is however entirely socially acceptable.