The Two Discipline SystemsNovember 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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- It is assumed that all teachers can and will set detentions according to the rules and all students will do them.
- Form tutors will be expected to ensure their tutor groups all have the correct equipment and uniform.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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