November 18, 2011

Now that decades have passed since the abolition of corporal punishment it has become very difficult for educational progressives to assert their moral superiority simply by saying they oppose it. Sure, they can lay it on thick about how much they oppose it, they can call it “child abuse” and demand that every teacher who doesn’t oppose it be immediately sacked, but they can’t actually mark themselves out from the crowd with their disapproval. Not only that, but a policy of forcing out people who had happily used corporal punishment in their teaching career would mean a mass exodus of recent immigrants from countries in the developing world where corporal punishment is normal, at the hands of white, middle class English people, something which would be hard to paint as a victory for social justice or political correctness.

So for this reason, there has to be a new way to declare one’s boundless compassion and, if a teacher, condemn the moral degeneracy of one’s peers. There has to be a new moral dividing line between the goody teachers and the baddy teachers. There has to be a new basis for the self-righteous superiority of middle class liberals. In recent years it seems to have become shouting. For as long as I remember anyone arguing for teacher authority, the importance of obedience, or the need to end the chaos in the classrooms, could expect a straw man attack along the lines of “well, you think teachers should always be shouting at children”. It was always a ridiculous attack as order in the classroom and well established teacher authority takes away the need to shout. The truly terrifying teachers often shouted the least (although they sometimes shouted the loudest). The schools with the best discipline often had an explicit or implicit “no shouting” policy as classrooms were quiet enough for teachers to be heard and there were plenty of sanctions that were easily available and could be calmly applied. Not only that, but when direct instruction was the government approved method of teaching (in the late nineties and the early part of this century) then every teacher was required to get attention in class, and it was hard to condemn shouting when you knew that you might have an observation where getting the class to hear you would be expected. Indeed, I have lost count of how many “shouted” plenaries I have observed over the years resulting from belief in a three part lesson and the normal tendency of classes to get louder over time if they are allowed to speak.

However, the move away from teaching, and towards activities, in the last few years has led to a new breed of “punishment puritans” who disapprove of the raised voice. Often it is simple self-aggrandisement. I have heard aspiring members of SMT insist to NQTs and student teachers that they never, ever, shout even though their bellowing is often heard through the corridors. Similarly, I have heard teachers condemned for shouting because they confront bad behaviour in their lessons (regardless of the volume at which they do so); because they have become upset or angry, or because they will shout back when students shout at them rather than letting the students take verbal control of the classroom.

Recently, I have seen the disapproval of shouting take the same tone as the opponents of corporal punishment took, that of complete and unquestioning disapproval from a position of moral superiority, unsupported by a rational argument. It’s put me in a bit of a dilemma. I have worked in both “shouting schools” and “no shouting schools” and have preferred the latter. I trained in a school with an explicit no shouting policy and actually rather enjoyed it. When I worked at the Metropolitan School the students were savvy enough to know that forcing a teacher to shout at the class would be a sure sign that they had got to them, and, therefore, raising your voice in class would just make kids laugh at you. The discipline system there had clear sanctions which did not include taking a kid out and shouting at them. Therefore, there was very little point to shouting at all. Even when I have worked in a “shouting school”, I would try hard to avoid shouting at classes; it was a high risk strategy and I was experienced enough at managing classes to know how to deal with noise in a more structured and careful way. Therefore, I have no particular support for shouting, and little reason to advocate it as a form of behaviour management.

However, the moral indignation and hypocrisy have got to me. I simply cannot abide some of the attempts to demonise teachers for shouting that I have heard recently. And in particular, I cannot tolerate the trend I have noticed in managers suggesting that teachers who shout at students are to blame for the students’ poor behaviour, as if children had no free will, and their behaviour simply reflected the moral deficiencies of their teachers.

So let’s be clear about a few simple points. Teachers shout for three reasons.

1) To get attention.

It is a fact of cognitive psychology that if we are not listening to someone then our attention cannot be grabbed by the content of what they say, but will be grabbed by its volume.

…unattended speech is not analyzed to a semantic level, that is it is not analyzed for meaning. Instead it is analyzed for physical characteristics such as pitch and loudness … all stimuli are analyzed for their physical characteristics, but only a limited number (those to which you attend ) are analyzed for their semantic content. .. unattended stimuli must be processed in case something important requires your attention. If you are in a crowd and someone shouts “Fire!”, the loudness of the unattended message will make you shift your attention to the source of the sound…But presumably if someone merely said “Fire,” you wouldn’t hear it because the word doesn’t stand out from any other stimuli

(Willingham, 2007)

In a relatively quiet room you might be able to get attention by becoming quieter. In a room where all the noise is of one pitch you might be able to get attention through the pitch of your voice. If you have a whistle you could certainly go without shouting. However, in a noisy classroom, teachers often have little hope of gaining initial attention from a class if they don’t raise their voices. There are ways around this, slower methods that involve getting attention one student at a time, or making students scared to let their attention drift, and in a tough school you will have to pursue these methods or you will wear your voice out. But there are always going to be situations where it would be irresponsible not to shout in order to gain attention. If a kid you don’t know is behaving in a dangerous manner then it would be better to yell “Oi!” and be considered rude than to let someone come to harm while you agonise over a more polite way to intervene. There is no way of making the act of shouting beyond the moral pale here, even if, like myself, you prefer to avoid it.

2) Out of Anger.

It has to be said there exist schools and classes where losing your temper and shouting has a clear positive impact on the behaviour of the class by giving them a bit of a scare. However, the effect diminishes with the age of the students and with the frequency with which they experience it, and with tough classes it can have a negative impact (imagine being furiously angry and then once you show it having thirty kids laughing at you, it is not going to end well), so I would not recommend this as a behaviour management technique. However, there are two reasons why I will not condemn anyone who does use it. Firstly, if it is normal to use it as a technique in your school, then a refusal to raise your voice will undermine you by making you appear weak or unconcerned about poor behaviour. In those situations it can barely be avoided. Secondly, in those situations where shouting is having no positive effect then it is entirely possible that the shouting teacher has become upset and lost control. This is not a good thing and teachers should try to avoid letting it happen. However, as I argued before it makes absolutely no sense to condemn teachers for being upset. That is simply to blame the victim, and to make teaching the exclusive preserve of those who don’t care about their classes or their own dignity. Again, neither of these cases seem to suggest a moral transgression on the part of the teacher. In one case they have done what is necessary, in the other they have acted like somebody who cares.

 3) As a punishment.

This is the one that I personally am most guilty of. If you are in a school where the sanctions are inadequate to deal with the behaviour then you have little choice but to look for sanctions that can be delivered on the spot and require no follow up. I wouldn’t ever recommend shouting within a classroom, or in front of other students, (it can backfire badly if a student has eye contact with another student when they are being shouted at) but one of the few instant punishments we have left is to ask a student to stand outside and then go and shout at them. Now, I am the first to argue that other sanctions would be preferable. I prefer sanctions that are recorded and public. I prefer sanctions that will mean something to every kid not just the weaker characters. I prefer sanctions that are less stressful for the teacher. I prefer sanctions that defuse a situation rather than risk escalation. However, there are plenty of schools where the behaviour policy is not adequate and the use of a good old-fashioned bollocking is a matter of necessity rather than principle.  A puritan could self-righteously disapprove of it for being unpleasant, but that is because either they disapprove of all punishment, or because they haven’t grasped the basic idea that punishment is meant to be unpleasant. What they cannot do is argue against shouting as a punishment without accepting that teachers in those schools should, because of the circumstances of the school, tolerate bad behaviour in their classrooms because they’d rather kids lost their education and lived in fear of their peers, than teachers got their hands dirty in the pursuit of restoring order.


Now, I suspect that a lot of the punishment puritans will reject these arguments on the basis of the usual lies about behaviour. While hiding in their offices they will pretend that there is no need to grab attention, pressure classes into behaving, or punish the guilty. If you have good enough lessons then no child will ever misbehave and if they do it was obviously your fault – after all you shouted and that shows you are a bad person – and there is simply no need to raise expectations or challenge disruption. If you are upset by children then it simply shows you are incompetent and if they were still teaching a full timetable then they’d show you how to remain calm under pressure.

However, back on the frontline, teachers are put in positions every day where they have little choice but to raise their voices. I do not like that situation, and much prefer an environment where it is not necessary, but I can’t stomach the attempt to blame the victims by the very class of people who have created the situation in the first place. When blaming teachers is used to pretend that there is no Behaviour Crisis, and that the level of disobedience and abuse teachers endure is simply down to weak teachers letting the side down, then the self-righteousness has merged into sheer callousness. I can only hope and pray that one day those who consider their condemnation of their colleagues to be evidence of their own unbounded compassion come to see themselves as those around them see them, not as a beacon of decency but as opponents of teacher authority who fail children, again, and again, and again.


Willingham, Daniel T., Cognition, 2007


  1. As a deputy head in a primary school I do the most shouting. I’m not proud of it, especially when once every couple of years I really lose my temper and then have to trawl around the school apologising to teachers, students and then parents after school. However I think that not doing so would be abrogating my responsibility as a school leader – it’s my job to be in the awkward behaviour situations – I never expect my teachers to have to deal with that. I hope that by me shouting a bit more, they shout a bit less.

  2. So true. I find it embarrassing when I shout. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

  3. An excellent post as always. Covering every angle and attention to detail.

    I once worked on a school where ‘shouting’ was frowned upon. Alas there were precious little sanctions in place and the students behaved in a disgusting manner at times.

    When I 1st arrived at the school i had a brief induction by a very earnest woman who talked about students rights and their right to respect from staff. She mentioned her distaste for detentions and confrontational discipline.

    About a month later I was walking along the corridor where there was an unholy din emanating from within. I assumed a class had been left unattended so went to remonstrate.

    There before me were 30 y9 kids wandering around, shouting, laughing, singing, fighting and at the front was that same induction teacher literally screeching at the kids. She wasn’t telling them off by the way- she was actually trying to teach the lesson above the chaos. I knew some of the kids too- none particularly awkward at all.

    Thing is, she didn’t even notice me enter the room so I simply quietly closed the door and went on my way.

    I saw that same woman over the next 4 years lecture staff about classroom discipline, student rights, and the need for staff to be more sensitive to challenging students.

    One can only imagine how much educational harm that single person did during her extensive career.

  4. Good for you Andrew. A reasoned (although flawed) analysis of the shouting debate.

    My thoughts are:
    1) raising one’s voice to get attention is not (or at lest not necessarily) shouting. It’s simply speaking loudly. Projecting one’s voice. This can be done quite well without the layers of emotion one associates with shouting. Although to pantomime one’s disapproval of poor behaviour by pretending to be upset or angry might will require a judicious shout.

    2) you’re right – condemnation of teachers’ emotions is pointless. But they are adults and they will encounter naughty children. Can they not get upset in their own time? Sure, they should be supported in dealing with their feelings. But encouraging them to cathartically shout out their frustrations? Come on, who’s that going to help?

    3) I’ve got nowt against punishment. I just think that shouting at someone in order to punish them is stupid. Yes it’s easy to cow normally obedient children but the one’s who really get your goat just won’t respond well to the shouting. The behaviour will get worse not better. So don’t shout.

    This isn’t an emotive issue and suggesting that anyone who opposes it is a “punishment puritan” is a straw man of your own construction and unworthy of you.

    A good read, thanks.

    • 1) The distinction between raising one’s voice and shouting is one you haven’t made precisely, and I can’t think of any way to make it that doesn’t simply fall into the traps of the other two points.

      2) Nobody has encouraged cathartic shouting. I have simply suggested that condemning teachers for being upset is counterproductive and callous. A category I would also use for the suggestion that they should get upset in their own time, or classing the abuse teachers endure as simply being a matter of “encountering naughty children”.

      3) Sorry, but this is the archetypal “punishment puritan” argument. You are condemning a particular punishment with an argument that would condemn *all* punishments. Any punishment at all could be condemned for making behaviour worse in the case of the difficult child who responds badly to being punished. It’s in the nature of punishment that a) kids don’t like it and b) it will not result in immediate rehabilitation.

      • 1) I have no idea what this means.

        2) So we agree? It *looks* like you’re just finding something to disagree with on principle.

        3) I’m really not interested in whether children like being punished or not. Clearly they don’t unless they are deviant in some. This is equally true of teachers’ enjoyment of punishment: one would hope they didn’t get a kick out of it.

        My point, which you may have overlooked, is that shouting only works on kids for whom there are much less stressful ways to manage behaviour.

        The utter pointless of it reminds me of the caning scene from Kes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p-Sw1bmir4
        “I hope it’s going to be a lesson to you. I don’t suppose for one minute it will be.”

        • OA- I hope you don’t mind me having a bash at explaining to DD:

          1. I think he means that one mans ‘shout’ may be another man’s ‘raised voice’. How many distinct layers of emotion are required before ‘good projection’ spills into a scream?

          2. I have heard a few times how a good shout can be cathartic (“better out than in”) actually so if it works for the teacher and the kid deserves it then personally i have no beef with that- after all- can’t the kids misbehave in their own time?

          Anyhooo I think OA was saying that sometimes, in certain circumstances, shouting can become a standard feature of schools and avoiding it at all costs may be interpreted as weakness by some kids. I would concur.

          He also suggested that to condemn teachers that are forced into shouting is to misplace blame and is a pointless exercise. Again, I would have to concur.

          3. Sometimes justice needs to happen even if the chances of rehabilitation are remote. (or any real/fictional applied punishment for an offence)

          And ‘less stressful’ ways sometimes means non-immediate, time consuming, ineffectual, humiliating, appeasing etc for the teacher.

          Finally, I, like OA and yourself don’t advise shouting- i have counselled against it my whole career.

          But have I shouted? yep. has it sometimes been a tad unprofessional and due to time constraints and/or poor student conduct? Yep.

          Humans react like humans even those with good self discipline and a calm demeanour.

        • 1) It means you have no argument. You have not explained the difference between “raising your voice” and shouting.
          2) Obviously not.
          3) The point is that if a child reacts badly to being punished, it is likely to be because they don’t like it which should be the case for *all* punishments.

    • ‘Can they not get upset in their own time?’

      What? Are teachers robots with on and off buttons for their emotions?

      As I have long suspected, Didau, you’re not only an idiot but a n unpleasant and harmful idiot.

      (You have my permission to be upset about this on Bank Holiday Monday between the hours of 9 and 6.)

      • This is supposed to be a reply to Didau’s comment on 20 November 2011. It won’t make much sense if it doesn’t follow it immediately.

  5. Brilliant post. I once started work at a new school and after a term was hauled into the Deputy Head’s, obviously she didn’t tell me beforehand what the meeting was about. “We have heard that you’ve been shouting at the pupils” “Yes” I didn’t realise that I was supposed to be embarrassed and she was quite shocked that I just admitted it. She then said something along the lines of “we don’t do that kind of thing here”. Which is probably why the behaviour there has gone downhill so much. I have gradually realised over the years that it is not the done thing any-more and so barely do it now. And so yet another tool is denied us.

  6. People shout for all sorts of reasons and clearly shouting is a well defined and well practised form of communication between human beings. Teachers being human beings can, I believe, use shouting for all sorts of reasons some positive and some negative as some of which are described above.

    Rarely in my experience do teachers shout simply to bully pupils, more often shouting is about being heard and/or maintaining and exerting authority.

    Some teachers shout as they become desparate to regain control and this is one of the saddest situations I have seen. Some teachers simply shout, because they are shouters.

    My biggest gripe is with the SMT described above…”we don’t shout around here” withot an approach to behaviour management that enables teachers to maintain an orderly environment without shouting.

    It should also be said that not infrequently teachers shout at pupils in an attempt, usually successful, to avoid physical violence or restraint. This applies to more teachers than I think many would like to admit.

    Used properly shouting is for me a very effective form of comunication and to remove it from a teacher’s available stock of strategies abitrarily and without thought is poor management in my view. We should therefore not be surprised how common this is.

  7. We could do with more Steve Philps in school leadership. A sense of realism has been missing from most SMT I have encountered in the last 15 years or so.

  8. I don’t shout and everything is cool. Learning continues with not a raised voice in anger only in shameless engagement of their learning :-)

  9. […] appeasers of the badly behaved” and says that those who dare ask questions face a “complete and unquestioning disapproval from a position of moral superiority, unsupported by a ration…“. You see, Didau, Young, and Old are really quite brave champions of […]

  10. Shouting at children just seems like a counterproductive measure. Here’s an article that has techniques that involve singing and clapping, rather than shouting: https://westendinschools.org.uk/blog/creative-classroom-management-part-3
    – Paul

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