A Solution to Poor Discipline in Challenging Schools

October 20, 2013

My latest blogpost, “How to be bad SMT” has broken all records for the number of hits to my blog. Almost 3000 for it, and 4000 for the whole blog, yesterday. It’s not the first time I have ranted about poor management, but the approach of just describing what’s bad and leaving it to others to decide who it applies to seems to have gone down well, both with reflective senior managers and with classroom teachers who have experienced “bad SMT”. Even the deputy leader of one of the major teaching unions tweeted a link to it.

Of course, there is a depressing side to this. It has been popular because so many people recognised it. What I described is undeniably commonplace. It might, and this is less certain, even be normal and that should be a concern at a time when the power and size of SMT seems to be being increased, without the same being done about their competence. Although there have been one or two criticisms of it, and demands for a description of what good SMT do (I did write about that here) the response has been great and it has been particularly good to hear SMT say they will use it as a “what not to do” guide. One response, emailed to me from a headteacher, particularly delighted me. Although they presumably did not know this, and will be finding it out for the first time now, they were somebody I briefly worked for and were so dedicated, supportive and able that working for them was one of the highlights of my career. Here is what they had to say about the solution to poor discipline in challenging schools: 


The failure of Senior Leadership Teams to deal with poor behaviour is a regular complaint made by classroom teachers. In particular, teachers in deprived areas often face a nigh on impossible task if they teach in a school where there is a weak discipline policy. It doesn’t have to be like this. As a Headteacher, I believe that the SLT must take overall responsibility for behaviour in classrooms. Individual teachers cannot do it on their own.

Here’s why.

Let’s take a typical school day, and a typical school discipline policy. Most schools have five lessons a day. That’s five opportunities for the most disengaged, challenging, disruptive pupils to ruin a lesson, stop other pupils learning, disrespect a teacher or refuse to work. Most discipline policies set out a series of consequences or warnings for poor behaviour. They usually end in the pupil being removed to another classroom or removal room. The teacher is then expected to arrange the detention and ensure the pupil attends.

It is just glaringly obvious that this can and never will work. Whilst it may deter some pupils from misbehaving, the most recalcitrant pupils quickly work out that you won’t be able to catch up with them. Why won’t you be able to catch up with them? Because they have the chance to earn 5 detentions every day- potentially 25 detentions a week.

So it’s Monday period 2. You teach year 8. Yet again Johnny has been rude, arrogant and dismissive of your authority. You issue warnings. You inform Johnny he is in detention tomorrow. He gleefully announces that he already has a detention for tomorrow. You arrange your detention for Wednesday. What happens if Johnny continues his disruptive behaviour in period 3,4 and 5? He is potentially booked into detentions until a week on Monday…. Will he attend every detention? What do you think? He knows he can get away with it. He knows you will struggle to catch up with him. Is he likely to behave better next time? I doubt it.

In this system, only the strongest teachers are able to make the system work for them. NQTs, supply teachers, new teachers, those who struggle with behaviour management – all are left to face difficult and challenging classes without a system to support them.

That’s why you need a whole school system which ensures disruption and poor behaviour are dealt with immediately. It’s really simple. This is how it works.

  • Agree a set of rules for behaviour in the classroom.
  • Display the rules in every classroom.
  • Agree the number of warnings pupils will receive before they ‘earn’ a detention.
  • Once the limit is reached – often 3 warnings – remove the pupil to a removal room.
  • Staff the room with behaviour managers.
  • Once in the room, text or call parents to inform them that their child is in detention that night.
  • Enter the detention into the MIS system.
  • Draw up a detention register.
  • If a pupil earns another detention, text or call parents to inform them that their child now owes 1 hour detention that night.
  • Rota SLT to lead detention every night.
  • Ensure SLT supervise pupils for unto one and a half hours after school if necessary.
  • Involve all teachers in detention – that’s how to support each other and take collective responsibility for detentions.
  • Follow up non-attendance with a day in Isolation.

Simple and effective. Every detention is served on the same day that it was given. It works with the most disruptive, belligerent and difficult pupils. They walk into the classroom knowing that the teacher has the power to put them in detention. They know that if they misbehave for this teacher, their parents will know within minutes. They know they have to attend the detention that night or face a day in isolation.

This system is powerful and effective. I have seen it work in a number of challenging white working class schools. Teachers find it incredibly supportive. Over time, they find that low level disruption can be virtually eradicated and soon just a look from a teacher is enough to stop disruption.

Pupils appreciate the system. They like the fact that those who seek to destroy their lessons are dealt with. They also appreciate the fact that the system is clear and fair. Everyone knows the rules – they are displayed in the classroom. The teacher cannot make it up as they go along. They cannot jump the consequences. Everyone knows where they stand, and this helps the pupils to make good choices about their behaviour.

We expect teachers to use the system consistently and fairly. We expect them to build strong, warm and positive relationships with their classes. We emphasise that some of our pupils come from difficult, troubled and violent homes and need patience and understanding. But we never tolerate disruption, defiance or rudeness.

This system allows us to analyse patterns of behaviour. We can see where a pupil is struggling in a number of lessons, hence suggesting that something is not right. We can work with this pupil to address the issues. We also can see if a teacher is struggling with a particular class – or a number of classes. We can then offer support and training.

Why do so few schools use a system like this? Many headteachers are concerned that it removes the responsibility for following up poor behaviour from the teacher. It means that teachers can abrogate their responsibility for securing good discipline to a central system. Others believe that good teaching will lead to good behaviour, so the teacher is at fault if behaviour is poor.

It may not be a popular view, but it is my belief that these arguments lead to the sort of appalling behaviour we see described in teacher blogs. Securing good discipline Is down to the Headteacher and Senior Leaders. Our role is to serve and support our staff, and to guarantee that they can teach their carefully prepared lessons without the stress of dealing with deliberate defiance and unruly behaviour.



  1. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. Our School has a very similar behaviour consequence/reward system and it does work in an amazing way! Agreed – Why do more schools not go with this?!

  3. Andrew – brilliantly put, and I think there’s a lot to say for this sort of measure. I would beg for one addition to the list – or at least a clarification to the ‘include all teachers in detentions’ part. In a school I visited for a few days as part of some CPD, they had a requirement that any teacher putting a pupil on detention also had to attend the detention for a few minutes. So, if kids from your class are sent out and on detention at the end of the day, you have to head down there at 3pm and speak with them. The teachers had to explain to the child why they were in detention and create a plan for future lessons.

    Depending on the number of children this took from a few minutes to half an hour. It sounds onerous, I know, but it had a few advantages:
    1. The student couldn’t just complain “miss x is being unfair” at the slt member on duty. All that whining was gotten out during the conversation with the teacher, and slt had seen how the teacher had behaved.
    2. It meant that teachers didn’t just use the detentions because they couldn’t be bothered to deal with behaviour. If they were sending 15 kids to detention, then it became clear to slt they either needed more help with their lessons (maybe some kids moving out, or another body in the room to help), OR there was an issue with the teacher’s in-class behaviour management strategies.
    3. It became obvious which teachers were NOT resolving behaviour issues at all. So, if a teacher was getting bad results and complaining about behaviour but NOT using the detention system, it also became clear that they were not reinforcing school rules.

    Finally, I think it’s important that behaviour is both teacher and slt responsibility. Having both be involved at this final part is vital for each understanding and respecting the other.

    • I am sorry but I disagree with a lot of this comment and I would beg that your additional point is not put on the ‘what good SMT do’ list. In my first school there was no central detention system and at the end of every day nearly every teacher in the school had to chase up dozens of kids. So many manhours were spent on this nonsense; it was so inefficient. Of course what every teacher should have been doing was planning and marking but this was pushed aside for chasing naughty kids – the same naughty kids!
      The Head at my next school understood this and there was a central detention system and teachers did a detention duty every three weeks. But the idea of having to go to every detention you set to speak to the child is just as inefficient as the system in the first school because in a bad school a teacher would have to be there be there every day for several kids, in fact it could be for dozens of kids. It detracts from planning and lesson preparation. Also, the idea that a teacher has to explain to kids why their behaviour is wrong is just plain weird. Children do know right from wrong. They tell you to eff off because it is rude and nasty. They don’t need it to be explained to them. What you are suggesting, in my opinion, is too draining for a real live teacher in a tough school and it detracts from teaching and learning. I would argue that my second head master turned a failing school around partly by stopping classroom teachers wasting their time on behaviour issues. Behaviour was dealt with by the pastoral team and teachers in the classroom focused on teaching.
      Also, I don’t know if your comment reflects your views or the SLT at this school but there appears to be underlying suspicion of teachers here. ‘slt had seen how the teacher had behaved’ and ‘teachers didn’t just use the detentions because they couldn’t be bothered to deal with behaviour’. This is unpleasant and not supportive.

      • Can see how it might seem overly burdensome for teachers, and I agree that behaviour is a time-suck, but at the same time I have seen it work and I think that spending time on behaviour is part and parcel of being a teacher in a challenging school. When students come from families where behaviour is not adequately modelled I think there is a need for time-investment which we can’t just wish away. I’ve also seen the system work, but I can see from what you are saying that perhaps it wouldn’t be the ideal for everyone.

        Re. that final paragraph. I suppose I’m suspicious of a small percentage of people in both SMT *and* teaching across all schools. In the places I’ve worked there have always been some SMT who closed their doors and failed to deal with behaviour. Likewise, there have always been some teachers who wanted to wash their hands of behaviour problems even though I think resolving them is integral to your being seen as a good teacher (nothing is solved if kids see SMT as the ‘behaviour monitors’ but don’t come to see their teacher as the person for whom they should behave).

        What I think the solution done is provide collective accountability – it ensure students, teachers and slt are all present, aware of what is happening, and are behaving in ways to resolve the behaviour issues. It also gives a chance *for* support. If a teacher is sending tens of kids each day they need extra help and slt should be providing that.

        • the problem in my school is that by giving detentions and trying to enforce sanctions my boss came down hard on me as an nqt and blamed me for their behaviour as ‘they didn’t act that way with him’… And this boss is my ‘support’…

          • ‘It meant that teachers didn’t just use the detentions because they couldn’t be bothered to deal with behaviour.’ No, by issuing the detentions they are using the system correctly to deal with the behaviour. NQTs will likely issue more detentions than other teachers in challenging schools, because badly behaved pupils think they can pick and choose who they behave for, and new/inexperienced teachers are fair game in their view. This is so patently obvious that I can’t believe SLT so often play dumb and apparently don’t realise this.

      • I agree with you. I believe that ‘restorative’ practice needs to be dealt with by a trained behaviour team, who do not teach and only deal with the underlying issues the student is facing, which are often fuelling the poor behaviour choices. Some students (more in the most deprived areas) need time, attention and nurturing. All of which a teacher does not have time to deal with. The most the teacher should be expected to do is trial multiple support strategies in the classroom and follow the school system.

  4. I ran a system similar to the one described. It does work, and works well once it is established. In reply to the comment above, I must say I don’t think I ever had a teacher use this detention system because they could not be bothered to deal with the behaviour in the class. IN fact, I think that comment is a little insulting!

  5. As a HoD I told my team that discipline in the classroom began with them and their lessons – were they worth behaving for? (there was a culture of frogmarchng kids to Heads of Year to be dealt with a a first resort – I have some sympathy, as there were colleagues who simply washed their hands of disciplinary matters – it was for pastoral staff to sort out). From there, I instituted a hierarchy which came through me as subject HoD first, before it went anywhere near senior managers or pastoral staff. We ran our own rewards and sanctions within the dept. In a split site school I kept a log book in each office for staff to note incidents of good and bad behaviour which I dealt with next time I was in the building. In the worst cases I’ve put kids in the car and driven them home, accompanied by an ESW or year head. There’s nothing like knocking on the door with a recalcitrant child in tow to focus the discussion on behaviour (probably wouldn’t be allowed now, but was very effective). You’re absolutely spot on here – it has to backed up by a highly visible SMT and clear consequences understood by all.

    • Hi John, just another question. It doesn’t sound like you were actually following a whole school behaviour policy. Was there one? Why were you able to ‘personalise’ it as it appears you did from what you have written above. Why did the members in your department agree to your policies? Were they NQTs by any chance?
      Sorry if I have the wrong end of the stick and I know there is a suspicious tone to my questions but as well as SLT not really leading on behaviour management I have also seen middle managers picking and choosing policies and not using/following the systems in place. I think this also creates behaviour issues within a school.

      • I think that although a departmental approach might work, in a school with many discipline issues the main problem is not teachers washing their hands of responsibility for discipline. Those kids chose to act that way and we want them to control their behaviour whoever is in charge of them.

    • ‘Were they worth behaving for?’

      What a nasty thing to ask. Every lesson is worth behaving for, just as every teacher is worthy of pupils’ respect.

      Your comment – implying that pupils can pick or choose whether to behave well, depending on what they think of the teacher – is exactly the kind of undermining weasel phrase that undermines teachers by pretending that it is teaching styles or attitudes to content that cause poor behaviour. Thank God you’re not my HoD.

      • yep sounds like my hod who has blamed me for the terrible behaviour in my class and has been angry when I tried to implement punishments…

    • ”As a HoD I told my team that discipline in the classroom began with them and their lessons – were they worth behaving for?”

      Christ. Why are more people not challenging this moron?? Exactly this kind of stance that has ruined education and left British schools in the mess they are today.Another way of saying that if you are getting bad behaviour it’s all your fault. No. Behaviour in the lesson actually begins with mgmt and the standard they set and the powers and support they provide teachers with. While I agree that teachers must work to ensure lessons are kept relevant and accessible in my experience 9 times out of ten it is students whom willingly choose to not wanting to do the work or to not behave that causes the problems. The problems get ten times worse when you have managers like this who make it clear that teachers must be responsible if kids kick off…. What exactly makes a teacher or a lesson ‘worth behaving for’?? Is it student enjoyment and engagement? Must kids be given the false impression that every thing in life is enjoyable and engaging and if not then you can switch off from it?? If that’s the case sure why not scrap the current curriculum and let teachers play videogames and watch movies…. Many things in today’s curriculum are not engaging or remotely interesting and no amount of planning or activities is going to make 19th century literature, history of the Tutors, Shakespeare, the climate of Norway or geometry interesting for the kid who don’t care. Blame the government who sets this and not the teachers who just deliver the message. Once managers make these ridiculous statements you go into very dangerous territory so really think hard before you spew such crap.

      ”We ran our own rewards and sanctions within the dept. In a split site school I kept a log book in each office for staff to note incidents of good and bad behaviour which I dealt with next time I was in the building.”

      Again another major reason why behaviour systems in schools fail-when departments and teachers work alone rather than work together, happens then that everybody behaves in 1 subject and in the department that don’t do this [through no fault of the teachers] there is anarchy. Behaviour systems only work properly and effectively when everybody works together and there is widespread consistency.

      Plus you say you dealt with it ‘next time you were in the building’, when would that be? the next day or 2 days time, a week’s time?? In order for behaviour mgmt to be effective, mgmt of it must be immediate-that is there must be consequence immediately and the kids see that, if it’s not picked up for a day or worse days then impact is diminished.

      ”From there, I instituted a hierarchy which came through me as subject HoD first, before it went anywhere near senior managers or pastoral staff.”

      And what happens if you were busy?teaching on a full timetable? Marking/planning/data tracking?? What happens if there are numerous incidents in a day in a busy department?? Are you telling me you will have the time to follow every one up??

  6. ‘Were they worth behaving for?’ What does that even mean?

  7. …and for all those who are working in schools without this level of consistency or clarity about behavioural expectations. The only thing you can do is set your own classroom rules and follow up your own sanctions ruthlessly. And when the child ignores you (as they will in a school where they know the SMT won’t back you up) and fails to report to you at the time and place you asked them to…at the VERY NEXT opportunity you are free, find them…wherever they are, and demand to know why they failed to attend, in front of anyone else who might be present, including colleagues. They soon realise you’re serious, even if the SMT aren’t.

  8. I can understand why this head teacher would be a joy to work for. Such wise advice from one who has clearly thought out how they can support the teachers at the sharp end.

    I agree with the following although I find it curious…

    “It is just glaringly obvious that this can and never will work. ”

    Why is it that so many Heads and SLT either don’t see the galryingly obvious or choose to ignore it even though the potential consequences ar also glaringly obvious.

    Thank you for these wise words

  9. Generally if I contact pastoral staff at my school about a kid’s behaviour their response is something along the lines of, ‘good that you’ve acted, we’ve been looking for an excuse to pin him down’ or ‘we’d better nip that sort of behaviour in the bud’. The whole mentality is towards ensuring good behaviour. Even teachers that may struggle with discipline are fully supported. These pastoral staff are very busy, often on full timetables but they view sorting behaviour as a priority. They also think it is their job to act when kids are not working hard or appear to be struggling with a certain subject. That belief that the pastoral staff are there to support academic learning by taking action when kids don’t get homework done or aren’t working well is a reason I think we have climbed the league tables over the years. This isn’t a school with a challenging intake at all but even so ten years ago the school behaviour was much, much worse. I have been able to exploit the rock solid pastoral support to set regular tests (and retests) which has been magic for students’ ongoing assimilation. Kids know that they will have to turn up for retests and will get in trouble if they fail. They also complete written homework (essays and past exam questions) to a reasonable standard if the teacher enforces high expectations because the kids are quite aware that if challenged they won’t get away with laziness. A kid knows that poor effort marks in even a few subjects in half termly reports will mean an uncomfortable interview and some unpleasant consequences. All this means the kids that would not otherwise do so, generally behave well and do their work.
    I have worked in similar types of schools but it was all very different. You were a lone ranger which was especially a struggle as an NQT when I knew no different. This makes me all the more appreciative of my school now.

  10. I think more schools would benefit if they took this approach,this could benefit schools and parents.

  11. Dear OA,
    I have been advocating this approach most of my career.

    I have seen similar systems work in the (few) schools that chose to adopt them.

    In fact if I was SecEd I would make the system above compulsory for state schools.

    I think kids, parents and teachers have an entitlement to such an effective and evidently fair system.

    “It doesn’t have to be like this”

    What a poignant line….

    As humans we have put men on the moon but yet allow recalcitrant adolescents ruin so many of our schools in the western world…

    Behaviour is, in my humble opinion, the number 1 issue in education.

    And we have a solution to the behaviour crisis/pandemic right in front of us.

    As effective as vaccinations and anti-biotics but a darn sight cheaper…..

  12. […] And one headteacher emailed Andrew to describe simply and coherently what needs to be in place: https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/a-solution-to-poor-discipline-in-challenging-sc… To quote: ‘Securing good discipline is down to the headteacher and senior leaders. Our role […]

  13. My school has this approach, but it has one large loophole. Parents. Many parents continually undermine teachers by telling their children that they don’t have to do detention. The poor behaviour we have in school currently is due to the excuses given by parents for their child’s poor behaviour, blaming the school for ganging up on the student (even though consequences were given by a range of teachers), giving consequences for what they deem to be ‘silly reasons’ and so on. It makes our job impossible and puts a massive strain on the pastoral team who have to continually defend consequences that are given by staff, rather than dealing with more important issues.

  14. This is a common problem in schools.
    The government needs to tell parents, really quite forcibly, they must support their school on discipline.
    Specifically they must not whinge about sanctions or teach their kids rules are ‘silly’.
    I would ask schools to include a pretty stern ‘phrase’ from the DfE admonishing parents for doing this in the event of petty complaints.
    SLT and teachers should feel completely unfettered by feckless, stupid, excusing, undermining parents.
    No over protective or lax parent should ever influence the discipline systems of any teacher or school. End of.
    ps Arty – if your school is finding this time consuming – then ask your HT to send a global email to parents telling them how its going to be.
    He/She can also tell parents from now on that all complaints about sanctions will now only be dealt with via letter and will be reviewed every week by SLT and in the meantime each and every sanction will immediately apply to the child.
    Of course every week they will review the petty complaints and send a standard letter to the parent telling them that they think the sanction was justified and that if they dont like it they can take their precious kid elsewhere.
    Its called leadership and putting learning and safety 1st.

  15. It does NOT work as our school very clearly proves 1 year after the system has been introduced? Why not? Because it is purely punitive and contains not a single thread of restauratve practice. It is a very bad idea and leaves the most vulnerable behind.

    • I agree Susanne, the ‘detention’ needs to insist students reflect on the consequences of their behaviour, not just detain them as a punishment. It should be both. However, I do not believe the teacher needs to be involved in this process which is undoubtedly time consuming. The most a teacher can do is have a short discussion to remind the student of the school rules and establish a mutual understanding promoting respect.

  16. I love the fact that detentions are immediate and that same day. The policy in many schools to give parents a courtesy 24hours notice and also an option to say “no that date does not work for us”. With a legal right to detain students for disrupting education, why are we affording parents this courtesy?

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