A Solution to Poor Discipline in Challenging SchoolsOctober 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.
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.