Newspapers Persecute Schools For Enforcing The Rules

January 28, 2015

I’m sure I’ve moaned about this before, but the Daily Mail often annoys me with its hypocrisy about school discipline. It seems to run two, contradictory, types of stories on school discipline. The first type is the “school discipline is not strict enough” story.  Here are some examples of Daily Mail stories either calling for better discipline or reporting sympathetically on others doing so (found after Googling “Daily Mail School Discipline” and “Daily Mail Behaviour in Schools”):

I have a lot of sympathy for this type of story in that I do think the extent of poor behaviour in schools is a national scandal. I’m more optimistic about the way things are moving than I used to be, but I’m always happy to see the issue raised, and I don’t want a return to the bad old days of the Steer Report when it was hard for any teachers to dare defy the behaviour denialists who insisted everything was fine.

So why am I complaining about the Daily Mail? Because they also frequently run another type of school discipline story, which consists of disgruntled parents moaning about schools who have stood up to them and enforced the rules on their children. While some of these articles are, perhaps, phrased so as to hear both sides, it is clear that the human interest aspect of the story is provided entirely by the family of the child who was disciplined. Examples include (all found by Googling “Daily Mail excluded”):

What is most irritating to me about all these stories is the extent to which the student’s and parents’ accounts are always accepted at face value, and the focus is always on the original cause of the misbehaviour, not on the behaviour by student or parents that may have escalated the situation. We’ve all taught kids who are keen to turn the most minor misbehaviour into a major incident, through repetition, defiance or continued anger. This will apply at a whole school level too, with some of those (both parents and students) who pick a fight over one minor rule being unable to back down even if it means leaving the school.

If a child is unlikely ever to follow a rule then they have to go, in order for that rule to be enforced on the rest of the school. If students retaliate in severe ways at teachers who enforce rules then they have to go or teachers will be scared to enforce those rules in future. If students feel free to argue over the interpretation of the rules, then enforcement is obstructed. Rules only really exist if they are enforced and can continue to be enforced. It is those schools where staff are too scared to confront students, which have the major discipline problems. Standing up to students (and sometimes parents) may not be pretty, but it has to be done and it does not help if the media act as if children have suffered a great injustice by being expected to comply. I don’t actually think it should be considered newsworthy if a school enforces the rules, but if newspapers do wish to report it, they should stop reporting it as: “Schoolboy, aged X, excluded for infringement Y” and instead report: “School refuses to make special exception for student over infringement Y”.

Oh, and while the Daily Mail always seems to me to be the worst offender on this, perhaps because of the hypocrisy, I think it’s worth pointing out that the same type of non-story can be seen in all sorts of different papers.

  • One from my local paper about a school I once taught at.
  • The Mirror being as unhelpful as the Mail over the story that prompted this blog.
  • The Guardian proving it is no better than the tabloids.


  1. Reblogged this on History Bluff and commented:
    I also find this incredibly irritating. It’s like people who insist that other people should pay parking fines or speeding tickets but think they are some sort of special case when it happens to them.

  2. Reblogged this on splozza11.

  3. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  4. With the exception of two, the “anti-exclusion” stories are all about uniform policy. Without exception, your examples of “pro exclusion” are about classroom disruption.

    I don’t think you have to conclude that the contrast is due to hypocrisy on the part of the Daily Mail, only that they don’t think dress infractions are a sufficiently serious matter for exclusion, but classroom disruption is. That’s not an insane or inconsistent point of view. Not all policies are equal.

    I approve of school uniforms – they hide both poverty and wealth. And maybe there is a good reason why exclusion has to be used to enforce it and why you can’t just keep pupils in all break, every break, or use internal isolation, until they comply.

    But I really think you should articulate what the reason is, because it seems disproportionate.

    And you also ought to consider that support for uniform policies from parents may be harmed if they enforcement seen to result in unnecessary exclusions.

    • You seem to be suggesting that schools can pick and choose which of their rules to enforce. Ignoring one set of rules undermines all rules. And, as I said, it is unlikely that stories about exclusion over uniform infringements are actually only about uniform rather than about defiance.

      • Firstly, I don’t think you really mean that Javertist response that Ze Rules Must be Enforced! On a trivial level, discretion exists in all walks of life, and nobody enforces all of the rules all of the time. Such a world would be intolerable. Schools can make exceptions, but – more to the point – they can choose their own rules.

        In these examples I do not think this is the DM criticising schools for enforcing their rules. The occasion of the rule’s enforcement is the obvious occasion to criticise it, but I think it is clear that it is the rule that is the object of criticism not the enforcement. That’s neither inconsistent nor hypocritical.

        • I really do mean the rules should be enforced. In my experience, that particular expectation accounts for pretty much all the difference between schools with good behaviour and schools with bad. Rules that are not enforced are lies, usually aimed at governors and inspectors, and can only undermine the authority of teachers. Discretion leads to negotiation and the idea that it is not what you do, but who sees it, that matters. And no, the time to discuss a rule is most definitely not after you have just been caught breaking it. That’s far too late, and again leads to negotiation.

  5. Reblogged this on evidencedinformed and commented:
    This blog post by OldAndrew demonstrates the complex nature of education. I think many people, both in and out of education grapple with inconsistent ideas that they hold at the same time. His simple research had uncovered some great examples of this.

  6. […] Newspapers Persecute Schools For Enforcing The Rules. […]

  7. […] Newspapers Persecute Schools For Enforcing The Rules. […]

  8. […] A summary of the Daily Mail’s hypocrisy on school discipline stories; […]

  9. […] in January, 2015 I wrote a blogpost about the Daily Mail’s hypocrisy in shaming schools for enforcing their rules. While noticing […]

  10. […] If we undermine teachers’ and headteachers’ authority by tangling it up as authoritarian, if we shame school leaders for imposing authority and enforcing school rules, if we as a country are averse to authoritative schools, we put authority in crisis, and we […]

  11. […] Newspapers Persecute Schools For Enforcing The Rules […]

  12. […] Newspapers Persecute Schools For Enforcing The Rules […]

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