Are conduct cards a form of child abuse?

February 15, 2022

In the last couple of weeks, Britain’s most prominent online teacher basher, Warwick Mansell, has launched another school shaming campaign, focused on the United Learning Trust academy chain. I don’t have access to his blog, but I did read the Twitter thread and see the reaction.

Some of it was the usual over-reaction to things that are commonplace, like enforcing the uniform policy..

Or reminding children to be quiet and orderly in corridors.

One claim particularly stood out in the reactions. The claim that students had to wear behaviour cards around their necks.

I have worked in a school with behaviour cards, although they were called “conduct cards”.  The idea is that for certain minor things, particularly behaviour around site, if a student does something wrong it’s marked on the card. There is only a punishment when the card is marked for the required number of times. (I seem to recall it was 6 a term at the school I worked in, but that included some categories of in class behaviour too).

The advantage of a conduct card was that refusal to hand it over was an automatic detention, the same as having a full card would have been. That meant that even if they were asked by a teacher they’d never met before, most pupils would hand over their card when required.  It made challenging behaviour around in corridors easier than at any school I’ve ever worked at. In almost every other school I’ve worked in, challenging kids who don’t know you for behaviour in corridors has been a pain. If they don’t comply and you don’t know their name, what can you do? Some teachers end up looking at CCTV footage and photos on the school database to track down defiant students, but unless behaviour is exceptionally good, and you know which year group you are dealing with, this is not practical for full time teachers who are new to a school. A certain amount of defiance in corridors and around site just becomes normal in most schools, at least for new members of staff. There are things schools can do to mitigate this: have more staff on duty and in the corridors; have different year groups wear something that indicates their year group, or make the punishment for non-compliance particularly severe. But a conduct card system is the most effective I’ve seen.

The only down side was admin for form tutors in distributing the cards (you can’t just hand them all out and say “only take one each”; a spare card had value) and the problem of lost cards. Do kids get the full detention if their parent puts their card in the washing machine? These things did create issues, but not insurmountable ones. Even if a student did get hold of an extra card, they still had to visibly comply with staff to get away with it and, by handing over the card, they were giving their name to those supervising them. Even when it wasn’t resulting in a lot of punishments, and there were students falling through gaps in the system, it changed expectations from confrontation to compliance.

If a school came up with the idea of putting their cards on a lanyard (preferably not in a way that makes the ticks readable at a glance) that’s a great way to stop children losing their card. It also solves the problem of the pupil who doesn’t refuse to hand over their card but takes 5 minutes to “find” it. I can’t help but think that this whole thing is a good idea if you want to improve behaviour in corridors.

As a teacher with experience of a conduct card system, it seems amazing that school shamers have made a big deal about this. The whole system is based on giving warnings more often than punishments. It is highly effective, without very many punishments being given. However, an online mob have been acting as if a card is the Ancient Mariner’s albatross and worn as a mark of shame. Due to Mansell’s rhetoric of oppression, his claim that there had been a requirement for “one school’s pupils to wear behaviour cards around their necks” was interpreted by many people as a form of public shaming. The assumption being that the cards were a way to indicate to anyone who looked at the child that they had done something wrong.

Here are some examples from the responses to that tweet of people assuming humiliation was being used as a punishment.

The behaviour card round necks is straight out of Netflix’s #sexeducation [accompanied by an image which included this individual]

These draconian measures which seem to be mainly about humiliating children and not about educating children are extraordinary.

demeaning and humiliating children doesn’t make for balanced caring adults

…its [sic] appalling, humiliating a child is an act of cruelty.

Like a dunce’s hat !!!!

You mean like a “No Welsh” board hung around children’s neck in the 19th early 20thc?

…it’s institutionalised humiliation and should be consigned to history.

One person even shared a picture from China’s cultural revolution of Mao’s victims with placards round their necks. And sure enough, as people became more and more convinced that behaviour cards were some form of public shaming, the online insanity became even greater.

The fact that someone thought it was appropriate to hang behaviour cards around children’s necks is appalling. If this is how the children are treated, the staff will be suffering from mental ill-health too.

This is child abuse.

Unbelievable, fascist doctrine at it’s finest. Someone is seriously getting some sort of sickening kick, out of implementing this..

I think it will be considered child abuse in the future. Another scandal.

Warwick Mansell did nothing to clarify any of this, although he did step in when people questioned the narrative.

And what was the truth? Who knows? Mansell appeared to be only interested in whipping up hatred against schools, not clarifying facts or calming down his irate followers. However, a picture on his website did suggest that the reality was very different.

It shows a behaviour card with writing too small to be readable at a distance. It shows a lanyard for a plastic card with a magnetic strip on (probably an ID card) and no obvious space for the behaviour card. On this evidence, I’d be suspicious that the card was ever on the lanyard, and if it was I’d have to assume it was folded and behind the ID card. There is no way the behaviour card was designed for public display. Also, only one side (the “misdemeanour” side of the card is shown) making one wonder if the other side was something more positive.

There’s an audience out there that hates schools, distrusts teachers and will always condemn any effort to enforce rules. Mansell feeds them scare stories that result in schools being targeted for abuse. I wrote before about what happened to a school featured in a Daily Mail article he wrote..

If our unions and professional bodies were on our side, then maybe more would be done to challenge this narrative. As it is, the only time we hear the other side of the story is from teachers on social media. The school shamers are our enemies, and at the moment they have more of a voice than we do.

Update 15/2/2022 (10:09 am):

I’ve now seen the behaviour policy relating to these cards. They are kept in lanyards, but they are double sided with the other side being for positive comments. (Although the version of the card in the behaviour policy is a bit of a mess.)

Update 15/2/2022 (10:54 am):

Just been contacted by somebody who knows the school. They had this to say.

…the [First Impressions] cards were stored in the plastic wallets and ‘hung around the necks’ of students on lanyards, much in the same way as ID cards are ‘hung around the necks’ of teachers. The stupidest thing about all this is that THE LANYARDS WERE NEVER VISIBLE AT ANY TIME. The kids all had grey jumpers as part of their uniform and the lanyards were always tucked into those, if not stuffed into pockets or down the bottom of the school bag. But never ever on display….

…I notice that whoever is doing the stirring this time isn’t talking about Golden Tickets, just like they didn’t talk about the positive side of the FI card. Golden Tickets were given to the best student at the end of every lesson by teachers. This equated to 5 house points. It was a great system that made kids eager to please and it made them feel rewarded. They anticipated the Golden Ticket and would remind teachers every lesson.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: