Posts Tagged ‘discipline’

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Eight Out Of Forty-Three Ain’t Bad (If You’re a Member of SMT)

April 30, 2009

After six weeks of term in which my year ten class have continued to disrupt every lesson, I decided I’d had enough. I found the worst few incidents of the last couple of weeks (being called a twat by Charlene and being told to fuck off by Daniel) and emailed SMT about it. I was surprised to get responses. I was not surprised that the responses consisted of passing responsibility to other people and/or denying knowledge of the incidents. Neither incident had appeared on the school’s behaviour database system despite two weeks having passed.

There were some incidents on the system. Madelaine and Will had been given a day in isolation on Wednesday (this is the standard punishment for being sent out of lessons). Madelaine had earned this by repeated interruptions and calling another student “a pregnant bitch” and Will had earned this by refusing to stop singing while I was talking. The odd thing about this is that on Wednesday, when they were meant to be isolation, Madelaine and Will had attended my lesson and disrupted it. I raised this and was told that these students had been let out of isolation unsupervised to go and have injections. They had then gone to my lesson to disrupt it rather than returning to isolation. Evidently the pleasure they get from stopping me from teaching is not easily foregone.

At a tough school you expect to have lessons disrupted and you expect to get verbal abuse. You can also expect SMT and HOYs to ignore incidents referred to them. However, they usually act eventually when it’s every lesson for a fortnight and you are emailing them every day about what’s happening. This time it’s been six weeks without progress. Previously well-behaved kids were joining in. So I contacted my union rep, Diane, to ask to see her about what was happening. (Unions are actually quite good at politely asking why kids are allowed to victimise their members with impunity, that’s why Jim Bulmer the head at Stafford Grove was reputed to bully union reps with hostile observations until they left). She popped in to see me while I was in the detention hall. I was allowed out for a brief chat and the Deputy Head “just happened to” overhear. Before I knew it there was a flurry of activity and he was agreeing to meet me Friday afternoon to discuss the matter.

I did my homework. I compiled the 43 incidents into a handy spreadsheet. 17 had not appeared on the behaviour system. Of those that had appeared only 8 listed any form of action that had been taken.

8 out of 43.

It even shocked me to see how many incidents of verbal abuse had been ignored. That said, it is the repeat offenders that make the inaction so depressing. Dave had walked out of 5 lessons without anybody doing anything to encourage him to stop. Daniel had been sent out of half the lessons he’d attended. Printed it out just made it obvious how badly I’d been let down by the system. How badly the kids in the class had been let down by the system.

On Friday I was surprised to see the Year Head for year 10 joining us. The Deputy Head and Year Head were soon promising to chase up certain students and let the year ten mentor assist in lessons. If anything they were too helpful now that the unions were involved; I had to persuade them that I didn’t currently want any help with my other year 10 class. As ever, the excuses were the main entertainment value of the meeting. The Deputy Head talked at length (convincingly) about how the schools budget for Teaching Assistants had been underspent and how outside contractors had been unable to deliver the updated behaviour system on time. The Year Head was less convincing. Apparently the lack of action on her part was down to:

a) Computer errors which made incidents just disappear from the system

or

b) Other members of staff leaving the door to the Year Head’s office open, thereby allowing students to sneak in and remove referrals from her desk.

Of course, if you believe that you’d probably also believe that the main discipline problem in school is “low-level disruption” and that exams are as difficult as they were twenty years ago.

Postscript

The following Monday I got to see the full list of results from the first modular GCSE exam year 10 took in March. Out of the ten classes in the year group there were only two in which the majority of students had met or exceeded their targets. I had taught both of those classes. No other class had more than three pupils reach their targets. A number of my colleagues later explained to me that their results were disappointing because they’d had some poor behaviour with year ten recently.

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Non-Discipline Day

January 13, 2007

Almost every book ever written about behaviour management will include this piece of advice: “Be consistent”. Now in practice there are some members of SMT who will give the opposite advice (“be flexible”,) but it is generally accepted that consistency is a key part of managing behaviour. Kids should know the rules and that the rules should always apply.
There is, unfortunately, a commonly made exception. Common sense will always retreat in front of tradition and many schools have developed the tradition of having a day where – for charity – some of the school rules, namely the ones related to school uniform, are suspended. On these Non-Discipline Days (more often known as “Non-Uniform Days”) teachers are no longer able to object to the gang colours, short skirts, expensive trainers, sexually explicit t-shirts and identity concealing head gear that a teenager is forced to wear by their peers when not protected by adults. And who could possibly object? It’s for charity.
Well I could object for the following reasons.

  1. Rules are not something that can be switched on and off. It makes no more sense to have a day when the uniform rules are relaxed than it would be to have a day where students are encouraged to skip lessons, break windows or burn down the canteen.
  2. School uniforms are one of the most important weapons against truancy. Simply put, if a parent makes sure their teenage child is in uniform and locked out of the house there is a more than reasonable chance they will end up in school eventually. Take the uniforms out of the equation and they are far more likely to race to the nearest amusement arcade, shopping mall or crack house. At Woodrow Wilson School SMT brought an end to the recurring cycle of Non-Discipline Days when it was noted that it reduced attendance in years 10 and 11 by over ten percent.
  3. Discipline is worse on these days. Children believe they won’t have to work as it is a special occasion. Caps and hoodies provide greater anonymity for truants and trouble makers. At my current school (which has a little bit of an internal truancy problem) I actually caught 14 different children out of lessons in a single afternoon on Non-Discipline day. (Well I say caught, a more accurate observation would be that in most cases I observed them pulling their hoods over their heads and running off.) And this is without mentioning the two girls in Year 9 who don’t do a thing all day because they have decided to do a sponsored silence to raise £1.63 in sponsorship money between them.
  4. You have to constantly explain which rules are still in place and which aren’t:“No, you can’t dye your hair in the toilets”; “You can’t wear hats indoors”; “Balaclavas and gimp masks are not acceptable”; “Yes, you still have to bring in a pen to write with”.
  5. Compassion inflation sets in. If the school could abandon the rules for Children In Need then they should do it for Comic Relief, and Jeans for Genes Day, and any emergency in the news, and for the local dogs home, and to fund the school’s awards day. It doesn’t take long before it’s one day a month and there’s still resentment from any teacher with a new good cause if they don’t get a day too.
  6. It’s a pain to collect the money in.

Of course part of the problem is that with schools failing to carry out their core function of educating children in an orderly environment then there is an abnormally strong desire to get them to carry out secondary functions, such as charitable fundraising, community work or school productions. All these things would be highly desirable if schools were doing the basics right, but seem utterly unnecessary when there is anarchy in the classrooms not being dealt with. I sometimes fear that if given a choice between achieving a 100% literacy rate among students and appearing in the local paper handing over a cheque for £137.50 to a donkey sanctuary, most headteachers would choose the latter. Nobody wants to be seen as uncharitable. Running a rubbish school is however entirely socially acceptable.

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