Gove's discipline ideas are "a senseless waste of time"

Henry Stewart's picture
 17
Those are the words of Neil Roskilly, Chief Executive of the Independent Schools Association. In a display of private sector/state sector co-operation, I am happy to agree with Mr Roskilly. (Perhaps Michael Gove will bring the two sectors together after all, in united opposition to his policies.)

Readers will know about MIchael Gove advising traditional punishments for misbehaviour. Where to start with what is wrong with what he came up with?

First, is it really the role of the Secretary of State to start telling teachers how they should punish their students? If as a governor I advised on whether to use litter picking or detentions I would be (rightly) accused of getting too involved in the detail of my school.

Second, getting kids to write lines. As Michael Rosen pointed out, if we want young people to enjoy writing , does it really make sense to use it as a punishment?

Michael Gove, just because a practice was used in your school 40 years ago does not mean it makes sense today (or even that it made sense then).

To quote Mr Roskilly again: "It all suggests a very rosy view of history and discipline in the past. I don't think parents look back at their own schooldays and think that's what they want. I remember the days when if somebody did something wrong, the whole class would be slippered. Parents today would be horrified", going on to describe Gove's proposals as "silly".

We can all agree that good behaviour is an essential part of an effective school and that disruption in classrooms gets in the way of learning. But is punishment the only solution the Secretary of State has to offer? What about praise, about support, about understanding and helping our young people. Or is that just too blobby of me?

If you watched Educating Yorkshire you will know that, yes, punishments were used. But you will also have seen the dedication, support and engagement that the head and the teachers used to reach some of their troubled (and troublesome) kids. Those were scenes that anybody who has taught in a comprehensive will recognise and it is an aspect of schools that Mr Gove seems unable to grasp.

And amidst the line writing, detentions and litter picking there is one strategy that Gove didn't mention and may even be unaware of. This is possibly because it didn't exist 40 years ago. That strategy is Restorative Justice, where the perpetrator is brought  to face the victim and understand their feelings. As a Chair, I have had many parents come to me and tell me how their child had been bullied (or, sometimes, that they had been the bully), and how Restorative Justice had worked to solve the problem. In some cases the pupils had even become close friends.

Indeed the year that Restorative Justice was introduced saw a big fall in reported bullying (as measured in the annual confidential student survey). Or as @appensieve responded when I tweeted on this:  "Restorative justice in our primary has been huge success. Behaviour has improved so much." I know the same is true of schools across the country.

I think there is less of a Berlin wall between the private and state school sectors than there is between the Secretary of State and the entire teaching profession. Gove's policies may play well with Daily Mail headline writers but they are not working with the public. Last night on BBC News Nick Robinson reported that polls conducted for the Liberals revealed the best strategy to gain popularity was to publicly attack Gove, suggesting he is the most unpopular politician in the current government.

Which is good to know. Because the public, it appears, does not want a return to the schools of the 50s and 60s. They see through the headline-grabbing statements and want instead schools that their children enjoy going to and that enable them to learn and flourish.

 

Notes: My thanks to Allan Beavis for the Western Daily Press article and to Paul Reddick for pointing out the absence of Restorative Justice in Gove's statement.
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Comments

Neil Moffatt's picture
Tue, 04/02/2014 - 22:05

"Those were scenes that anybody who has taught in a comprehensive will recognise and it is an aspect of schools that Mr Gove seems unable to grasp." simply because he has not been a teacher nor studied education. His ideas are a poor mix of personal ideology and cherry picked policies from selected others.


rogertitcombe's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 10:51

"And amidst the line writing, detentions and litter picking there is one strategy that Gove didn’t mention and may even be unaware of. This is possibly because it didn’t exist 40 years ago. That strategy is Restorative Justice, where the perpetrator is brought to face the victim and understand their feelings. As a Chair, I have had many parents come to me and tell me how their child had been bullied (or, sometimes, that they had been the bully), and how Restorative Justice had worked to solve the problem. In some cases the pupils had even become close friends.

Indeed the year that Restorative Justice was introduced saw a big fall in reported bullying (as measured in the annual confidential student survey). Or as @appensieve responded when I tweeted on this: ”Restorative justice in our primary has been huge success. Behaviour has improved so much.” I know the same is true of schools across the country."

This is so right and important that I have repeated it above. It was the basis of the behaviour policy in my headship school, which reduced all exclusions (fixed term and permanent) to zero and received sustained praise in every Ofsted inspection.

There are also important learning implications.

The fundamental human learning process takes place on what Vygotsky described as 'the social plane'. Knowledge and associated concepts are then either successfully internalised or rejected, often subconsciously, by each individual learner. In a school the 'social plane' might also be metaphorically described as the school's 'social fabric'.

'Disciplinary' incidents are those that damage this social fabric either through disrupting lessons or harassing other students or making them uncomfortable. Every such incident might be thought of as a tear in the school's social fabric, some very small, some large. 'Restorative justice' is about recognising and responding to inconsiderate or aggressive acts, but in a way that completely and invisibly mends the tear, so the social fabric becomes as strong and supportive of learning as before, for all concerned, perpetrators and victims alike.

It is an approach that sees 'indiscipline' as 'a problem to be solved' rather than a crime to be punished on the basis of a tariff of 'proportionate sanctions'. In terms of learning theory it is the difference between developmental and behaviourist approaches. It should be no surprise that in Gove's new school world, behaviourist school discipline policies are advancing in step with behaviourist (drill and rote learning of knowledge) based teaching. Deterrence through punishment is like putting a patch onto the social fabric to hide the damage, which remains below the surface. This weakens the social fabric and so weakens the ability of the school to support truly effective learning rather than just being a factory for passing exams.

Gove's proposed sanctions have other implications for learning, as Henry and Michael Rosen point out, but it does not stop at 'lines' putting pupils off writing. Compulsory litter picking and cleaning off graffiti as a punishment also demeans the status of those essential workers that undertake these tasks for a living: the school caretaker and cleaners for example.

In my headship school I once discovered a human turd deposited in the urinal trough in the boys' toilet. So much for restorative justice, I hear the doubters say. This was clearly the solitary act of a disturbed child, of whom the school had a number. Where would this feature on the tariff of school crimes and what would be the 'proportionate' punishment? How did I respond - ask a subordinate colleague to remove it? I found a plastic glove and removed it myself.

That's one of main problems of tariff based sanctions. Real life is always much more messy and complex than can be encapsulated in any tariff, as all teachers that take the trouble to investigate and find the root causes of disciplinary incidents know. I now hear the doubters cry, "we have got kids to teach, there isn't time for all that soft nonsense". So how much time is wasted by offenders and teachers setting and supervising punishments and detentions?

There are another strong reasons for the success of restorative approaches. They are fundamentally just and moral, in the deepest sense. For an offender to confront and examine her own actions is no soft option. To do so in the presence of a victim and sometimes also pupil witnesses is a hard lesson and the result is a lasting solution to the problem. Not just a bitter, unreformed offender who will make more effort to cover her tracks next time. In the very important case of bulling, all punishment achieves is worse bullying out of school or in more unpleasant and hurtful ways not covered by the tariff.

The obvious justice of the approach appeals to all the pupils in the school and the absence of tariff punishments encourages them to report problems to school staff, who they trust to solve the problem in the best interests of everybody.

Yes, this is very clearly a member of 'the blob' speaking. Henry is so right about this in his next post.

agov's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 12:46

"Nick Robinson reported that polls conducted for the Liberals revealed the best strategy to gain popularity was to publicly attack Gove"

Call me picky -

Nick Robinson reported that polls conducted for the Liberals revealed the best strategy to gain popularity with public sector workerswas to publicly attack Gove

Brian's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 13:52

Call me picky but Nick Robinson's blog says:

'When market researchers asked former Lib Dem voters what might get them back on side just two words summed up their answers - "Fight Gove".'

Can't see any reference to public sector workers there.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 16:59

The problem is that "former Lib Dem voters" probably means current Labour voters anyway. I doubt many of those who quit the Lib Dems over tuition fees or cuts and rejoined Labour would go back whatever Clegg says about Gove.


A Cooper's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 22:50

You would be surprised at the number of parents that actually want me to inflict 'old fashioned' punishments on their child rather than use restorative justice avenues. I have one set of parents who have written to our governing body to inform them that they do not give their permission for their child to take part in any restorative justice meetings or even write an apology letter to their victim.


A Cooper's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 22:57

Restorative justice isn't really appropriate for low level disruption, such as calling out, interrupting the teacher, chatting during whole class teaching input, throwing pens and pencils across the room etc. If you ask a child to explain why they have called out or interrupted they will often just shrug their shoulders, because it was an impulsive act. I find a consistent approach, using a tariff of consequences that are fairly implemented across the board very successful.


rogertitcombe's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 23:44

Who said they should be asked why they did it? In my school, departments dealt with stuff like that by having the teacher quietly but firmly explain to the transgressor that he/she was disrupting the lesson and if he/she persisted the solution to the problem would be that he/she would be given written work, removed from the class and placed at the back of the class of another teacher, preferably teaching a different year group. No threats, no punishments, just a low key solution to the problem.

If the same pupil reoffended in the same way again then there would be an after school round table meeting organised by the Head of Department and the teacher, who would explain why the behaviour was unacceptable (because it stopped the teacher doing his/her job and denied other pupils their right to learn). The consequence would be temporary exclusion from the lessons in question pending a chat with a parent. Still no punishments, just reasonable problem solving measures.

This might look like a tariff based punishment system, but the distinction of its being just a solution to a problem is important.

If the same pupil was disruptive in other lessons as well then the Head of Year would become involved and a round table meeting with the pupil and parent would again be held in order to agree a solution to the problem. Again no talk of punishments, just solutions to the problem. If deeper issues emerged then further solutions would be explored crucially with the agreement of the parent and the pupil.

There is nothing 'soft' about working like this. It becomes part of the culture of the school and such problems become increasingly rare as all pupils get so used to behaving reasonably that it just becomes part of normal school life.

Brian's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 23:07

I hope the governors have pointed out that by sending their child to the school they have accepted the school's policies, including discipline and that opting out isn't on offer.


rogertitcombe's picture
Wed, 05/02/2014 - 23:19

A Cooper - I would not be surprised at all. In our school it was common for offending pupils to go through our full system that involved the aggressor, victim and pupil witnesses sitting around the oval table in my office, resulting in a confession, apologies, promises of no future aggression and a general outpouring of heart warming mutual declarations of peaceful intentions, only for the parent to storm in the following day accusing me of bullying the son/daughter into making a false confession. This is because pupils were often happy to confess their transgressions and make peace in our punishment-free system, only to then go home to their parents and deny it all - often for fear of severe (sometimes physical) punishment.

We got over this by routinely videoing the peace conference. Showing the angry parents the video and explaining the system usually solved the problem. When my granddaughter was recently bullied at her primary school, I was delighted that the head used exactly the same restorative, problem solving system as we used in our school. Even better, instead of videoing the peace-making process, the offending child wrote a confession letter to his/her parents, accompanied by a letter from the head inviting the parents in to discuss the incident AFTER the reconciliation process has been concluded.

Your governors need to understand and support the school's system. Parents do not have any right to forbid the head to follow the schools behaviour and anti-bullying policy, that has presumably been agreed with governors and communicated with parents through the home-school agreement.

Brian's picture
Thu, 06/02/2014 - 10:10

As head of two schools where I used similar approaches I can certainly confirm that there is 'nothing soft about working like this.' Indeed recalcitrant pupils often described the experience as 'uncomfortable'. Parents, however, did tend to see it as soft and describe it as such, often demanding a clear demonstration of a harsh punishment, at least in my first headship. That school was in an area of deprivation ... the week I started a picture appeared in a national newspaper with the headline 'Is this the most deprived street in Britain? ... but parental support for strong discipline was high. However anything less than harsh discipline was seen as soft by parents. 'Tha' wants to get tha' belt off to 'im.'
In my second school, very middle class, a very different response from some parents, summarised I suppose by 'How dare you accuse my child of ......you'll be hearing from my solicitor.'
My response in both schools, as Roger says above, 'This is our policy, it works, we're sticking with it'.

Overheard by me in the first school I taught in, where the head was a great believer in the restorative approach.

'Did you get done?'
'Yeah'
'Did you have to go and see Mr. Xxxx?'
'Yeah'
'Did he wallop you?'
'Nah, it were worse than that. He talks to you for ages about what you've done and then you have to agree how to put it right. It's horrible.'

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 06/02/2014 - 11:26

Gove's comments are unhelpful. He may appear to be helping by describing what sanctions can be employed but, really, does he think detentions aren't given? And, no, Mr Gove, I would not give a detention without notice. Why? Because:

(a) Many pupils relied on school buses - miss the bus and there's no way the pupil can get home unless parents pick them up. This can only be arranged if parents know in advance and then a compromise can be reached if parents aren't unable to do so (eg grounding etc in place of detention).
(b) No-notice detentions on the same day meant I would have to alter my plans (eg scrap an after-school club; be late for a meeting; put-off essential admin)
(c) It could cause unnecessary anxiety to carers if children don't arrive home when expected.

rogertitcombe's picture
Thu, 06/02/2014 - 11:38

Janet - I wouldn't give detentions at all: to my mind a waste of time and effort for all concerned, especially the poor teacher that gets landed with detention supervision.

However, I think schools should offer generous opportunities to do 'catch-up work' missed by lateness, truancy or missing lesson time as a consequence of the problem solving time generated by inconsiderate or disruptive behaviour. I agree with you that this 'generous opportunity' should always be offered and agreed with parents in advance.

I know the cynics will say that such 'generous offers that can't be refused' are detentions, but I think the difference is important with respect to the culture of learning in a school.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 06/02/2014 - 11:59

Roger - I would say that my detentions were in fact "offers that can't be refused" and were used for doing missing coursework or some sort of restoration.

However, setting detentions was part of the school's behaviour policy and heads of year/department heads wouldn't bring out their guns until class teachers had gone through the laid down procedure.

agov's picture
Sun, 09/02/2014 - 10:40

Sorry Brian, haven't had time to pop in for a few days.

You're right that is what it says on his blog. I have been unsuccessful in finding the relevant clip. The BBC has pages listing previous BBC News programmes but they all seem to be currently unavailable on i-player. Perhaps they don't do Sundays. Or perhaps it's part of that £100 million they wasted.

I'll have a look tomorrow to see if I can find exactly what he said for your inspection.

Andrew Old's picture
Tue, 18/02/2014 - 22:39

The thing about restorative justice is that, unlike punishment, it doesn't involve any justice. Normally it involves kids saying sorry and teachers just waiting until they do it again.


rogertitcombe's picture
Wed, 19/02/2014 - 10:40

No it doesn't. If done properly it results in the permanent solution of problems. It is punishments and 'justice' that doesn't produce permanent solutions. One of the reasons is that a school's version of justice may not be shared, not just by the alleged miscreant, but by others as well and very often they will be right because it is frequently instant, arbitrary and anything but just.


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