This is a problem that I've been thinking about recently; perhaps some schools are too strict? Some schools are so worried about their pupils misbehaving that they institute draconian sanctions and create an atmosphere of fear amongst the students and staff. I've spoken to teachers and pupils who've attended these sorts of schools and been thinking about this issue quite a bit. Obviously, in the light of the summer riots and the government's obsession with discipline, it's a hot topic; David Cameron spoke this Friday about the need for discipline in our schools. As if most schools aren't already well-disciplined already! The vast majority are orderly, well-run places. Some though can go overboard.
I appeared on BBC News this Friday talking with Sir Michael Wilshaw, the headteacher of Mossbourne Academy
about David Cameron's muddled ideas for schools. Wilshaw likes them, but I find only confusion and chaos embedded within them; on the one hand, the government want to give teachers more freedom and yet, on the other, they're insisting upon the teaching of synthetic phonics and the introduction of a reduction "E-Bacc". The free schools and academies programme looks set to benefit children from wealthy backgrounds on the whole, and not raise standards amongst all children.
Wilshaw argued that many schools in the country are coasting and not doing a good enough job. A key policy he instituted at Mossbourne and the other school he temporarily was in charge of, Haggerston School
, was a zero-tolerance behaviour policy; even minor infringements upon the rules, such as not having your top button undone, bring relatively severe punishments such as detentions. It worked at Mossbourne where the results are very good, but the results at Haggerston have remained stubbornly the same; the school has not improved in the way that others in the area have. Reflecting upon this makes me realise that improving schools is a very complex process and it's not just having strict teachers which raises achievement. Indeed, there are times when an atmosphere of fear can inhibit children and stop them achieving their potential because they are so frightened of making mistakes. It's a finely judged thing.
My son had to come with me to the studio and met Sir Michael in the Green Room. Unfortunately, he spilled some hot chocolate on his shirt. I joked that he'd get a detention at Mossbourne for something like that; Sir Michael confirmed that he would! Sir Michael lived up to his reputation as a bit of a scary guy...