Are some schools too strict?

Francis Gilbert's picture
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...
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Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 11/09/2011 - 13:27

It is also quite interesting the some of the worst rioting in Hackney started on an estate that was right next door to the Mossbourne Academy which may be a reminder that many of the underlying causes of social unrest, low achievement, and poor outcomes for children lie outside schools and that schools need to work with their local communities, not in isolation, to address these.

Torzay's picture
Wed, 22/01/2014 - 18:59

Yes but Fiona did u know that no students from Mossbourne where caught and apparently not involved

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 11/09/2011 - 17:05

That is interesting about the riots in Hackney and their proximity to Mossbourne. Clearly some systematic, in-depth research needs to be done about what happened in the riots and elsewhere in the country. Unfortunately, the government's inquiry looks like it's going to be a botched job; too hasty and with the "answers" already provided. I have been looking at the Scarman report from the 1980s again and was interested to note that Scarman points out the complex reasons behind the riots.

Melissa Benn's picture
Sun, 11/09/2011 - 17:22

I agree with you Francis. Glad you did the programme. Policy of zero tolerance seems very appealling and might make parents feel safe. But I don't think it's that simple. Can't schools strike a balance between an open atmosphere that allows for risk and failure and creative thinking, and the kind of order that classrooms need? I, too, have thought a great deal about this and feel that one answer, out of money, has to be smaller classes. Otherwise you are asking teachers, too often, to operate a form of crowd control which is where the appeal of military discipline comes in.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 22/01/2014 - 21:37

Like Melissa, I too agree with you Francis. I made my views clear in this thread.

Tom Burkard of the new Phoenix Free School which will recruit former soldiers as 'instructors' put his contrary arguments.

I feel strongly that the underlying learning theory implications are important. Zero tolerance discipline is behaviourist control needed to deal with the negative consequences of behaviourist (punishment and reward based) teaching methods.

I have another post pending that I think is also relevant.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 13/09/2011 - 07:18

Below is an extract from the Elton Report into school discipline. The report's findings are as true today as they were in 1989.

“… bad behaviour in schools is a complex problem which does not lend itself to simple solutions. Taken as a whole the evidence submitted to us indicates that any quest for a single, dramatic remedy, such as a major piece of new legislation, would be futile.”

“A few of the submissions we received took the view that bad behaviour is always entirely the fault of pupils. We reject this view. No pupil is an island. Every incident has a range of immediate and longer term causes. Events in the classroom are influenced by a complex mixture of expectations, attitudes, regulations, policies and laws which are shaped by forces at work in the classroom, the school, the local community and society as a whole. The most central of these influences is the relationship between teacher and pupils.”

B Y Stick's picture
Tue, 01/11/2011 - 09:43

As a local resident and an interested observer of the schools, I can offer the following view about the main differences between the schools.

1) Mossbourne was a school that started with a Year 7 intake while Haggerston already had the full spread of years when it was 'temporarily' taken over. Instilling a 'zero-tolerance' work would obviously work better when starting at a younger age AND without the influence of children under the 'old' regime.

2) Mossbourne is a mixed school while Haggerston was a girls school (only recently becoming mixed). I am no expert so can only speculate if the reasons for underachievement at a girls school could be meaningfully compared with boys or mixed schools?

3) If it is argued that school discipline does not appear in itself to make a huge difference, then what?
Facilties? They both have new modern buildings that follow the best contemporary designs.
I am going to suggest that the important factor is the teaching staff (including headteacher). This is generally true of most schools so why not here? With the high profile that Mossbourne have had, is it any wonder they are attracting the very best teachers?

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