Britain Prepares a Crackdown on Student Discipline

by Robert Pondiscio
April 15th, 2009

A British government study into classroom behavior calls for holding parents accountable for their child’s classroom behavior, including fines for condoning truancy.  “More schools will also be encouraged to use traditional methods such as detentions, suspensions, isolation rooms and lunchtime curfews to punish badly behaved pupils,” London’s Telegraph reports.  ”They will be told to order pupils to remove caps and confiscate mobile phones. Guidance also calls on schools to punish rowdy behavior, bullying and fighting outside the school gates, including incidents on public transport, to stop poor behavior spilling onto the streets.”

The conclusions are presented in a major review by Sir Alan Steer, the Government’s leading behaviour expert. They came as teachers warned that existing methods were failing as a “reward culture” seen in banks was spreading to schools. Jules Donaldson, from the NASUWT teachers’ union, claimed some headteachers were fuelling the problem by handing out prizes if children promise to behave instead of setting proper boundaries.

“Children can’t learn if classes are disrupted by bad behaviour,” said Ed Balls, Britain’s Schools Secretary. ”That’s why parents tell me they want tough and fair discipline in every school. That means we must all play our part and back our teachers when they use their powers to keep good order.  Everyone needs to share the responsibility of maintaining discipline, including governing bodies and parents. Where parents are unable to do this, it’s right that local authorities should consistently use parenting contracts as a way to support and help parents face up to their responsibilities.”

A teacher’s union survey of 10,000 teachers in Britain shows an average of 50 minutes of lost classroom each day due to misbehavior.


  1. See also: Shameless. Massive!

    Comment by Tom Hoffman — April 15, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

  2. “More schools will also be encouraged to use traditional methods such as detentions, suspensions, isolation rooms and lunchtime curfews to punish badly behaved pupils,”

    Can you imagine any education leader in America using the term “traditional methods” in a non-pejorative manner?

    Go Britain!

    God, this is such a breath of fresh air. I’m sick of the carrots-only approach that has swept across the education thoughtworld. Mention sticks and you’re regarded as a Neanderthal. The new conventional wisdom is that punishment doesn’t work. Also, if you punish, you’re a failure as a teacher –you’ve failed to build rapport, to motivate, to understand the kids, etc.

    Bull. Carrots are less effective than sticks. And even the most engaging lesson plan will be gleefully subverted by certain kids if they think they can get away with it.

    News flash: sometimes traditional methods are traditional for a reason: they work.

    Reading this post this morning really heartened me as I taught today –it stiffened my spine when dealing with classroom disruptors (fortunately, I don’t have many this year). I’m not the type to try to cajole or charm kids into behaving anyway, but today there was even more authority and righteousness in my voice when I told J. that one more rude disruption and he would be down in the principal’s office (he looked startled and shut up) and when I told N. that her tone was disrespectful and that I would have her leave my class if she caused one more problem (she too was docile thereafter). Thus I was able to finish recapitulating what we’d studied about the Renaissance and have grade conferences with individual kids.

    Caring, understanding, finesse –why deploy these energy-intensive methods when the kid knows he’s being bad? As Machiavelli’s research showed, sadly, imitating Jesus is not the best policy when trying to rule a fractious populous. In the end, the occasionally-stern teacher has the happier and more prosperous classroom.

    Comment by Ben F — April 15, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

  3. I was described by an AP as an “authoritarian teacher,” so I guess I’m with you, Ben. I thought I was merely being a grown up. Apropos of that, there was a terrific quote in the Telegraph’s article defending the policy and contrasting it with the U.S. approach: “In America they are saying adults should be seen but not heard. To a certain extent we are going down that road. At the end of the day parents have a responsibility for their children’s behaviour and sometimes they are not willing to accept that.”

    Comment by Robert Pondiscio — April 15, 2009 @ 8:45 pm

  4. This article revives some hope within me. I’ve been asking one question for years and that is simply “Who is the grown-up here?”. In U.S. schools today we see parents, counselors, administrators and many teachers allowing for bad behavior, failure to perform, and full student choice in areas that clearly they do not have the experience to cope with yet. We call this being “student centered” but is it really? Isn’t it more student centered to have high expectations for each child in the areas of performance and behavior, and to correct them when they misbehave or choose not to perform? Beyond the curriculum, isn’t that why adults are needed to teach children, rather than simply letting children teach themselves? If we don’t model the behaviors we expect AND hold students accountable for meeting acceptable behavioral/performance standards, then we are definitely not the student centered people we claim to be. And I say this as a veteran high school teacher who finds that kids prefer to know what I expect and respect me for sticking to it.

    Comment by Sundene — April 16, 2009 @ 8:51 am

  5. Robert, “Authoritarian” has connotations of capricious and tyrannical rule, doesn’t it? Isn’t there some middle ground between Cool Teacher and Saddam Hussein? If we are authoritative, we have authority to wield. I feel much stronger discipline-wise when I have a super-lucid lecture on tap; I feel the authority coursing through me.

    I wonder about the whole state of adulthood in this culture…when so many teachers and parents seem to be trying to live vicariously through kids, where they want to be their friends and on their side all the time, where teachers’ lounges are abandoned at lunch because teachers are giving up their lunches to make sure that no child fails, where Harry Potter and Twilight are now adult books too… At our school I feel there is little or no adult “space”. I feel we’re the inverse of Confucian culture –only KIDS are respected here, and adults cower, kowtow and contort themselves in homage to these little masters. Indeed, adults are to be seen but not heard! I’m nostalgic for the curmudgeony intellectual old salts (now retired) that I encountered in my first forays into teaching –they seemed to have a grown-up teacher culture that existed alongside but separate from the lives of the students.

    Comment by Ben F — April 17, 2009 @ 1:03 am

  6. […] Education Secretary Ed Balls reacted to an April 2009 report by Sir Alan Steer by announcing a “crackdown” on student discipline in U.K. schools. “Children can’t learn if classes are disrupted by bad behaviour,” said Ed […]

    Pingback by Student Discipline Crackdowns: Do “Top-Down” Initiatives Work in Schools ? | Educhatter's Blog — September 2, 2015 @ 8:48 pm

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