I‘m a big fan of traditional discipline. I believe that school rules need to be simple, memorable, minimal and clearly communicated to all students. They need to be applied consistently and fairly. They work best when there’s a communal language used by all staff. In short, they need to be as black and white as possible.
However, I do believe that there are grey areas that are absolutely necessary to allow for, as at the end of the day we’re all human, and we’re dealing with children who will make mistakes, as well as families who sometimes need the carrot and not the stick.
Like so many others, I teach in an area of social and economic deprivation. When it comes to some rules, like our uniform policy, there needs to be a balance of no excuses and reasons to forgive ‘transgressions’. That discretion is up to all of us to manage, but perhaps in particular our pastoral staff and senior leadership team. Their relationships with parents is crucial – they need to know the difference between a student who simply decided to wear their trainers to school and a student whose parents or carers simply can’t afford new shoes when old ones are lost or damaged. Students from less affluent families – most often our pupil premium students – shouldn’t be punished further because of a lack of disposable income in their household.
That’s why, despite being a bit of a fan of some of the things that are done at the Michaela Community School, like their English department’s approach to marking, I’m really just horrified by this letter which threatens students with punishment by isolation – and the lack of a hot meal – because their parent/s or carers haven’t paid what to many is a hefty sum in advance. I suspect that, if the Michaela intake is anything like ours, that there could well be a number of those students in isolation who rely on that hot meal at school as their only hot meal of the day. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case. Therefore not only are students being punished for the actions of others which are outside of their own control by being isolated, they could well be being punished a second time by being denied a hot meal.
I’m quite certain that there is more to this story that has been reported. I’m quite certain that there’s a whole other side of it to be told by the school. I definitely have an intense dislike for seeing those stories in the tabloids about students being punished for not following school rules, for example by having an ‘extreme’ haircut – you agree to follow the rules of the school when you sign up your child to go there, and you shouldn’t complain when there are punishments for breaking the rules unnecessarily. I don’t know what other factors influenced this particular case, but the very fact that a generic letter was sent out suggests that it was going to more than one family and therefore it’s policy, rather than dealing with an individual case.
This blog was apparently written by the same deputy head who devised the lunchtime isolation policy. As I said at the beginning, I’m all for traditional methods of discipline, but this policy and the description of Michaela students in that post just brings this to mind, and that’s what’s most worrying of all: