I left for work a little late one day this week and was amazed to drive through the centre of our village at 8:25. Everywhere, there were flourescent jacketed marshalls all along the road to the local secondary school. I have to say I was a little bit horrified. It was not a picture of trust and responsibility, but one of compliance. It was all a little bit 1984 for me! It felt like a police state, where pupils behaved because of threat of sanction rather than choice. Don’t get me wrong I am a firm believer in high standards of behaviour. I do however believe that truly outstanding behaviour comes from pupils.
Then last night whilst visiting a friend whose son attends the school, we ended up talking about the behaviour code used by the school. (they started it not me.) This was very much in the context of their son, and how he was constantly kicking against the rules in place. He is 16, from my experience you kick quite a lot against rules at that age. I know I did. I was a black suede winkle-pickers with buckles and skinny tie wearing, hair back-combing (a-la Robert Smith lead singer of The Cure), ear-piercing, coffee drinking, Camus reading (I was trying to be an intellectual, In reality I was more like Adrian Mole), rebel without a cause . These were all little victories, minor points of rebellion that had no real impact on anybody but me and that was in a positive way. It was my way of controlling bits of me, defining myself and saying ‘So What?’ to the man. (The man being my Dad, my school house master, and my ever so scary Nan). When I look back however, nobody really picked me up on it, I was a good kid, I worked hard, wanted to learn, I was responsible and made my own choices. These other bits of rebellion didn’t really effect anything apart from me so ‘the man’ didn’t bother. Yet in my friend’s son’s school I would have spent all my time in isolation. Yet I was never rude , almost always did my homework and was the first to volunteer.
Our conversation turned back to the rules. The first thing that struck me is how many rules there were. Uniform rules, corridor rules, class rules, communication rules, movement rules, lining up rules, the list felt endless. The school has a zero tolerance approach, everything was challenged. We also discussed the schools isolation and detention policy, alongside expulsion. Firstly it struck me as an incredibly negative approach to behaviour. Behaviour through sanction and compliance rather than responsibility. It also struck me as creating multiple points of conflict between staff and pupils. I don’t see what is wrong with a little bit of rebellion. Being teenage is partly about understanding yourself and creating your identity if we prevent that through a model of strict conformity, do we not create the need for other forms of rebellion in that search for control over your own life?
In my experience the staff-pupil relationships are the key to behaviour. I have seen amazing teachers solve complex behaviour challenges, through developing strong trust based relationships. The key question that came to me is are we teaching good behaviour or are we forcing compliance. What worries me is what happens when we remove the scrutiny. Are we actually creating a group for whom the right choices aren’t embedded. If we strip individuality away are we creating an even more anonymous body where there is no responsibility for action. The lack of respect and trust for pupils is what bothers me the most
So the question is what is it that we want from behavior in our schools. Do we want robots? (I hope not!) Do we want rebels? (A little bit) Most importantly we want pupils who have responsibility for their actions and choices, and make them in a secure moral framework. Therefore if we look at our behaviour systems, we should question what they achieve. A discipline without responsibility will need constant vigilance. Discipline driven by pupils is almost self-regulating. I know which is easier for staff to manage.
I have included a quote from our Ofsted about behaviour in our school. I say our because all of us, pupils, staff and parents make the school work. I contemplated not putting it in, as I didn’t want this to be a look at how good we are blog, but I do think they articulate what I believe should be the approach to behaviour in school. Ultimately it comes down to what our expectations of young people are. I think they can be brilliant, creative, caring, generous, hard-working and will with the right support make the right choices. I trust and believe in children in my school and they repay that in spades.
‘The behaviour of pupils is outstanding. What marks it out as being beyond good is how considerate pupils are towards each other and how they remind each other of how to behave without having to be prompted by adults. This does not just happen by chance. Teachers have worked hard to create an ethos in the classroom where mutual respect, tolerance and cooperation are very much the order of the day.’ Ofsted 2016
I have also included an article from the Guardian written by my 17-year-old niece. She is a rebel, she is also an articulate, creative, shy and talented individual. Her parents are also the best people I know, warm, giving, passionate and caring. They were always rebels and still are. We need to be careful our education system doesn’t strip away the rebel.