Michael Gove, Education Secretary here in the UK, made a speech earlier this week, and predictably the topic which received the most coverage was the section on ‘taking control of the classroom’ and the launch of a guidance document, Behaviour and Discipline in Schools.

Clarity and consistency of approach is essential to maintaining school discipline, but I do get concerned about the effect of such a document and the attendant publicity with all its talk of ‘discipline’ and ‘control’ and very little talk about prevention, Positive Behaviour Support, understanding and learning.

Point 22 states: ‘When poor behaviour is identified, sanctions should be implemented consistently and fairly in line with the behaviour policy’, then lists a range of sanctions up to and including temporary or permanent exclusion.

Nowhere does the document suggest an attempt to understand the underlying reason for the behaviour which could include factors like bullying, a chaotic home-life, an unidentified (or misidentified) learning disability or mental health problem, or any number of other reasons for which simple sanctions are unlikely to have much of an impact.

I attended school in the 70s and 80s and probably witnessed the change in ethos from the old-style flog-‘em approach, and I know that on the odd occasion I was subject to ‘sanctions’, it was usually a result of boredom or normal young person mischief. The serial offenders that I knew well were not in the main ‘bad people’, but in hindsight I could probably point to some of the issues I mentioned above being present.

One thing I truly know is that ongoing sanctions didn’t work. They may have restored some calm to the chaos around and given teachers a sense of control, but they had little or no effect on the ongoing behaviour and attitudes of the individuals involved.

So, whilst I welcome any attempt to clarify for school staff what they can do, it needs to be emphasised that just because you can do, doesn’t mean you SHOULD do.

What I would like to have seen and I hope against hope to see in future is an emphasis on prevention and/or early recognition, and funds and time made available for school staff to get the necessary training and support they need to better ‘control’ the classroom environment whilst improving outcomes for all, including the child who in all probability is in need of support and guidance—not sanction for sanction’s sake.

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