Dear Ted

5th November 2004 at 00:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

Your school should have a discipline policy approved by the governors, known to parents, and that may be seen by visiting inspectors. It ought to have been discussed and agreed by the staff. Giving lines does seem a bit dated. Ask for the school's policy and practice to be reviewed at a meeting.

School punishments must be reasonable and moderate (expulsion for chatting would be excessive); administered in good faith (the right child being punished); such as a sensible parent might approve (no thumbscrews or racks); and not applied with malice (goodbye Wackford Squeers and Dotheboys Hall).

Some see punishment as a deterrent, others as re-education; for example, getting a vandal to restore whatever has been damaged and understand its value. Early in my career, scheduled to supervise detention for a week, I was told to make baddies copy out Milton, as this would "improve their handwriting and their love of Milton". I believed it would do neither, so I set tasks like designing a campaign to sell fridges to Eskimos. By Friday, detention was packed, the most popular club in the school. I was told I hadn't quite got the idea.

Discussion in your school should focus on alternatives. Loss of privileges is one, extra work another, and parents can be brought in if trouble persists. But such matters must be handled judiciously and on an individual basis. There must also be an agreed sliding scale, so children know the consequences of repeat offences. The most effective programmes are the ones that involve children facing up to what they have done. In adult life, self-discipline will be more important than waiting for a teacher to say you have been naughty.

You say

Use detentions as teaching time

Make the system work for you. Groups in detention are likely to be fairly small, so should allow flexibility in the activities you plan. Promote your subject using quizzes, games and practical activities, and target these at the levels needed by the pupils involved. We would all like to do this in every lesson, but in practice often end up teaching to the middle for at least some of the time.

You never know, this sort of individualised attention may mean your usual suspects out-perform their peers at assessment time.

Margaret Raine, Tyne and Wear

Four steps in the right direction

Why not compromise? Our school has a system of warnings. They are displayed in every classroom, and used by all staff. Children get a verbal warning, then a first official warning (with two minutes off their playtime), then a second official warning (with five minutes from playtime). A child who reaches stage three goes to the head of year, who puts their name in the behaviour book, expresses disappointment and makes the student fill in a behaviour sheet. After 15 minutes the child goes back to class. Anyone who continues to misbehave gets a detention (stage four).

It is rare for children to get a detention this way. We still use detentions for extremes, such as fighting or rudeness to staff, but for day-to-day problems the warning system, if implemented consistently, works wonders.

Simon Devenport, Birmingham

Lead the way

Your colleagues could do with some updating on behaviour management strategies. You might be able to influence them with a brief CPD input, but if they are reluctant, try a less formal approach. Start by working on your own class, creating a strong classroom community with collaborative learning techniques and encouraging high motivation to learn. As you reap the rewards of good behaviour, you'll find little need for such sanctions.

Make sure the rest of the staff realise how little yours need the punishments; surely they will then want to know your secret recipe for good behaviour.

Kate Adams, Glasgow

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