Make sanctions count

5th October 2007 at 01:00
Favour praise over punishment, says Sue Cowley. But if you have to penalise pupils, be calm, consistent and fair

Using sanctions is a complicated business because no one likes to be punished. Not strictly true, I know, for the sado-masochists. But on the whole we favour praise over punishment.

Think about it: you park on a double yellow and dash into the newsagents. On your return, a traffic warden stands grinning beside your car, ticket in hand. Do you (a) say "Thank you for showing me the error of my ways", (b) plead for mercy or (c) explode in a volcanic rage?

In some schools, sanctions have little effect. What can you do to me, the damaged pupils cry, that hasn't been done before? If the playground is a fearful battleground, detention becomes a sanctuary a reward, not a sanction.

Make sanctions count. Find a punishment your pupils don't want to earn, then apply it calmly, consistently and fairly. Avoid empty threats: "If you do that again..."; "If you do that one more time..."; "No, really, if you ever do that again..." Aim for a note of regret rather than revenge. "Hah! Gotcha now!" is not an attractive approach.

Always, always, always follow up on your words, even if it means a cat and mouse game of epic proportions. If you don't, sanctions will lose meaning. Chase that recalcitrant pupil until the end of time, but never ever give up.

And remember to reward the good pupils, in the hope that the others will follow suit. Carrot or stick? Merit or demerit? Chocolate or detention? Ah, now you've got my attentio *

Sue Cowley is an education author, trainer and presenter. Her books include Guerilla Guide to Teaching (Continuum). For more information, see

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today