More than ties, shoes and hair
Drew Duncan looks out over the atrium of Mossley Hollins High. Two storeys below, Year 11 are forming into neat lines in complete silence. But something is wrong.
Mr Duncan, the head, has spotted a pupil carrying his jacket instead of wearing it. He looks at the boy and makes a small gesture. Not a word is spoken. But the jacket is put on.
The pupils file into assembly and sit down without fuss, as staff make final uniform checks. "Good morning," says a teacher. "Good morning," answer teenagers in unison.
This impressive demonstration of collective compliance is the result of a strict "no excuses" approach to discipline that has led to Mr Duncan being accused of running his school, in Greater Manchester, like a prison.
Infractions as minor as coming to school without a pencil result in an immediate, automatic, after-school detention. It is the same for all of the clear, simple rules covering classroom behaviour, uniform, punctuality and bringing the right equipment to class. They apply to all pupils in all circumstances; all staff enforce them and no exceptions are made.
Mossley Hollins is not alone. The secondary is part of a movement that is slowly, without fanfare, gaining ground in England's school system. Every now and then another example surfaces in the media. In September, it was Basildon Academy, Essex, where the head really did once teach in a prison. Parents had been despairing of graffiti-covered walls and staff who could not cope with pupils who would nip out of lessons for a cigarette. Then along came Dr Rory Fox, once of HMP Edmunds Hill, who on his first day, according to the Daily Mail, sent home 109 pupils for not wearing exactly the right uniform.
Most famous of all is Mossbourne Academy, serving riot-blighted estates in Hackney, east London, which this year saw seven pupils progress to Cambridge University. Sir Michael Wilshaw has partially attributed his success as head to a similar zero-tolerance behaviour policy. He once kept a boy out of mainstream classes for a week for wearing black suede, rather than leather, shoes.
Getting a grip on discipline has long been seen as the first step on the way to achieving success in schools serving the most disadvantaged areas. But the examples above represent much more than a simple "get tough" attitude. They share a coherent and specific approach to all aspects of running a school.
There is a new vigour and lack of compromise to making rules and cracking down on those who break them. And the policy is being pursued in growing numbers of state schools. Behind this single-mindedness is an evangelical belief that it can make a real difference to the achievements of the most disadvantaged pupils. And its proponents in this country are being inspired by the same small group of advocates.
Picture at Mossley Hollins High by Paul Floyd Blake
You can read the full article in the November 11 issue of TES.