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‘No excuses’ discipline: does ‘sparing the rod’ spoil the classroom?

7:00pm, Monday 21 November 2016, Art Workers Guild, 6, Queen Square, London, WC1N 3AT

Is education in British schools doomed unless we take a zero-tolerance attitude to pupil behaviour? A growing number of headteachers think so, and have begun to look to the ‘no excuses’ model of behaviour management pioneered by the Charter Schools system in the United States. According to this code, everyday misdemeanours such as an untucked shirt, lack of a pen or talking in class are met with strict and immediate sanctions with no exceptions. In some versions, pupils are expected to walk about the building in silence and only speak when they are spoken to.

But does zero-tolerance really work? One early-adopter was Mossbourne Community Academy, formerly run by outgoing Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw. It replaced what the government of the day called ‘the worst school in Britain’ with a zero-tolerance academy which has since produced exam results rivalling some of England’s leading public schools.

Yet critics argue that this type of education is a reactionary backward step, stifling pupils and putting an authoritarian shadow over what should be the best days of a child’s life. It is an education of conformity and control, they say, not an opening of the mind. They claim that the policy represents a failure to recognise that education is relational and that developing children have complex needs and drives.

Meanwhile advocates of zero-tolerance argue that if the poor behaviour of even one child is not stamped out quickly, its effect only grows to harm the education of others.

Perhaps the leading contemporary exponent of no excuses discipline is Michaela Community School in Brent, which runs a seven-day boot camp for new pupils. The school’s head, Katharine Birbalsingh, is proud of what she calls her ‘sky-high standards on strict discipline’. She has recently been criticised in the press for putting a child in lunch isolation for their parent’s failure to pay food costs, yet her school has also been praised by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson as an example to the teaching profession.

So do the ends justify the means? Should schools have high expectations of behaviour – or realistic ones? Does ‘no excuses’ work, or it is just an excuse for a return to the Victorian schoolroom? Come along and join us for an exciting and lively debate.

Listen to the opening remarks

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