Warm/Strict – keep it simple, keep it centralised

At PTE we believe Warm/Strict approaches are key to a great school culture and the best way to get the most out of, and for, pupils. 

We wrote previously that if we want default behaviours to be positive, it’s important that rules and procedures are simple, clear, universal, and worthwhile. This is especially the case when it comes to dealing with infringements in the classroom and elsewhere at school.

Some believe that great behaviour comes from great relationships, and so it is down to individual teachers to form relationships with individual pupils to create safe and orderly schools.

We simply don’t accept this.

Think of all the times that you have been to places where you knew no-one, or when you’ve spoken to audiences you’ve never met before. The chances are that no one spat at you or told you to f*** off, and yet you had no relationship with them. Why did this miraculous situation occur?

It occurred because most behaviours are driven by habits and norms, and these are formed by rules and routines, not relationships.

Even if relationships begat good behaviour, to ask teachers to form a relationship with every child they came across at school before they could expect respect, engagement, and compliance is just crazy. It’s simply not possible, and to ask staff to do this is not reasonable.

It’s also unfair on pupils as this approach inevitably leads to different approaches with different adults, which leaves them forever having to think hard about how things work in different parts of the school. This is especially burdensome on more vulnerable pupils, who most crave consistency and clarity – for instance those struggling with social or anxiety issues.

The truth is that it is great behaviour that enables great relationships to be formed, not the other way around. Ensuring that school is a safe, happy, orderly place to be frees up adults and pupils to get to know one another. If you’re not constantly having to fire fight low-level disruption or deal with lateness, nastiness or pupils without equipment, then you can get on with the really important, really nice stuff: learning and having fun along the way.

So what should schools do?

We said before how important positive rewards are in nudging pupils to do the right thing. It’s also necessary to have sanctions for when they don’t do this.

Now, no one works with young people because they want to punish or sanction them. It’s not something anyone relishes. But there do need to be consequences if pupils break rules. Most small things are dealt with through a knowing look or verbal response – it’s how master teachers keep lessons flowing. Teach Like A Champion goes through these kinds of things in great detail, and breaks down how to apply the most effective techniques.

Other infringements can’t be dealt with in the lesson, and this is where many schools use detentions – requiring a pupil to stay back after class or school, or during a break-time. Gaining free time is always a gift, and losing it or one’s “freedom” is nearly always a faff!

There are probably as many different detention policies as there are schools. Many require the teacher who sees the poor behaviour and sets the detention to also have to run the detention themselves too. We think this approach is flawed and that running detentions centrally is fairer and more effective too.

Why do we think this?

First of all, requiring the adult who has been alert enough to spot a problem and deal with it to then give up their own time to manage it is effectively sanctioning them for doing the right thing. People working in schools are already extremely busy, and break-times should be free for them to use as they see fit – resting, preparing for the next lesson, or whatever – not forever be at the mercy of pupil misbehaviour. It’s simply not fair on colleagues.

Secondly, this approach gives staff a big incentive to not deal with poor behaviour. And behaviour ignored is behaviour allowed; there is no quicker way to undermine a school’s culture.

This ties in with a third problem: inconsistency. It doesn’t matter how precise a detention policy is, the more people that run detentions, the greater the inconsistency in execution. And so the behaviour policy becomes personalised and associated with the individual teacher, when it should be depersonalised and consistently applied.

With all this in mind, the most effective way of running detentions as a sanction is by centralising them. This means running all allocated detentions in the same place at the same time (as far as facilities allow), and staffing it on a rota – ideally with senior staff heading it up. This allows the senior team to see first hand how things are going, sends the message that sanctions are taken seriously, and frees up class teachers (whose time is most constrained.)

The detail around this – such as how students are booked in for detention, when and where they are held and so on, will vary from school-to-school, depending on circumstances. For instance, rural schools that have lots of pupils traveling home by bus may not want to run detentions after school and hold them at lunchtimes instead. However, the principles should be the same.

Quite a few teachers have written about the difference this approach makes – like Rosalind Walker here, and Calvin Robinson here. If your school uses detentions but hasn’t yet made the switch to running them centrally – show them this article and see if you can persuade them to give it a try. We’re confident that once they’ve made the change, they won’t go back.