A school in Great Yarmouth has recently updated their behaviour guidelines following complaints from parents that the previous policy was too strict. The rulebook issued to staff had insisted that teachers should be viewed as "unquestioned authority" and that students must smile and thank their teacher after each lesson, with resulting punishment for those who failed to comply. However, the school has since issued new, more lenient guidelines for parents and students.
A spokesperson for the Great Yarmouth Charter Academy, part of Inspiration Trust, stated that the school had experienced poor performance outcomes in comparison to other borough schools, and thus adopted a stricter approach to behavioural standards. The spokesperson claimed that the school is not punishing pupils for the sake of punishment, but rather to cultivate an environment of learning, noting that children cannot learn in unruly classrooms.
The question of how strict a school should be in order to ensure effective learning is one that has divided opinion amongst experts. Iain Kilpatrick, headteacher of Somerset’s Sidcot School, which is a Quaker establishment, is critical of approaches that focus only on punishment. He advocates a questioning and explorative approach, suggesting that respect can coexist with critical inquiry. Conversely, Stuart Lock, Principal of Bedford Free School, believes that strict routines can actually free up students’ attention for learning, and can make students feel safe and secure in a structured environment. However, chartered psychologist and former secondary school teacher, Pam Jarvis, contends that some strict rules can amount to child abuse and can cause emotional problems for students. Meanwhile, Joanne Golann, an Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, suggests that strict policies can lead to emotional detachment amongst students.
Nick Moss, the Headteacher of Minchinhampton C of E Primary Academy in Gloucestershire, has recently implemented a new approach to managing behaviour in his school. Rather than relying on a traditional behaviour policy, Moss believes that building strong relationships between teachers and students is the key to fostering positive behaviour.
In fact, last year, his school completely eliminated its behaviour policy altogether. Moss believes that rewards and consequences, as they are traditionally understood, do not contribute to the development of intrinsic motivation and can actually distract from the enjoyment of learning.
Moss argues that attempts to control students with extrinsic rewards and punishments can be counterproductive. Instead, he believes in creating a supportive environment where students feel valued and respected. By building relationships with his students, Moss has found that they are more motivated to behave positively and learn.
He acknowledges that implementing this approach in schools with a larger proportion of students from challenging backgrounds can be more difficult, but he believes that it can be successful everywhere. He believes that strict behaviour policies often benefit teachers more than students and thinks that the needs of students should remain paramount in every school.
At Minchinhampton C of E Primary, the focus is always on the children, and the dialogue at the school revolves around how to best support their needs. By prioritizing relationships over punishment, Moss hopes to create a culture of respect and kindness that will benefit his students in the long term.