Schools without punishment

Submitted by Matthew on 26 October, 2011 - 12:07

By Martin Thomas

Some readers have found Jayne Edwards’ opposition to punishment in schools (Solidarity 220) naive and unrealistic.

Yet, in Queensland, Australia, many of the most stressed schools use a student discipline scheme which explicitly rejects all punishment.

It does not abolish the dolours of capitalism and poverty, and it is far from perfect, but in my experience (across dozens of state high schools in and around Brisbane) it works better than punishment-based systems.

If students disrupt classes, the teacher (using a prescribed script) asks them what they are doing, what the rule is about that, and what they will be choosing to do if they disrupt again. Generally, schools using the system have an extremely short list of school rules, rather than the longer codes which seem common in Britain.

If they disrupt again, the teacher (again using a prescribed script) asks them what they are doing, what the rule is, and what they have now chosen to do.

By disrupting they will have chosen to go to a special classroom (usually called RTC) for the rest of that lesson. (Next lesson is a clean slate: they go to class as normal). In the RTC the students work on plans to return to the class they chose to quit.

After discussing their plans with the teacher, they return to class.

There are drawbacks. At the edges, students and teachers can slip into seeing the RTC as punishment. Sometimes (not often, even in very difficult cases), students refuse to go to the RTC, and then they will face consequences (in practice, a discussion with a deputy principal) which they find hard to tell apart from punishment.

The scheme, devised by an American psychologist, is expensive to run (training for the teachers; a teacher to run the RTC; back-up from school admin with the few students who end up spending a lot of time in the RTC).

Nevertheless, most harder-pressed state high schools use it, although they run on smaller budgets than British state schools (fewer new buildings, no interactive whiteboards, fewer computers, many fewer teaching assistants and other back-up staff.) In Queensland, state high schools take only about 60% of students, the better-off 40% going to private schools (which get partial government funding).

State schools with fewer classroom management problems save money by not adopting the scheme; some with problems use cut-down versions of the scheme to reduce costs. The cut-down versions work much less well.

Even there, though, the approach is much less punitive than what I’ve seen in British state schools. Sending “misbehaving” students to stand in the corridor, for example, seems to be routine in London schools. Teachers in Queensland are not allowed to use humiliating punishments of that sort.

• The scheme was described in articles in the TES in 2005: bit.ly/nopunish1, bit.ly/nopunish2, bit.ly/nopunish3

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