Shirebrook Academy principal says good discipline is not just about punishment

There has been some contrasting news recently regarding school discipline, writes Mark Cottingham.
Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook AcademyMark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy
Mark Cottingham, principal of Shirebrook Academy

The BBC’s Panorama programme raised concerns about the psychological effect of isolation booths on one hand, while on the other, education secretary Gavin Williamson called for schools to be stricter on students.

Opinions on discipline do differ, and while I agree with isolating misbehaving students, here at Shirebrook we don’t do it to the extent that some of the schools Panorama featured, which isolate students for several days.

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We do have an isolation unit, which is called a consequence room, but no-one spends more than two consecutive days in there and, once inside, they must sit working in silence all day, apart from eating lunch or going to the toilet.

At the end, we get them to reflect on their behaviour and then send them back to class.

Is this psychologically damaging? I don’t think so.

Predictably, no-one likes being sent to the consequence room and very few return there.

But the point is that it’s a punishment and ensures that other students in their class are able to learn without disruption.

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In this way it reinforces the rights of the majority above the few who seek to upset the orderly business of the school.

But how orderly should orderly be?

Should, as Mr Williamson suggests, our corridors be silent, with military-style discipline with sanctions for minor misdemeanours?

Not to my mind.

I don’t agree with treating students like prisoners or soldiers.

We accept that they are individuals who have good days and bad days, who cry, laugh and fall out with each other and have hormones running around their bodies.

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The life and spirit they bring to the school is wonderful and we’d miss that, along with the opportunity to get to know them as people, while we could also fail to spot those who are vulnerable and who have no way to reach out to us for help.

I’m sure that schools like that get results, but for us, education is about so much more.

We want our young people to learn to behave well because it’s the right thing to do, not just because they fear a sanction.

Mark Cottingham is principal of Shirebrook Academy.