Behaviour policies should have ‘flexibility’ to avoid exclusion for minor offences, said MPs

Janet Downs's picture


Zero-tolerance risks exclusions for minor incidents

It’s reasonable for schools to have ‘zero-tolerance’ policies towards ‘drugs or weapons’, cross-party MPs on the Education Select Committee said.  But schools which reprimand pupils for slight breaches of rules about hair styles or uniform risk creating ‘an environment where pupils are punished needlessly where there should be flexibility and a degree of discretion.’  These minor incidents ‘could and should be managed within the mainstream school environment’. 

Some pupils more likely to be excluded than others

Some groups of children are more likely to be excluded than others, MPs found:

  • Children in care
  • Children in need
  • Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) or with SEN support
  • Children in poverty

In addition, boys are more likely to be permanently excluded than girls and some ethnicities are ‘disproportionately represented in alternative provision’.   These include Black Caribbean, Irish traveller heritage and Gypsy Roma heritage pupils.

Accountability measures incentivise exclusion and ‘off-rolling’

MPs were concerned about ‘off-rolling’ described as ‘a way of schools to wash their hands of pupils who will bring down their Progress 8 score.’    

Schools minister Nick Gibb was adamant: off-rolling was ‘unlawful’.  There’s only one reason for excluding pupils permanently and that is ‘behavioural issues’.  Ofsted will be ‘vigilant’ in spotting where off-rolling occurs, he said.

DfE can’t ‘wash its hands’

But MPs were clear: Ofsted shouldn’t be given ‘sole responsibility’ for sniffing-out the practice.  ‘Off-rolling is in part driven by school policies created by the Department for Education. The Department cannot wash its hands of the issue, just as schools cannot wash their hands of their pupils.’

Narrowing of curriculum

MPs were also concerned about a narrowing of the curriculum.  This was ‘an unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Government’s strong focus on school standards’ and led to ‘a curriculum with a lack of focus on developing pupils’ social and economic capital’.

Lack of moral accountability in many schools

 Progress 8 had incentivised exclusion, MPs concluded.  ‘There appears to be a lack of moral accountability on the part of many schools and no incentive to, or deterrent to not, retain pupils who could be classed as difficult or challenging.’ 

In other words, there isn’t enough emphasis on schools’ moral responsibility to all pupils n their care not just the compliant and/or those most likely to do well in exams. 


NOTE  30 July 2018:  The first sub heading was shortened to make it more succinct.  

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 25/07/2018 - 14:25

This intervention by the Education Select Committee is a very important and cheering development. There has been a shocking expansion of abusive, so-called 'zero-tolerance' disciplinarian approaches promoted by Academy MATs that have a crude, populist, educationally uninformed, behaviourist approach to teaching and learning.

Which brings us to the former pupil rule book of the Academy Trust that runs ‘Great Yarmouth Charter Academy’.
Here are some examples.

Sit up straight

At Charter you sit up straight at all times and you never slouch. Teachers have a seating plan and you sit at the seat they have allocated. When you read you always follow the text with your ruler, with both hands on the ruler. This helps you concentrate, so you remember more and understand more. When you are not writing or reading you sit up straight with your arms folded. Your teachers will instruct you: “3,2,1 SLANT!” Everyone will sit up extra straight, eyes front, looking at the teacher. You will follow their instructions first time, every time. The same rules apply to all, so are fair to all. No exceptions.

Listen carefully

At Charter you listen to every single word your teacher says very, very carefully. You especially listen to instructions very, very carefully. You don’t pick up your pen or your ruler, or anything else, until your teacher gives you the signal.

Never interrupt

Your teacher is the expert. You never interrupt your teacher when he or she is talking. If you are confused, or unsure what to do, let the teacher finish what he is saying and then put up your hand to ask a question. Sometimes you will receive demerits and detentions. Sometimes you may even be put in internal isolation. This will be because your teachers have decided that your actions were rude or damaging to your education. You may think your teacher was unfair. The teacher’s decision is final. You never answer back.

Track the teacher

This means you keep your eyes on the teacher whenever he or she is talking. You never turn around – even if you hear a noise behind you. You don’t look out of the window. You don’t lose focus. You really, deliberately concentrate on what the teacher is saying at all times. You look at the board. You listen. You read. You practise the work set in silence. You deliberately try to understand and to memorise the information and the processes you have been taught. If someone tries to distract you, raise your hand and tell the teacher.

The beginning and end of lessons

It is essential that you make your way very quickly and efficiently between classes. You walk between lessons in single file, eyes front. You don’t talk. You can chat to your friends in the playground in the morning, break time and lunch time. At the end of each lesson you stand behind your chairs in silence. Your teacher will use the last five minutes of each lesson to pack away, ask you questions, and get you ready to go off to your next lesson. Lessons start and end very efficiently and calmly at Charter. We do not teach right to the very last second and then pack away in a rushed and inefficient manner. You pack away exactly as instructed. You do not talk to your friends. You remain focused on the task of packing away and then you track the teacher. You fold your arms and go back into a slant. Around two minutes before the end of your lesson your teacher will give you the signal and you will stand in silence, and your teacher will dismiss you row by row. You will say thank you to your teacher as you leave the classroom. Your teacher will ask you questions as you wait. He or she will choose pupils to ask by name rather than with hands up. When you get to your next lesson you wait outside for your teacher. You never enter a room without your teacher’s express instruction. Being on time is a sign of politeness. Being late is rude and disrespectful. When we line up we have eyes front, shoulder against the wall, we never turn around, our bags are off our backs, we are silent. We move along corridors in single file, we do not turn to our friends, we do not speak, we keep eyes front. Our job is to move very quickly, efficiently and politely between lessons. We remain in single file and we wait if another class is passing in front of us. When we line up we take our bags are off our backs and hold them in our hand. We line up – eyes front and shoulder against the wall and leave space for other people to pass. We never go to the toilet between lessons or in lesson time. The toilets are open before lessons and at break times. You should not go to the toilets in the last five minutes of break to ensure you do not miss a single second of lesson time.

In 2017, this school received publicity about aspects of its behaviour policy including deterring pupils from ‘claiming to be ill in order to get out of lessons’ by the teacher offering said child, a ‘puke jug’.

The columnist Janet Street Porter wrote an article in the Independent praising this school’s behaviour policies. Similar approaches, according to a Guardian article, also appear to have the widespread support of delegates to Conservative Party Conferences, some Conservative Party supporting newspapers and also OfSTED.

I understand that much has since changed at this Academy - Good. But these sorts of practices remain common. Read more here.

In my headship school, through approaches based on prioritising engagement, communication and good relationships, we pursued a zero exclusion policy that was effective, successful and endorsed by successive OfSTED inspections.

This article explains how it was achieved.

Sadly nothing like this now appears to exist anywhere in the English education system. If I have got that wrong then comments please.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/07/2018 - 15:01

Roger -  The 14 page behaviour policy  for GYCA (downloadable here ) is very detailed indeed!  iI even dictates how children should read: ‘always follow the text with your ruler, with both hands on the ruler’.  There is no evidence that this is a successful method of reading  and could even be an impediment to fluent readers.  It’s unclear how forcing pupils to use a ruler when reading is a behaviour issue rather than a teaching methodology one.  But it raises the question about how a child is punished if s/he doesn’t read in the prescribed manner.  Sent to the on-site sin bin?  Fixed term exclusion?

It would be laughable if it weren't so tragic.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 25/07/2018 - 15:09

Oh dear - I thought there had been a rethink.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/07/2018 - 15:32

The only 'rethink' was the suggestion about spewing in a pail.  The completely ludicrous 'behaviour' requirement to use a ruler (with both hands) when reading is still there.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 25/07/2018 - 15:48

'Common sense' fallacies are  every where. 

The counter-intuitive, anti-common sense nature of truth is explained in ‘The Unnatural Nature of Science’ by Lewis Wolpert. The illusion of intelligent design through Natural Selection is the subject of Richard Dawkin’s classic ‘The Blind Watchmaker‘.

So what has this to do with Education? There can be no better example of the ‘common sense’ fallacy than that everybody who has been to school has a view. That these views are nearly always hopelessly ill-informed and wrong is well illustrated by the reader comments on the regular ‘Secret Teacher’ feature in the Guardian newspaper. Education is immensely complex, which is why the mainstream media do such a bad job of reporting on it. It is not that journalists are lazy. They just lack the specialist knowledge required.

Within Education, there is no topic more guaranteed to spawn ‘common sense’ fallacies than school discipline. Our national tragedy is to have a school system where such fallacies appear to be shared not just  by the public, but by Education Ministers and Executives of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs).

The ‘common sense’ argument is that school students are naturally disinclined to study and prefer to be rude, disruptive and unruly. Over 180 years ago The Reverend Richard Dawes showed that this was not true in King’s Somborne School in Hampshire, where he became headteacher.

In contrast, Charles Dickens satirised the common sense fallacy in his 1854 book, ‘Hard Times’.

Sir David Attenborough casts light here on this profound truth.


Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 26/07/2018 - 07:56

 Ch4 News last night ran interviews in a Pupil Referral Unit with students excluded from mainstream schools. The common feature of ther personal experiences was an inability to understand what was going on in the classroom and then 'kicking off' against this threat to their self-esteem. While it is right to be appalled by abusive school discipline regimes, these have a damaging effect on deep learning for understanding and cognitive development. This applies to all students of all abilities, but especially to those with learning difficulties, many of which are specific in nature and increasingly undiagnosed and not addressed with appropriate educational support.

Academisation is the English product of the ‘Global Education Reform Movement‘. It results in the replacement of ‘Headteachers’ by ‘Executive Principals’ and the domination of the ‘behaviourist’ assumptions that flow from the culture of ‘training’ that MATs impose onto their schools. I am not knocking training. I want the people that sit in the driver’s seat of the 125+mph trains that take me to London to be well trained. Such training requires learning the BR drivers’ handbook by heart and lots of practise in simulators. But training is not education, ‘telling’ is not ‘teaching’ and ‘listening’ is not learning.

This is because while assimilation of facts and knowledge is an essential part of learning it is not enough to secure deep understanding. The decline of teaching for deep understanding is a serious and growing weakness in the English education system that is being worsened by academisation.  The ‘Slow Education‘ movement provides a further explanation of this process.

A key point is that developmental learning, as opposed to skills training, involves personal cognitive conflict as pupils struggle to assimilate new facts and knowledge in a way that makes sense to them. In schools and other important learning contexts the resolution of cognitive conflict is a social process essential to deep learning. Read more about this important principle here.

The implication for schools is that a special quality in the social relationships of the classroom is needed. I was lucky enough early in my career to work in a comprehensive school where such quality relationships existed, and it became a career goal to eventually achieve this in my eventual headship school. 

Pupils have to trust and not fear the teacher if they are to risk revealing the true depth of their misunderstandings. Peer relationships in classrooms have to be good enough for all pupils, organised in groups, to be comfortable with revealing their own lack of understanding to each other, as well as collectively and individually to the teacher, without fear or shame. This is a major pedagogic issue and a big ask not to be underestimated. Is it high on MAT leadership agendas? Has the Secretary of State got the faintest idea what I am talking about? I suspect not.

The increasingly common, popular with parents, school culture of behaviourist authoritarianism is unlikely to provide sufficient personal psychological security for the teacher or the pupils for the necessary social interactions to constructively engage. This is precisely the school culture promoted by the academisation movement because it is based on the behaviourist ‘training’ paradigm where, telling IS teaching and listening IS learning.  The MAT that runs the Great Yarmouth Academy and  the teachers they appoint to run their schools appear to have no deep understand of education themselves. It is a scandal that the government encourages such people to be let loose on our children.

Read more on this issue here.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/07/2018 - 10:29

Roger - Inspiration Trust's policy on behaviour sends out mixed messages.   First,  it says it's a 'trust wide policy'.  But within this trust wide policy it says each principal must 'Frame a policy which promotes positive behaviour and good attendance.'

A policy is either 'trust wide' or it isn't.  It can't both apply to all schools in the trust and then allow principals to decide their own.  Other Inspiration academies: Hewett, Hethersett and Jane Austen for example, have just adopted the trust wide policy.  But GYCA seems to have gone rogue with a policy which transcends all others in its micromanagement.

Matthew Bennett's picture
Thu, 26/07/2018 - 13:28

On 20 July, Warwick Mansell reported further claims by parents about the treatment of pupils at the Great Yarmouth Charter Academy.  (subscription only)

One parent says that her daughter 'had received a “demerit because her arms weren’t folded enough,” and was told off because the “flap of her blazer pocket was inside the pocket and not outside it”'.

This pupil was amongst the 10 per cent who left the school in the nine months following the arrival of the new head, Barry Smith.  The parent alleges that her daughter was yelled at by Smith:

My daughter is 13 years old. She’s a shy, quiet girl  [...]  Mr Smith went up to her face and shouted at her: ‘eye contact, girl, look at me!’

The parent of another pupil claims that 'Smith had shouted at his daughter’s friend, outside the school, on her first day at Charter last September.  [The parent] said he had then intervened, standing between Smith and his daughter to stop Smith doing the same to his child'.

Yelling at pupils in this way is textbook 'no excuses' charter school stuff -- as is the rest of GYCA's behaviour management system.  SLANTing, not slouching in chairs, 'tracking' the teacher at all times, single file & silence in the corridors, etc, etc -- all of this is cut and pasted from the American KIPP schools and their many imitators, both in the USA and here.

And the sad fact is that yelling at pupils is part of the culture of these schools.  Prof. Jim Horn's excellent account of the 'no excuses' model, Work Hard, Be Hard (2016), which is based on interviews with 25 teachers from US charter schools (23 of them from KIPP) makes this very clear.  Here is a sample of comments from his interviewees:

I can only speak to what I experienced in my day-to-day, and so that was a lot of yelling, a lot of berating students, a lot of, you know, physically confronting students  (p. 140)

It was a school with an open door policy, but we always said if we saw a closed door that meant that the teacher was screaming.  And that was something that was part of the culture.  (p. 49)

the behaviour that they modelled was, you know, very militaristic screaming at the kids -- I mean, shouting  (p. 176)

I've seen teachers just yell at a kid in their face -- full blown yell -- the kind of thing that I would not want done to my daughter.  (p. 48)

There is a lot more of the same.

It has to be remembered that the 'no excuses' system was invented by a pair of novice teachers -- more specifically, Teach for America recruits -- doing their two-year period of service in Houston schools in the 1990s.  Dave Levin's and Mike Feinberg's training consisted of a five-week summer camp.  They were then sent into inner-city schools at a time when Texas was in the grip of a targets-and-test-driven accountability system which was one of the models for George W Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (does anyone remember the now-totally-debunked 'Texas miracle', part of George W's first campaign?).  So it was almost inevitable that things would go badly wrong.

Jay Mathews' book Work Hard, Be Nice (2009), a worshipful history of KIPP, presents Levin and Feinberg as heroic mavericks challenging a failing public education system from within.  Mathews is a journalist, not a teacher, and he clearly had no idea how passages like the following (describing Feinberg's methods) might strike a teacher:

J. R. Gonzalez, a Gulfton student recruited in 1996, […] was tall and athletic, good in math, and weak in English.  When he did not do his homework, his teachers were in his face, marking off points and putting him on the Porch.  Feinberg could be frightening.  He might scream at J. R. ...  (p. 181, my emphasis)

The Porch -- or 'Administrative Punishment', as Levin & Feinberg (secretly) called it -- is whole other story in itself, along with the 'miscreant's shirt'.

Another passage describes how Levin and Feinberg treated Howard, a student who clearly had special educational needs, and who was unable to keep up with the relentless test prep:

Levin and Feinberg considered him the slowest person on the planet.  He rarely got his work done on time.  He was easily distracted.  During 'thinking skills', the written exercises students did while eating their free breakfasts [sic], Howard was so slow that they put an egg timer next to him.  That did no good.  They took the clock off the wall and set it on his desk to remind him that he had to keep working on the problem.  They put a stopwatch around his neck.  They invited classmates to put their watches on his desk.  (p. 110)

Another passage describes Feinberg smashing a window with a chair because some of his students had talked during a video lesson.

How behaviour like this -- at best deeply unprofessional, at worst bullying and cruel -- turned two inexperienced trainees into heroes of 'education reform' (and millionaires) is one of the mysteries of our time.

In February of this year, Feinberg was fired by KIPP 'after an investigation found credible a claim that he sexually abused a student some two decades ago' (New York Times).  The same investigation found evidence that he had sexually harassed two KIPP employees -- apparently former students taken on by the chain as teaching assistants or unqualified teachers.

What does all this have to do with the Great Yarmouth Charter Academy?

Barry Smith was deputy head at the Michaela Free School -- and Michaela is basically a near-perfect imitation of a KIPP charter school.  KIPP stands for the 'Knowledge is Power Program', and the chain's main slogan -- which Levin & Feinberg took from another 'maverick' and now-disgraced teacher, Rafe Esquith -- is 'Work hard, be nice'.  Michaela's mottos are 'Knowledge is power' and ... 'Work hard, be kind'.

But it's not just Michaela.  All the 'system leader trusts' -- chains like Ark, or Harris -- follow the 'no excuses' model.  As Paul Marshall, chair of Ark Schools and hedge fund manager, told an interviewer back in 2011:  'We model ourselves on the American KIPP schools'.

And the virus seems to have spread into local authority schools too.

What we are seeing at GYCA is not the excesses of a single rogue headteacher.  It is a whole 'off-the-shelf' school model, developed in US charter schools and imported wholesale into English academy chains.  And it is finally getting a bit of daylight, because some of the GYCA parents have been brave enough to push back.





Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 26/07/2018 - 14:16

Matthew, you are so right. But how can we get this into the public domain?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 26/07/2018 - 15:08

Hi Matthew - as a newly-qualified teacher in my probationary year (remember those?), I received two pieces of advice: one good, one bad.  The good one was to read to the pupils.  These were secondary pupils and I'd never considered it.  It was one of the best things I did throughout my career.  The bad advice was to shout.  So I yelled.  But I was cured when the kids started muttering 'Exterminate!  Exterminate!' when I was near.  I thought they were just daft but learnt later it was because I sounded like a Dalek when I raised my voice.  Result - I didn't shout except in very rare circumstances (I once stopped the whole school leaving at the end of the day when I shouted to stop a fight at the school gate).

Matthew Bennett's picture
Thu, 26/07/2018 - 16:12

Roger -- it's very difficult, since both the press and the Labour Party are so soft on academy chains.  And the chains' own marketing ('knowledge', 'rigour', 'high expectations', 'closing the achievement gap', 'social justice', etc) interlocks perfectly with Ofsted's judgments.  Wilshaw casts a long shadow -- after all, Mossbourne was the first 'no excuses' school in England. (I'd love to know whether Wilshaw had studied the KIPP model; he was Ark's Director of Education for a while, so it seems possible.)  As you know, when Michaela was inspected last year, it was graded outstanding in all categories.

There is nothing in the British press like the New York Times's reporting on Success Academy, a NYC chain of charter schools.  This NYT report on the video of a Success Academy teacher yelling at a six-year-old sums up the 'no excuses' model, I think.

If the video doesn't play, it can also be seen here (it is difficult to watch):

With the arrival of Amanda Spielman as HMCI, there has been a change of messaging.  We are seeing the beginnings of a fake 'assessment reform' movement of the kind that began in the US around 2015, with Obama's Every Student Succeeds Act.  There is likely to be more talk about the need for a better use of data, a more 'evidence-based' approach, using more of a range of performance indicators / metrics -- including, critically, testing of Social & Emotional Learning (which is likely to be computer-based).

The point of all this, as you know, is to open the way to a much more tech-driven model ('personalised learning').  I suspect the recent noise from the DfE and Ofsted about teachers' workload has the same purpose.

'No excuses' will remain the foundation of school culture in academy chains.  It is essential to their staffing model, which relies on quickly training up (& then burning out) a young, cheap, high-turnover workforce.  But, in terms of the marketing, 'knowledge' and 'high expectations' will fade out, to be replaced by '21st century skills', 'personalisation', 'project-based learning', 'critical thinking', etc.  All of which means: a lot more computer-based instruction.

These people -- the DfE, Ofsted, the big chains -- have an unlimited faith in the power of PR and 'comms' (i.e. lies).  But it may be that once the 'accountability reform' & 'workload' cats are properly out of the bag, it will prove harder than they imagine to control the messaging.



Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 26/07/2018 - 17:09

I fear you are right Matthew. The notion that computers can replace teachers is both naive and especially worrying. I debunk this here.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/07/2018 - 09:21

Matthew and Roger - your fears are reinforced by yesterday's DfE announcment about the 'Curriculum programme pilots to reduce time spent planning lessons'.   Nick Gibb (who else?) said:

'Having easy access to high quality curriculum resources will not just save teachers time, it will make it easier for them to deliver knowledge-rich and engaging lessons that help young people to acquire the knowledge and skills they need.'

Note the link between 'high quality' and 'knowledg-rich', that high-sounding phrase which characterises many Government-praised schools and chains (Inspiration, West London Free School, Michaela) and the so-called grass roots organisation, Parents and Teachers for Excellence (check out its advisory council members - some familiar names appear).

I've never known any school which hasn't transmitted knowledge.  But self-appointed 'knowledge-rich' schools often come with other baggage: 'no excuses', rigid behavioural policies,  and being 'unashemedly academic'  or 'grammar comprehensives' (pupils must 'aspire' to go to a 'good' university; vocational subjects downgraded).  And the shun anything with the faintest whiff of 'progressive'.

The curriculum programme is being sold as a way of reducing workload by saving teachers time on 'planning'.  But planning is essential even if a teacher is using off-the-shelf materials.  They have to be adapted for each pupil group.  And planning, which Gibb and others seem to think is an irrelevant activity, is deemed essential in some of the places which Gibb admires.  Take Shanghai, for instance, their teachers spent a large proportion of each day planning lessons which build on what has been learnt (or not) in the previous lessons.

But ready-prepared lessons can pave the way for 'personalised learning' delivered by computers or a scripted curriculum which can be 'delivered' by untrained staff.





Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 27/07/2018 - 11:00

You are right Janet.  University  educated and trained teachers are not needed to 'deliver' packages. Lesson planning does not have to be entirely individual, but the best is in response to departmental educational debate informed by proper educational research. If a teacher has planned or helped plan a series of lessons then that teacher has an intellectual stake in the outcomes that is highly positive in terms of professional development, especially if shared and debated with colleagues. Schools where effective, deep learning takes place will also value feedback from students in a culture of good relationships and communications. These articles explains how this can be done to great effect. I know I am always banging on about it, but in the light of these depressing developments it is important to know that there is another way and it works.


Matthew Bennett's picture
Thu, 26/07/2018 - 16:15

Janet -- I occasionally shouted at students during my first couple of years in teaching, and I still feel ashamed of it.

james wilding's picture
Fri, 27/07/2018 - 07:51

I showed John Lloyd's RSA animate on kindness to faculty a couple of years back, to reinforce the one quality we know that transforms class atmosphere for the better. A couple of new recruits then identified how in previous schools such a notion would have been toxic to management. Who ever thought fear and loathing were handmaidens to success?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/07/2018 - 09:35

James - I sometimes wonder if proponents of 'no excuses',  inflexible behaviour policies and the like, actually fear and loathe children.  Pupils seem to be regarded as potentially dangerous and must, therefore, be tamed.   The strictness is marketed as 'kindness':  GYCA for example says:  'Charter teachers care enough to be strict.'  But this alleged kindness is based on the premise that pupils have acquired 'bad habits' which need to be forceably changed.  There seems to be no inkling that all pupils will not have these bad habits.

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