Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The tawse - thirty years on

My day started with a secondary headteachers' meeting at Firrhill High School. A range of issues were discussed including: timing of in service days, management restructuring, campus police officers, budgets and pupil exclusions. This latter topic often attracts media attention, particularly when annual statistics are published, and, on the thirtieth anniversary of corporal punishment ending in our schools, is an issue I wish to reflect on.

As one measure of indiscipline in schools, the number of exclusions from schools has decreased in recent years but, as is often erroneously reported in the press, this reduction is not because of targets set for schools and headteachers. The improvement is down to improved practices in schools and much stronger and effective joined up working between schools, parents and external agencies. During the past 16 years, as a senior manager in four different schools and as headteacher in two, I have never been asked to not exclude pupils or had a target set for me. I have excluded pupils in the past and will continue to do so when that response is merited. I am very clear that decisive intervention is necessary when, for example, a pupil persists in disrupting the learning of others.

When I started teaching in 1982, the same year that the 'belt' or 'tawse' was discontinued following a European court ruling, many teachers who had been over reliant on using the belt, took time to adapt and develop new strategies. In 2012, 30 years later, I believe that schools, with a new generation of teachers, are in a much healthier and better place. Teachers no longer rely exclusively on fear as a means of controlling pupils. Nowadays, the onus is on developing relationships with pupils based on shared values, trust and mutual respect, in much the same way as parents would wish to raise their children. Continuing to base the relationships we have with the children in our care on these qualities will, in my view, go some way to ensuring that standards of discipline in schools continue to improve in the years ahead.

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