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Chris McGovern: Three cheers for a head prepared to lay down the law


Should pupils be required to follow school rules?  Surprisingly, not all parents think so and nor do all head teachers. A well-publicised row has broken out over a teacher vacancy advert at Magna Academy, a comprehensive in Dorset. The school is seeking to appoint someone to be in overall charge of behaviour and discipline.

The wording of the job title, “Director of Isolations and Detentions”, within the “Behaviour Correction Unit”, sounds a bit archaic but it is honest enough. All it means is that the school has a zero tolerance approach to the breaking of the rules that have been put in place for the benefit of the entire school community. In response, one parent told the Daily Mail that the advert was “fanatical” and “smacked of a boot camp”.

A prominent and influential head teacher, Andrew Mears, is equally concerned. He has attacked Magna Academy for providing a “sample of prison”. He told the Mail:

“There is no mention of any therapeutic approaches to address the epidemic of mental health issues in our schools which might go alongside what applicants might see as Dickensian, authoritarian methods.”

Mr Mears’ desire for “therapeutic approaches” reflects ‘best practice’ in teaching these days. It is part of a ‘no blame’ culture in many schools and, too often, it excuses bad behaviour. Kathryn Ecclestone and Dennis Hayes challenged the whole therapeutic approach several years ago in “The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education”. Sadly, the therapists and the narcissists saw off that challenge. Therapy now constitutes a significant part of a teacher’s responsibility.

Meanwhile classroom disorder and disruption, perpetrated by a small minority of youngsters, continues to damage the education and life prospects of too many children. The learning of a whole class of pupils suffers when one or two individuals choose to misbehave. The consequent frustration and stress is, in addition, a major reason teachers give for throwing in the towel and leaving the profession. Three cheers, then, for any head teacher who rises to the challenge of creating a school ethos and environment that is built on good order and is, thereby, conducive to learning.

Many secondary schools now have on-site ‘isolation units’ for disruptive children. Separating a recalcitrant pupil from classmates for a day or two, while allowing them to remain on school premises and be taught, can be an effective form of deterrent and rehabilitation. It also protects the interests of that vast majority of pupils who wish to learn.

When parents register their child for a school they also sign up for the ‘rules’ at that school. Parents with children at the Magna Academy are fortunate in having an excellent head teacher. Within two years of taking over he took it from an Ofsted rating of being in “special measures” to its new status of “outstanding”. Dickensian? Old-fashioned? Traditional? Therapy-free? Let’s have more of it!

(Image: Aly1963)

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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