Last winter we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which included 380 archive boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.
Over the last year, we have checked and sorted these resources, discovering many interesting publications during the process. Among these, we have picked a few ‘gems’ and decided to share what we have learnt about each one.
Today is the turn of Discipline in schools, a report produced by the NUT Working Party for the Union’s annual conference in 1976. This is not only an exhaustive document covering many of the issues involved in the management of children’s behaviour in schools, but also very current, as demonstrated by the fact that the Department for Education (DfE) continues to release new guidance on discipline at least every couple of years.
The aim of this report is to identify the factors affecting children’s behaviour, discuss the positive influence that educators can have on it and finally offer suggestions for improvement. The starting point is a definition of school discipline, which can be explained as “the pattern of relationships adopted by the teacher in order to establish and maintain the authority needed by him in carrying out his work as a teacher” (p. 5), thus promoting effective learning, before the focus of the publication shifts to the identification of the various factors that can negatively impact on pupils’ behaviour.
The home environment is highlighted as a major influence, and while the authors of the report are keen to stress that not all children from deprived backgrounds necessarily struggle with discipline, they also point out that families under stress due to financial and emotional issues may not be the ideal setting to prepare children for the outside world. Additionally, it appears that there is a close link between parents’ level of interest in their children’s learning and how well these do in school.
Other factors, however, are independent from a pupil’s home situation and instead related to the school setting. For example, the higher the number of students in a classroom is, the harder it is for teachers to deal with them, so staffing plays an important role in behaviour management. Similarly, the school building has to be conducive to teaching and learning and there must be enough available resources (for example books) to motivate children. Finally, the curriculum itself can profoundly affect discipline, as the authors note not only that children who struggle to keep up in the classroom are more likely to become distracted, but also that repeated failure in school can cause stress in the pupil and lead to indiscipline.
Teachers’ pastoral care duty ultimately means establishing “friendly but firm” relationships with the students, ensuring that these feel a sense of belonging to the school and are involved in any decisions that affect them. Whenever problems arise, it is important to lower tensions as much as possible and have different strategies for intervention in place, according to the seriousness of the incident. Some of the solutions mentioned in the report, for example corporal punishment, are now considered unacceptable and no longer practised, but the majority are still widely used by schools; these may include detention, exclusion areas within the school premises, withdrawal from school, suspension and finally exclusion.
Despite the authors stressing that all procedures should be approached carefully, often with the support of the local authority, they remain controversial steps to take and some have received a fair amount of press coverage in recent times, highlighting once more how current this topic is. For example, as well as the launch by DfE of a consultation on procedures and responsibilities around school exclusion in March 2017, Times Educational Supplement (TES) reported in September that the number of pupils permanently denied readmission to school ‘skyrocketed’ in the last couple of years due to lack of funds needed to effectively support pupils and the tendency by some schools to resort to this means as a way to improve their overall performance. Finally, a report published by Ofsted a few months ago revealed that “unofficial exclusions” were used in several occasions to cope with students with special educational needs, despite this being illegal; in contrast, the authors of our NUT report highlight the importance of giving SEND learners “special and individual attention” (p. 20).
The IOE library is home to many resources on school discipline, all of which can be found using our discovery tool, Explore. Unfortunately this NUT report, like all the others included in the same donation, is currently uncatalogued, however this will be the next step in our project. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the contents of the donation, please check our LibGuide.