It’s easy to bandy about the words “high expectations” but so much harder to enforce that in reality.
I came from a private school. We would stand when adults came in. We were given half an hour detentions where we were shouted at by the scariest teacher in the school if we chewed gum. The one time someone made a snarky comment undermining a teacher in a lesson, they were sent straight to the headmistress’ office.
This meant every single lesson was focussed on learning, not behaviour management. We were able to learn so much in every hour.
When I hear about “high expectations” of pupils, this is what I think of. Expecting impeccable behaviour and academic success. If you fall short (which everyone will), you have a detention, you say sorry, and get a new chance.
These are the expectations we should want for pupils for their sakes. So why doesn’t it happen in lots of schools? Well here are a few I’ve been pondering for starters:
- Dominant school culture and legacy. Introducing massively new high standards in a school which has been average is hard. Pupils will laugh the first time you tell them you want to sit up straight if that’s never been expected before.
- Pressure not to give too many detentions or other sanctions. There’s a sense that you’re not giving children a “chance to get it right” if you give too many detentions.
- Inclusion agenda. In too many schools, pupils’ SEN (BESD in particular) can be a get out of jail free card. I’m all for inclusion, but not without the necessary support for them to be genuinely included and in a way that does not affect the learning of others in the classroom.
- No ultimate sanction in the short term. What happens when you ask a child to leave your room? If they know that they can simply say “no” and continue their misbehaviour, you’re doomed. Too often I’ve seen “on call” take an age to turn up or don’t turn up at all… and if they do, they might just plead with the student for 5 seconds and allow them to return to the class.
- No ultimate sanction in the medium term. What do you do when a child doesn’t turn up to detentions? Is there support to help pick them up at the end of the day? If they’re absent on the day of the scheduled detention, does it get forgotten about? If they’ve got three detentions from three teachers, do they get to serve them as one detention and tick all three off? If there’s a way to play the system, children will sniff it out and use it. Systems have got to be watertight.
- No ultimate sanction long term. Children who run riot in the school and cause chaos are given “last chance” after “last chance” because so much evidence is needed for permanent exclusion. The message this sends reverberates right down the school.
So many children just want to go to school, sit in interesting, calm lessons, learn a lot and succeed (even the really naughty ones). We owe it to them to make them behave exceptionally well.