Is my system better than yours?


I’ve been following a Twitter thread today about behaviour and specifically how detentions are managed. What’s interesting is that although tweeters acknowledge they appreciate other suggestions and points of view, you get the impression that ultimately alternative points of view are not really what some people want to hear because they are looking only for affirmation that their way must be the “correct” way of doing something.

Now I don’t know whether this is because people believe if it works for their school, then surely because it works, it will therefore work everywhere else. But herein is the rub. All schools are different. All students and teachers are different. I don’t think there can be a “one system fits all” approach to behaviour or sanctions. Surely, it’s more important to look at all the options and pick the bits that you think will work best for your situation and your students than insist that any one way of doing something is better than another?

For those who prefer centralised detentions then I assume (and it is an assumption) that it’s probable you work in a school with stronger teachers and good communication systems. You will have worked out effectively who is supervising the detentions, how the information of who is in detention and why is recorded and accessed, where and when detentions are to be held and what the students will be doing while they are there. You are likely to have the time to ensure resources are ready to hand, and can say how this is being fed back to teachers for monitoring, whether this is on a rota basis by department/faculty, or more a centralised basis, supervised by middle leaders/senior staff. You will have efficient follow up systems. And, most importantly, there is likely to be a reduction in the number of students in detention, as the system is an effective one for your context. The teachers who like this system, on Twitter, state clearly that, for them, it is a means of freeing teachers up to concentrate on teaching; teaching becomes the priority and focus. They don’t see the need for the class teacher to take the lead on their own detentions. And if it works for them, why not?

But what happens if you work in a school where the systems aren’t quite so effective? Freeing teachers to teach is all very well when you are already some way down the improvement path but what happens when staff need a lot of support with students, where behaviour is still challenging and where systems aren’t yet at a point of being effective or efficient and there is little or no follow up from SLT bar a bit of lip service here and there? Would the same approach work as effectively? Should a “one size fits all” way of doing something be introduced into every school regardless of circumstances, just because someone is insistent it’s the best system to use?

And what about the teachers who are happy to foist any classroom issues onto their middle leaders rather than take responsibility for dealing with it, because it’s the easiest route if they aren’t coping well? Are having centralised detentions, where you remove the responsibility from the teacher, going to be as effective under these circumstances? As one tweeter put it, how much does foisting your detentions onto someone else to sort out say to the students, I can’t manage you? And what about a need to repair the relationship between student and teacher?

Do we miss an opportunity to work one-to-one with students to ensure that they have grasped what they missed by being sent out of the lesson or by not working or listening etc. if detentions are not held with the teacher concerned? And what happens if it’s a specialist subject with a non-specialist detention supervisor? How do you set centralised non-specialist detention work for something like modern languages or physics where a lot of complicated maths are involved? I’m not saying it can’t be done but it does need some serious thought!

Obviously regardless of context, a clear behaviour policy which everyone (and I mean teachers too!) follow is essential. How often are we told that if one teacher doesn’t follow the policy, it undermines the whole thing for everyone else? Consistency is therefore paramount. But what about escalation?

If middle and senior leaders are the ones running the detentions and the detentions aren’t having the correct effect with no improvement in behaviour/incidences, who does the escalating from this? Would a student therefore benefit more from a graded set of interventions and sanctions? And at what point does an issue need escalating? Would parents be more willing to engage with disaffection if they are contacted by class teachers in the first instance rather than feeling maybe that a minor issue has automatically been escalated to a senior member of staff from the outset? Can it appear to a parent more serious if they are contacted by a middle leader or senior member of staff rather than their teacher in the first instance?

All I can tell you is that I’ve worked in diametrically opposite schools. In one where they had an explicit set of sanctions, for specific infringements, listed on the detention sheet which had to be signed by the pupil so there was no misunderstanding as to why a sanction has been given, and which were dealt with by the class teacher in the first instance. And in one which ran centralised departmental detentions on a rota, where students would choose which weeks they had detention or not, depending on the member of staff supervising at the time! (Another thing for consideration if you use this system!)

When I worked as a middle leader, the system I implemented at both faculty and department level worked in those circumstances for those students and for that particularly set of staff. So, is my system better than yours? Truthfully, I don’t care. You do what you need to do to ensure teaching and learning can take place. If centralised detentions work for you, fine. If you prefer an alternative approach, where the system goes through the teacher, HoD, HoF (if you have one), up to SLT then that’s also fine.

It’s not a competition. My system isn’t better than yours. Your system isn’t better than mine. Accept that they are just different and work in their own context. Don’t try and enforce your views on people just because you believe it’s the best way to do something – concentrate rather on what’s right for you, your staff, students and school!


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expensive, experienced, somewhat expert at surviving this teaching lark....

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