Zero tolerance behaviour management – hate it or love it?

The Guardian hates schools with high behaviour standards, apparently, if you believe some of the furious response to this article which appeared in the paper yesterday, linking back to recent pieces on isolation booths, high rates of exclusion and the so-called “flattening the grass”.

The furore whipped up by this interests me for a number of reasons.

1. What is zero tolerance behaviour management?

The idea that these policies represent a “zero tolerance” culture seems very odd. This is the draconian end of the BM spectrum. So zero tolerance means screaming at children as an element of school behaviour management in order to persuade them to comply with what’s expected of them; sticking them in a sin-bin and forcing them to sit upright working and/or staring at the wall for hours on end with a maximum of 3 loo breaks per day and a silent, isolated lunch; excluding them for ‘minor infringements’ of rules? Does it? Really? So in your average classroom teachers are busy throwing kids out for the smallest error, screaming so loudly they can make their hair part, or sentencing them to days in solitary? I doubt it. To me, a zero tolerance culture is one where nothing is allowed to slide in the classroom, and a teacher makes sure to address negative behaviours. It doesn’t have to be draconian, and it doesn’t have to veer from the precepts of Positive Teaching. Deal with all poor behaviour, but in private, discreetly, and without all that ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing’ (Sorry, Shakespeare.)

2. High standards of behaviour?

Those who think to be effective you have to be severe and strict and have lots of ways of punishing kids when they get it wrong think that they have the monopoly on ‘high standards of behaviour’. Well, I’m afraid I differ. I think ‘high standards of behaviour’ are expectations. If I have set a high standard of something, I expect it. How you achieve those high standards is completely up for debate. If I achieve “high standards of behaviour” using my methods, and do not need to resort to military beastings to achieve them, are my standards therefore lower? No, I didn’t think so.

3. The Guardian hates high standards of behaviour? Really?

No, the Guardian Education writers have a problem with the tactics. It is probably true that they hate isolation booths #banthebooth, excessive use of exclusion as a behaviour management tactic and the egregious “flattening the grass”. If the last is as it is described (and it’s probably not – news pieces are prone to overstate a thing) then frankly we should all condemn it. But what lazy writing, lazy thinking even, is it to say that someone hates something because they disagree with your way of doing it?

We don’t all have to be the same. We don’t all have to approach the same objective using the same tactics. We can all do things in the way that works for us. It is supreme arrogance and borderline paranoia to shout with outrage and believe that because everyone is not falling instep with our way of doing things, they hate us. No. Stop it. Don’t be silly.

If I hadn’t opined so many times that “calm down” is the worst thing you can say to anyone, I’d be tempted to tell everyone to put the kettle on, get a cup of tea and a hobnob and chill for a bit.

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