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Leadership, Redesigning Schools

Michaela and Behaviour: Reflections from Afar

David Didau (@LearningSpy) is in a rich vein of blogging, questioning just about everything and tipping a few things on their head so they may be viewed from a different angle.  A recent post, Michaela School: Route One Schooling asked some interesting questions of the reader and these are just a few reflections. 

I hope this post is balanced and is no way a criticism of Michaela School (because I would quite like to get an invite to visit it one day) nor David (who I hope to meet one day and discuss things over a beer).  I’ve never been to Michaela School so these reflections from afar are just that.  I apologise in advance if I have misinterpreted the post or made any factual inaccuracies about the school.  I’m more than happy to be corrected.  These reflections are largely for my own benefit but I thought they might interest a few other people.

Michaela School: Route One …

… you just don’t compromise.  If a teacher sees or hears a phone at Michaela it’s confiscated until the following term. It doesn’t matter whether the phone accidentally slipped out of a pocket, and it doesn’t matter whether the parent is going into hospital and really really needs to ring their child. There are no excuses.

Michaela School: Route One Schooling (David Didau)

Yellow lines

Photo Credit:  Ian Britton via Flickr cc

 

Q: If the punishment for parking on double yellow lines was death, and therefore nobody did it, would that be a just and effective law?

Over the years I have tried to support a number of our Sixth Form students in their Oxbridge applications and this was a question I found on the internet for prospective Law students.  There’s no right or wrong answer but rather two key issues to identify and distinguish between – “just” and “effective”.  The law is clearly effective as nobody parked on the double yellow lines.  It looks like Michaela School’s sanction for mobile phones is also highly effective.  There is a level of objectivity about this determination as it can be measured.

The “justness” of the law is concerned with how proportionate the punishment is to the crime.  That is much more subjective and will be the source of heated discussion in court rooms and staff rooms up and down the length and breadth of this country and beyond.  I have never supported corporal punishment, flogging people or capital punishment.  They are unacceptable punishments to me.  However, these are my views not objective truths.  Other people may take a different view and coherently argue it.

To what extent would your first emotional response, to the confiscation of the phone, be changed if the confiscation had been for one day, one week, one month or one year?  How would you have felt if the phone had been disposed of permanently as it was a prohibited item?

Photo Credit: Kohei314 via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Kohei314 via Flickr cc

The issue of school discipline is always a highly emotive one.  Teachers, support staff and governors all have different perspectives on justice and proportionality of punishment whilst having a general agreement on the need to be effective.  Whilst a head teacher I had on occasion an irate or worried members of staff coming to “advise” me on the level of sanction I should determine in a particular situation.  Some demanded more flogging and others greater leniency.  My response was always the same, this is the consequence for the child’s behaviour and it doesn’t change depending on your level of anger/compassion Not always an easy message to deliver but one that had a level of integrity and consistency.

How far would you push effectiveness before you considered the culture to be draconian?  How far would you push justice before you considered the culture to be to laissez faire?  There is no right and wrong answer but the discussion is always interesting.  It’s the tension which sits at the heart of school behaviour policies.  This of course assumes  there is a causal link between effectiveness and justice.

My Way or the Highway

Michaela School: Route One …

… When parents have inevitably come in to explain why their circumstances are unique and why and an exception needs to be made in their case, they’re given a choice: you either abide by our decisions and support our rules or you find another school for your child. Let me be very clear: this does not mean they boot out unruly kids, it means some parents decide they will not support the school.

Michaela School: Route One Schooling (David Didau)

Photo Credit: Jinx! Via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Jinx! via Flickr cc

I’ve had literally one or two discussions with parents over fourteen years of headship about the advice given to their children, “I’ve told him if anyone says anything to him he’s got to thump them.”  My reply is simple, “Those are not our values.”  The discussion then takes place about what are values are and a more appropriate response to being called a name that was unacceptable and hurtful.  It’s worked up to now but only because I could call on a set of values to talk about.  My sense is Michaela School has identified their values clearly.  What they will stand for and what they will not.  Good schools and school leaders must do this if they are to maintain an integrity and constancy of purpose.

I’m going to park some concerns I have about whether the last sentence, in the quote above, can be verified on a visit to a school.  What really interests me is the issue that causes more fall out between head teachers than any other one I know – taking your fair share of the most difficult and challenging students.  The second part of David’s quote caused quite a lot of to and fro on the bits of the twitter debate I saw … find another school for your child.  It may simply be that this wasn’t or cannot quite be expressed in the nuanced manner in which it was said.  All schools need to be supportive of each other in managing the more challenging students and also having the inclusive systems and processes in place to manage them.  As for a fair distribution of the more challenging students goodness only knows what that looks like.

I’ll continue reflecting and may have a few more thoughts to blog out shortly.

 

 

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Discussion

12 thoughts on “Michaela and Behaviour: Reflections from Afar

  1. I have visited several Washington DC Charter schools and found that the % of students who started and finished their education at each school was low-it would have triggered an Ofsted here! Students from low socio-economic backgrounds [I don’t know the Michaela data] were certainly provided with an opportunity but disappeared quickly if they stepped out of line. Of course they went back to the local state school who not surprisingly were beneath the Charter School in the league tables displayed for all to see in the foyer. Are British equivalents equally un-supportive of others and reluctant or incapable of teaching the most troubled and difficult? I’ve always believed that 1 of the strengths of any education system is how it cares for and supports its most vulnerable-I’m not convinced by what I’ve seen first-hand or read that Michaela and its like do. Apologies if I’m wrong.

    Posted by fabulouspoodle | May 14, 2015, 8:55 pm
  2. I think that the issue of extremely challenging behaviour is one that to be honest we need to really sit down with a panel of heads, governors, teacher reps, unions, child psych’s and maybe even get some international people on it. Maybe the college of teachers could do this. I was thinking about inclusion has been managed today and it seems to me that the hurry to shut down specials schools just meant all these children who would have gone there or to a PRU ended up in mainstream with no real foresight or planning. I’m not saying it should not have happened just that it should have been given a lot more consideration than it has been. To this end it may have been possible to modify buildings, have special centres – not PRU’s for children with challenging behaviour, really focus on the causes and see what could be done to intervene as early as possible. Instead everyone was shoehorned in together. While most children can be included in the mainstream there are some for whom the environment of a class with 29 others and an authority figure is just going to trigger them no matter what due to the crisis they are in. We really do need some proper solutions – cuddle and muddle has had its day and been found wanting.

    Posted by teachwell | May 14, 2015, 9:05 pm
    • I sometimes wonder whether we should think about inclusion as a quality of experience and equity of outcome issue. It kind of reframes the thinking, focussing on what matters. Thanks again for taking time to add a comment. Always appreciated.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | May 14, 2015, 10:24 pm
  3. Thank you – I think the distinction between what is ‘effective’ and what is ‘just’ is a good point of reflection which was troubling me when I was posting on David’s blog. I look forward to your further thoughts.

    Posted by chrismwparsons | May 14, 2015, 10:35 pm
  4. Thank you for writing this thoughtful blog, which I think beautifully dissects the many tensions within David’s blog and Michaela’s model. There is only one part of your thinking that I felt missed the mark – on school’s ‘accepting their fair share of difficult and challenging children’. As I understand it, the model that is promoted by Michaela (and others) is not to rid themselves of difficulty and challenging children by forcing them out, but rather by ensuring that they have not alternative but to become not-difficult and not-challenging (and therefore more likely to be successful at school and beyond).

    Posted by jonpatrick | May 14, 2015, 11:31 pm
    • Thanks Jon Patrick. The issue for all schools not simply Michaela is changing behaviours rather than excluding my one means or another. Some schools achieve this others give the pretence of – there’s a link in one of the other comments to a Diane Ravitch article with some data in about one extreme.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | May 15, 2015, 6:11 am
  5. You’re right to say I cannot verify the truth of such statements as “this does not mean they boot out unruly kids, it means some parents decide they will not support the school.” I’m simply reporting what I was told. But I have no reason to disbelieve.

    Posted by David Didau | May 15, 2015, 7:52 am
  6. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

    Posted by heatherfblog | May 15, 2015, 10:13 pm
  7. An excellent discussion which leads me to think that an element of moral philosophy would be a vlaubale part of a teacher’s education-initial teacher education. Thus ITE not ITT.

    Posted by jfin107 | May 16, 2015, 8:46 am

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