I like strict schools. I think most students probably prefer them too.

I used to teach at a really strict school, and lived with someone who did not.  His school believed in restorative approaches.  At my school, students with top buttons undone got lunchtime detentions, always (the teacher who set them filled in a one-minute form and someone else supervised the detention).  At his school, they would sit down and ask the student if they knew that swearing at Sir had made Sir feel sad.  He had a pretty rubbish time and was more or less at the mercy of the students.  I consider myself really lucky to have had colleagues and an SLT who I could be absolutely sure would back me up.  A teacher is alone in a classroom with thirty-odd students.  Not all students are always that nice.  It’s good for a teacher to feel someone(s) has their back.

I am in favour of strict schools.  What do people mean when they say strict?  The phrases ‘zero tolerance’ and ‘no excuses’ spring to mind.  And what does that mean in practice, in terms of concrete examples?  It means if a perfect student hasn’t done the homework and a pupil premium student hasn’t done the homework, they both get exactly the same sanction.  It means that rules are applied consistently.  I consider this to be both basic common sense and a bearing out of the principle of fairness: treat everyone the same.  It’s also possible to consider NOT doing it as patronising to the pupil premium student: you don’t come from as fortunate a home, therefore we should expect less from you.  In fact, if you put it like that, having the same rules for everyone/zero tolerance/strictness is a force for equality and ‘closing the gap’.

I sometimes think ‘zero tolerance’ schools get criticised not for being ‘zero tolerant’, but because of one instance of apparently disproportionate sanctioning.  There might be a headline like ‘Strict School Puts Child in Isolation for Wrong Shoes’.  This is a conflation of separate issues: the outrage is not directed at the school having inflexible rules, but at the one specific rule (you must wear these shoes) being punished disproportionately (isolation).  It’s less easy to imagine a headline like ‘Strict School Gives Child Detention for Wrong Shoes’.  Confucious, he say ‘don’t use cannon ball to kill mosquito’.

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