When is a punishment not a punishment?

Ed Whittaker

Ed started his career in chemistry, working for ICI Organics Division in Blackley. Having decided that 21 days holiday a year was simply not enough, he left industry to take up teaching at the age of 30. He spent the next twenty odd years teaching chemistry to GCSE and A level - and learning about behaviour management the hard way. Early in his teaching career he became interested in classroom management techniques following some Keystone Kops style episodes in his Y9 lessons. For the last few years of his teaching career Ed was the behaviour lead in a large Manchester comprehensive and was responsible for the successful introduction of BFL into the school. In July 2008 Ed left teaching to form Schools Data Services Ltd, specifically to promote IRIS, an on-line behaviour and rewards management facility devised by Ed and ex school MIS manager Andrew Rose.

Ed lives in Rochdale with wife Helen, two boys and a dog of very small brain called Archie. His main ambition is to make a difference in education by providing an alternative low cost, high value MIS to schools.

Website: www.iris.ac Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Are some schools confusing behaviour modification with punishment? Many schools use the system of ‘on report’ for managing individual pupil’s behaviour. This can take several forms, but the most usual is a card or sheet with the day’s lessons in a grid and a space for the teacher to make a comment or mark a grade and sign. Often there will be some sort of target set for the day or week. Most schools will have several types of report, usually at increasing levels of staff seniority: Form Tutor Report, Head of Year Report, SLT or Head Teacher Report, for example.  On report can be a very useful tool in modifying pupil behaviour, but I wonder to what extent some staff in schools just miss the point?

A pupil may be put on report following a repeated pattern of transgressions, but on occasion I have seen pupils placed on report following a single, one-off incident. For me this raises the question of what the teacher instigating the report is trying to achieve by this action. In the latter case, and even in the former, it sometimes appears that the report is being used as a form of punishment. Indeed,  I’ve even had heads of year say as much; as if the bearing the responsibility and inconvenience of carrying the card round from lesson to lesson was, in itself, a punishment. For me this completely misses the point of being on report.  The purpose of being on report should be therapeutic, not punitive.  On and off over the period of a year or so I asked pupils in my classes and who were on report two questions: i) ‘what do think is the purpose of you being on report’ and ii) ‘what happens if you don’t meet your target for the day’. The answer to question one was invariably ‘because I’ve been naughty’. Every single one viewed it as a punishment; not one child replied with any suggestion that there might be some sort of supportive or therapeutic purpose to being on report. The response to the second question, ‘what happens if you don’t meet today’s target’, the answer was often “nuffink, sir” i.e. there was no sanction for failing to meet the set target for the day. Occasionally a pupil reported a significant consequence for failing to meet a target, e.g. a detention, but the most often reported consequence was simply a warning to ‘do better tomorrow’; in other words, no real consequence at all.  There is no point in setting targets at all unless there is either a reward for meeting the target and/or a sanction for not meeting them. On report targets should be:

  • Based on previous behaviour. E.g. a pupil with a history of being late to lesson may have a target ‘Arrived to lesson on time’.
  • Challenging but not unachievable. Setting targets which are too easily met or too difficult to achieve will not help modify the pupil behaviour.

There should also be a clear exit strategy and a final goal in mind when the pupil is put on report. These outcomes, and the purpose of the report (i.e. behaviour modification), should be clearly explained to the pupil at the outset. The report should be for a set period, e.g. a week, and the pupil should know what he needs to do to get off report at the end of the period and what will happen if the targets are not met. Open-ended reporting periods, vague or non-specific targets and lack of incentive for success will generally make placing the pupil on report a waste of time.

Consider this analogy: through my own silly behaviour, I fall over and break my leg. At the hospital the doctor chides me for my stupidity, plasters my leg and sends me off with a crutch. Now I could be resentful that the doctor has punished me by making me carry a damned, awkward crutch around all day, or I could view it for what it is; a support for me to lean on until my leg gets better. How do your pupils view being on report, as a punishment or as an aid to help them improve their behaviour? Understanding the pupil perception of being on report can dramatically affect its efficacy.

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