School Discipline

Theme: School discipline, bad behaviour, punishments
Lexical area: Punishments, legal vocabulary
Cross curricular links: Personal and social education, law

Instructions for assistants are in italics

Classroom materials

Use both reading texts or concentrate on the types of punishment if you have lower level learners. The reading text ‘School Discipline’ is not included in the class version. Click here for the School Discipline text.

Introduce this topic with a brainstorm around the title. What words can they think of to do with discipline? If you can get a picture of a discipline procedure in a school from the past (caning, getting the ruler), you could have a more dramatic introduction. At some point in this lesson you can explain that corporal punishment was a thing used in the past but it is now against the law. Draw as much as you can on your own school experience. What were the rules? Did you ever misbehave? What was considered bad in your school days? If you have a tale to tell it can liven up the topic.

1. Bad behaviour - Before you read
This list helps cover the vocabulary for the whole lesson. Can your students think of any more examples? Work through the first 3 and then put the class into pairs or small groups to classify the behaviour. You will notice cultural differences coming out here. Note that cheating in exams is not nearly as terrible in Italy, for example, and most pupils will admit that they have copied or considered copying at some point. Class feedback should bring out their attitudes towards behaviour. Is there a violence problem in their country? Be wary of digressing although the issue of guns and weapons in schools is relevant in the light of the US High School killings. In the UK it is not such a danger. Truancy and bullying are the key problems. Do students know why people might play truant? How can it be stopped? Try to be as brief as possible here but encourage contributions and involvement in the topic.

Task 1 Bad behaviour - Before you read
Look at these examples of bad behaviour in school. How would you classify them?

  • Very serious / serious / quite bad / not bad behaviour
    • Chewing gum or eating sweets in class
    • Playing truant (not coming to school/not telling parents)
    • Smoking in the school building (in the toilets?)
    • Swearing (using bad language)
    • Swearing at a teacher or insulting a teacher
    • Not doing homework
    • Cheating in exams (copying from secret notes or another pupil)
    • Shouting and making noise during lessons
    • Running in the corridors
    • Writing on walls, desks and other school property
    • Stealing from other pupils pockets or bags
    • Calling a teacher or another pupil bad names (bullying)
    • Carrying a dangerous weapon (gun, knife, penknife)
    • Hitting other pupils or teachers
    • Not listening/paying attention in lessons
    • Wearing unsuitable clothes for school
    • Kissing boys/girls during the lesson or in the corridor
    • Leaving the classroom without permission
  • Who deals with bad behaviour in your school?
    • Are there any school rules?
    • Are there any special punishments for very bad behaviour?
    • Have you ever broken a school rule or been badly behaved in school?
    • What happened? What did your parents say or do?

2. Punishments
Use the list of typical punishments for this. Add examples of your own: being sent to a headmaster, having to sit in the corner. Do pupils have a strong sense of justice? Is a punishment fair? This will help anticipate the content of the case study based on Freya's sense of unfairness.

Task 2 Punishments

  • What is the most / least serious punishment you can get in your school?
  • What is the most / least serious punishment you can get in a UK school?
  • How does your school compare to a British school? Is it stricter?

3. Read and find out
Check that the students understand the questions then give out the reading text. Let them compare their answers together before telling them if they are correct or not.

Task 3 Read and find out

  • What is detention?
  • What did Freya do when the school gave her detention?
  • What two reasons does Freya give for her actions?
  • What is a home school contract?
  • Why do you think schools give these contracts to parents?


School Discipline

Punishments in UK schools

  • Exclusion: a pupil is excluded from the school and cannot come back. The pupil has to find a new school or a different method of education (home tutor, special centre for difficult pupils)
  • Suspension: when a pupil is suspended they cannot enter the building or attend lessons until the school has a meeting about their case. Suspension can last from 1 to 45 days in a school term. The school usually gives work to do at home with a tutor (special teacher).
  • Detention: a pupil is detained/asked to stay at school at the end of the school day. The pupil must work for 30 minutes or an hour more before they are allowed to leave the school.
  • Lines: a pupil has to write a sentence many times (100 times) on a sheet of paper: An example sentence: I must not shout in class. This punishment is sometimes given during detention too.

Case Study

Freya Macdonald, a 15 year old pupil from Scotland, made the news this month in the UK. When her Secondary school gave her detention, she went to a lawyer and took legal action against the school. The teenager believes that it is not legal to keep a pupil in the school building against their wishes.

She is citing Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights which is now also part of Scots law. It says that it is illegal to detain children against their will. If schools want to keep pupils after school hours they should ask for a court order.

Freya says that repeated detentions disrupted her education and stopped her from learning successfully. She is citing article 2, which states that every child has the right to an education. She is now refusing to return to school until the school respects her civil rights. She wants the headmaster and her teachers to sign a letter to promise they will respect her rights.

Many schools in the UK now give parents a home school contract. This is a contract explaining the school discipline and rules. Parents must sign this document and agree that they accept the school's rules. They are responsible for their child's behaviour and must respect the discipline methods used in the school.

4. School rules
This task is supposed to be a fun look at rules. get students to work in pairs and perhaps you could even make it competitive by awarding points for the best invented school rules for teachers.

Task 4 School rules
Every school in the UK must have a code of conduct. This is a written document with guidelines for good behaviour and school rules to make sure pupils behave well. For example:

  • Pupil code of conduct: 1. Get to school on time 2. Move about the school quietly
  • School rules: 1. Everyone must walk in the school corridors 2. Pupils are not allowed to leave the school during lessons without a written letter from a parent.
  • Write or explain three rules that are important in your school.
  • Invent four rules for teachers in schools: e.g. Teachers are not allowed to shout during lessons.

5. Group decision making - Make the punishment fit the crime
Put students into groups for this activity and appoint a secretary to make notes of what kinds of punishments they choose. Also appoint a chairperson to make sure that everyone's opinions are taken into account and that consensus is reached. At the end of the activity you can get all of the groups to compare their punishments and decide which was the best.

Task 5 Group decision making - Make the punishment fit the crime
You are a teacher in a UK school and you must decide how to punish pupils who are behaving badly. Look at the list of bad behaviour in exercise (1). Choose a punishment for each example. All members of your group must agree.

6. Detention: What do you think?
Get students to work in pairs for this activity. Let them read the opinions, then get them to read and decide which one they most agree / disagree with.

Task 6 Detention: What do you think?
Some pupils from UK schools give their opinion on detention. Is it a useful punishment? Is it fair? What do you think? Do you agree with them?

  • I have had a lot of detentions for not doing my homework. It isn't fair and it wastes teachers' time. Kelly Watson 14.
  • It is not really a punishment. We used to spend half an hour copying words from a dictionary. What's the point in that? It didn't make me behave any better! Mark Summers 17.
  • We get detention for swearing or fighting and I agree with that. But we also get it for not doing homework. That's stupid! Lisa Brown 13.
  • I had detention once last year and it made me think again. My parents were mad at me and I missed the last bus home. I am very careful now. Detention is a good thing and more pupils should be given detention! Barry Shapiro 15.

7. Role play
Try to build ideas on the board before they start. What does your mother/father say if they want to know the details? What have you been doing? What happened? Why? You can act out some examples to give them an idea. What type of excuse might they give? Keep the conversations short, if possible. Get each pair to think about the bad behaviour first. What happened? What did they do? Be available to help each pair but try to give them freedom to experiment. Pairs can perform for the rest of the class.

Task 7 Role play
The school has telephoned your parents to complain about bad behaviour. You do not think it is that serious. Now you go home and your father/mother is waiting to speak to you. How do you explain your behaviour? Is your father/mother angry or understanding? Imagine the conversation. Act it out.

8. Discussion: the reasons for bad behaviour
Put students into groups or pairs for this discussion task. Get them to look at the statements and decide which the agree with. Also try to get them to add a few more.

Task 8 Discussion: the reasons for bad behaviour
The numbers of pupils being excluded or playing truant is increasing every year in the UK. Teachers complain that bullying is a serious problem and that pupils are becoming more and more violent. Here are some opinions from a nationwide opinion poll on the Internet.

  • Do you agree? Is your country facing similar problems? What are the solutions? Is exclusion a good thing? Is corporal punishment a bad or useful thing?
  • Badly behaved children have an effect on class performance in exams. They should be excluded after 1 warning, not 3 or 4. Schools are not strict enough.
  • Schools need special police type assistants who can deal with discipline. This means teachers can concentrate on teaching.
  • Parents are the key. Discipline begins at home. Parents of badly behaved pupils should do a parenting course to teach them how to control their children. Then the parents should be arrested if their child continues to behave badly.
  • Teachers need to start using the cane (a big stick). We certainly stopped our stupid behaviour if we knew we were going to get a good whack (hit).
  • Excluding pupils only makes the problem worse for society. All the badly behaved pupils then meet up in special schools! It is like a training camp for crime. Badly behaved pupils should be allowed to continue in their school. They need help and patience.

Internet links
http://www.dfes.gov.uk/publications/guidanceonthelaw/test/discip.htm Explains the legal framework for discipline in UK schools.
http://education.guardian.co.uk/ Has numerous recent reports and articles on school violence and exclusions in a special section.
http://www.kidscape.org.uk A charity set up to work against bullying in schools. Source of case studies.
http://www.childrens-express.org Has interesting articles by UK pupils on detention and discipline
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/default.stm A search on 'truancy' gives recent news reports and an opinion poll of young people on how to stop truancy/bunking off.

By Clare Lavery

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