Behaviour: We must say no to ‘no excuses’.

The ‘no excuses’, zero tolerance approach to behaviour and discipline is shown to be a failed model and should now be thrown out by schools – for good – says Matt Ward, lead teacher for behaviour at an inner city academy in SecEd.

There is a growing trend in UK schools towards a “no excuses” style of behaviour management that disturbs me. It is an approach that has been imported from the US’s zero tolerance system.

“Zero tolerance” refers to behaviour management policies that seek to punish all offences severely, no matter how minor. Growing out of the gun violence tragedies in US schools in the early 1990s, any perceived threat-making by students resulted in automatic and permanent expulsions.

Thus we arrive in the politically charged climate of Britain in 2019, and the ever-growing and more popular “no excuses” method of behaviour management – zero tolerance by another name.

It has led to the recent scandals like “flattening the grass” – “grass” being the students that are then “flattened” by the teacher. Often this is led by a group of senior leaders, entirely randomly and often very publicly, and all to “send a message” to any potential future offenders (Tes, 2019).

The major problem associated with “no excuses” as it is being employed in some UK schools today is the sheer volume of misbehaviours it encompasses, and therefore the huge number of students it has a negative impact upon.

As serious incidents of violence in UK schools are actually very rare, it means that a huge amount of minor disruption and low-level behaviour is caught in the “no excuses” net – and therefore students end up excluded not for threatening school safety but instead for disrespect, disobedience or persistent defiance.

“No excuses” is about punishment when what works with alienated students is relationships. The greatest steps forward with difficult students are often found in the grey areas of behaviour management. Yet “no excuses” wipes away this flexibility and almost guarantees the destruction of the student-teacher relationship.

Some schools have lost sight of what matters in pastoral leadership; the weight of punishment alone will never stop problematic students from misbehaving. Such a view is naïve at best, dangerous at worst.

I am often asked what the single most effective method of classroom management is. My answer is always the same: compassion. There is simply nothing that will come close to the long-term impact that compassion will have on a difficult, disaffected child. Compassion, the polar opposite of “no excuses” in attitude and tone, is the gateway for developing empathy with a disaffected student. It promotes trust and encourages forgiveness, and with that comes responsibility. Are these not the exact qualities we are looking to develop in our students?

Read the full article Behaviour: We must say no to ‘no excuses’

Does your school use a ‘zero tolerance policy’? Has it worked? Do you agree with the author? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin


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