Train spotters have their niche, I have mine. Over the last ten years I must have been in over 150 schools to look at their behaviour systems. What started off as a few consults became a habit. I get asked to work with schools that want to tighten up, reboot or buff their policies and practices. Sometimes it’s a check-up, and sometimes it’s an autopsy. It’s always a privilege.
I’ve found that some strategies are highly contextual, and some graft nicely on to a wide set of circumstances. It’s not often you can recommend a strategy blind to a school, because as Dylan Wiliam says ‘Everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere.’ But if we’re smart we can try to establish as many best-bets, highly-probables and ‘this works a lot’ as we can. Like an aspirin, most people feel better, and a few feel worse. But we still prescribe aspirin.
And one of the most successful strategies I’ve seen used by schools, and especially by schools that have very effective school behaviour systems, is centralised detentions (CD). Instead of setting and attending a detention individually, a class room teacher sets the detention which is then carried out by someone else, who may have several pupils in theor care from several sources.
Often the monitor is a senior member of the team. What they do there varies, but at the moment I want to talk about centralising detentions rather than justifying them.
- Workload: The teacher does not have to attend part- or all- of the detention. This frees up a potentially huge amount of time, one of the most precious commodities in the teacher’s utility belt. I know some teachers whose every spare moment is guaranteed to be blocked out by someone in detention, all week. And just one detainee has the same effect on your schedule.
- Data efficiency: Because the detentions are centralised, there is better tracking of who does and does not attend. All data flows through one point, rather than being monitored by a web of people who may not share their data.
- Flagging up concerns: Multiple, repeat offenders, or ‘doubles/ triples’ (students set more than one detention at a time) can be identified immediately, and their issues addressed.
- Better skilled practitioners: easier to train staff appropriately rather than leaving it to dozens of teachers with variable skill bases.
- Consistency of standard: School cultural norms can be more consistently conveyed at centralised detentions. Different teachers (even in the same school), have different standards of what pupils may or may not do in detention, from silent vigils, to playing on their phones. Pupils need to know what to expect.
- Dislocation of response: It depersonalises the consequences. The pupils are often dealt with by someone who has no close connection to the relationship in the classroom. However, this can sometimes be a benefit too.
- Exploitation: Teachers may take advantage of the opportunity. Running your own sanctions can be exhausting. If all they have to do is tap a button on SIMS, then a lot of teachers will be tempted to get trigger happy. Sad to say I’ve seen this. Rather than attempt to resolve matters in the classroom, the weaker teacher will simply hammer away at the detention bazooka. Because when someone gives you a magic hammer all your problems start to look like nails. The solution to this is for leadership to monitor the data, and support- not sanction- teachers who have patterns of high usage. After all they may simply be dealing with a more challenging intake, or carrying out the school policy to the letter. They might need support, or they might deserve a damn medal.
CD work best when
- Multiple teachers set frequent detentions
- In large schools or faculties
- Teachers already have substantial workload issues (so: most places)
- Problems occur due to inconsistency of teacher detention practices
- Pupils frequently dodge detentions
CD works less well when
- Schools are smaller
- Schools already have personal detentions as a system and teachers and students feel that it works better that way
- Detentions are very rare
So this is still no panacea; centralised detentions can be done badly, or worse can be done so badly they make things worse. But so what? That could be said of any system, from tax credits to dress down Friday. They can give staff back whole weeks of their years; they can free up substantial chunks of time on an almost dally basis. They can make the whole school detention system rock solid and air tight, which improves the whole efficacy of detentions as a system. Remember, the severity is far less important than the certainty.
I would encourage any school to try this. Try it for two terms. Review it after the first term to see where the snags are. Improve it for the second. Then bin or beatify as you see fit. I bet some schools will never look back.