I am of the opinion that centralised detentions are not just great for workload but actually fundamental to a great behaviour system.
A good centralised detention system not only groups detainees together but also centralises the administration so that one administrator phones home, tracks attendance, and administers escalation for non-attendance.
The benefits of this are many:
1. Time saved. We need time to plan for the new GCSEs, apart from anything else. We need a sensible workload so our teachers can be the best that they can be. We need it for recruitment and retention.
2. Morale. Teachers like working, and the most intellectual work is the most rewarding. Freeing staff up to work on actual teaching can be transformative for culture.
3. Centralised detentions ensure consistency: detention is always the same so the pupils always know exactly what they’re going to get for a certain behaviour.
4. Detentions can be longer and therefore more of a deterrent. Ours are all 1 hour long.
5. No disincentive for staff to pick up on behaviour. I cannot stress the importance of this point enough. There are a few points to make here.
5.1: Even utterly conscientious staff will find themselves, from time to time, in a position where they have to prioritise, and doing a detention will not come first. Consider the new HOD with two teachers off sick and Y11 coursework to complete by Friday. You’d be daft if you prioritised detention with a year 7 for low-level disruption. But behaviour will suffer because of this.
5.2: When picking up on behaviour, you often have to ask yourself, “did I really just see/hear that?” Or “does that count as rudeness/low-level disruption/ pushing?” You have to make that decision in a split-second, often with other stuff, such as a lesson, going on around you and placing a further load on your working memory. I suggest that teachers will err on the side of leniency if they know strictness leads to extra work. I suggest this will happen even at a subconscious level in highly conscientious teachers.
5.3. If enforcing the behaviour policy entails an increase in workload, some teachers may, consciously or unconsciously, resort to other methods to gain compliance. These include being scary or being liked. These are problematic as methods of behaviour management because the former isn’t nice and the latter wastes learning time, neither are available to all staff and both undermine the actual policy by interrupting its predictability.
5.4. How many schools have 100% utterly conscientious staff? You need a system that works even if some teachers aren’t prepared to give all their energy to the job. Two more points to make here: if something in the job means that teachers have to neglect friends, family, and personal time in order to do a good job, then something isn’t working. And, paradoxically, when teachers are freed from these burdens they become more engaged, more happy to spend time on cpd, extra-curricular, stepping up in times of need etc. A system like ours works to change the culture: people feel part of something when they’re freed to use their time at the highest level of their profession (planning) rather than the lowest (detentions).
5.5. And what about supply staff? A centralised detention system means that all supply teachers can rigorously apply the system. Most supply teachers are paid until the end of last lesson so why on earth would we expect them to do detentions after that for free?
The most common objection I hear to centralised detentions is this: “What about repair and rebuild?” Many people feel that if a teacher gives a detention, that teacher needs to conduct the detention with the pupil in order to tend to the relationship with that pupil.
They might feel that this is necessary on a practical level, that without this process a pupil will be angry with the teacher and then misbehave again in future lessons. Or they may feel there’s an ethical element to it: it’s only right that we should explain consequences to pupils after we’ve given them. The pupils might not get this kind of explanation at home. The pupil deserves an explanation.
Let’s look at these concerns in turn. First of all, do pupils who’ve had a centralised detention misbehave more in their next lesson ? Now I haven’t done an RCT but no, no they don’t. Or maybe they do but the effect is vastly overshadowed by the consistency and inevitability of the system. If I teach a new class, I don’t need to follow through for them to know “if Miss says you’ve got detention, you have to go otherwise she always rings home and gives you twice as long the next day” or whatever. They already know detention means detention, from every other teacher in the school. It’s actually much less common for a pupil to view a detention as unfair because the system is so consistent and inevitable. Also: we are nice! We don’t give out detentions with malice and we praise the good stuff!
If a pupil is angry with a teacher for a consequence, I’d argue that if a conversation is needed then it needs to involve a pastoral leader. This sends the message that the teacher is backed up and doesn’t need to apologise, but also the pupil knows their concerns have been heard, the pastoral leader knows their “background” and so can say things like “you’ve come a long way since year 7 Katy and we’re really proud of you for that. Miss is absolutely right to give you a C4 for repeated low level disruption, I think probably you’re angry with yourself as much as anything for letting it slip.” I had precisely this sort of conversation the other day. It is needed, but rarely, and should be done right. We’ve also got a small number of pupils who are resisting the system. These pupils are frequently in isolation and they do need something repairing and rebuilding but it’s a bigger job than a teacher can do in a detention. I’d say that nearly all of these pupils are where they are because of a lack of boundaries in the past. We’ve got lots of pupils now who were in this group, but have been through the detention and isolation system many times and with pastoral support have now learnt how to improve their behaviour. It’s a privilege to observe such a change.
Why do pupils misbehave? The vast majority of the time, it’s because they can. It’s because they know there will be no consequence, or because they don’t know what the consequence will be. Yes, many of our pupils have troubled backgrounds. This is neither necessary nor sufficient for poor behaviour, but where an emotional or whatever issue does exist it should be dealt with properly, and not devalued by treating every misbehaviour as a result of “background”.
So let’s look at the ethical concern. Are we morally obliged to repair and rebuild in detention? No we’re not. As stated above, pupils on the whole don’t
The thing that most often makes pupils angry is inconsistency and this is precisely what centralised detentions help to avoid, because the workload disincentive is removed. I’d argue that we owe it to our pupils not to put their feelings at the centre of every action maintaining order in lessons so that everyone can learn loads.
I also think we should be wary of the message we send. Teachers should not have to explain their actions. In an effective policy, the explanation should be known before the action: if you do X, you will get consequence Y. Pupils will test whether these statements hold true, but they shouldn’t feel hard-done-by when they find they do. I think we run dangerously close to sounding like we’re apologising when we have these repair and rebuild conversations – even if that’s not our intention.
Our pupils are happy because school is a nice place to be and they learn loads. I think providing this is our moral obligation to our pupils.
And what about the feelings of all the other pupils who aren’t misbehaving? I’ll tell you now, plenty of them have got difficult backgrounds. This is not “she behaves even though her dad’s in prison, why can’t he?” It’s just to show the poor logic of the argument that we owe certain pupils more time because of their behaviour.
Every single pupil in every single class deserves to learn the subject to the highest level possible. This needs great behaviour from all in the lesson and teachers free to use their time planning. Centralised detentions support both these things where individual repair and rebuild sessions inhibit them. In most cases pupils do not have a genuine emotional issue with a consequence. On the rare occasions they do, something more is required, such as the presence of a pastoral leader. Centralised detentions make teachers happy and can change a school’s culture, and they build in “slack” so the system works even in difficult times.
If you’re wondering how to fund a behaviour administrator for centralised detentions, consider this: I would happily teach classes of 40 under this system, provided feedback policies, reporting etc. were sensible. Once we get proper resources for the new curricula, I reckon I could do 50. If I’ve missed any arguments against centralised detentions, I’d like to hear them. If I haven’t, well, what are you waiting for?