Detention without notice - a good idea?

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.

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I was watching David Cameron doing a public Q+A session on TV a week or so ago. In response to a question from a teacher he began to explain where the Conservatives stand on education and, in particular, how they will ‘Restore Order and Discipline in the Classroom’.

One of the ideas he pushed quite strongly was to do away with the requirement to provide parents with 24 hours notice of detention. Good soundbite: let's get tough on the little blighters, show 'em who's boss, eh?

But I wonder how many schools would actually make use of the legal right to detain without notice? There are good reasons why schools give parents 24 hours notice; and those reasons don't go away if you remove the legal requirement for notice.

I believe that detaining children after school without notice would do nothing other than damage the relationship between school and parent. Many pupils have familial responsibilities outside school time, from collecting younger siblings to doing shopping on the way home. They may also have appointments with a dentist or doctor.

How thrilled would you be if your family visit to see Gran in hospital was kiboshed by little Johnny being an hour late home from school without notice? Even if a child didn’t have a commitment after school, many are wily enough to claim one – leaving the teacher in the position of having to either substantiate the claim with a phone call home or accept it:

‘OK, I’ll phone your mum to check you really do have to report to the police station.’
‘You can’t, me mum’s at work.’
‘OK, I’ll phone her at work, then.’
‘Yer can’t do that ‘cos she won’t give the school the number ‘cos she doesn’t want to be disturbed at work.’
(No, I really did have that conversation once.)

It's simply not worth it for schools to implement a no-notice after school detention; it would undo much of the work schools do to build a positive, supportive relationship with parents. Behaviour systems and policies always work best when they are fully supported by parents. Detention without notice does nothing to bring parents on-side.

Whatever the legal rights, schools should always take into account pupil’s home circumstances when it comes to detaining after school - and this is difficult enough even with 24 hours notice, let alone none. So thanks, Mr Cameron, but I think you've offered us a bit of a chocolate teapot there, mate.

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