Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests shows that schools are cracking down on misbehaviour
ZERO TOLERANCE wasRudy Giuliani’s catchphrase when he spearheaded a blitz on crime a s N e w Y o r k ’ s mayor. Now the term is used by Jewish secondary school teachers successfully getting to grips with disciplinary problems among pupils. Those responsible for maintaining order in schools have told the JC that a policy of punishing any misdemeanour, no matter how small, is reaping dividends.
For example, figures obtained through Freedom of Information requests show that since JFS moved from Camden to Kenton four years ago, the number of pupils excluded on disciplinary grounds has reduced as the population has risen. In 2003/4, when the roll was 1,659, 81 boys and 18 girls accounted for 117 exclusions for boys and 20 for girls — 4.8 per cent and one per cent respectively of the pupil population.
By 2006/7, when the roll had increased to 1,933, 37 boys and nine girls accounted for 43 exclusions for boys and nine for girls, 2.2 per cent and 0.46 per cent respectively.
The zero tolerance policy at JFS dates back seven years. Phil Newman, one of two teachers who run the behaviour department, says “the system starts with the premise that any teacher in JFS does not have to accept a student in their class slowing down the education of 29 others”.
The system is known as Room 17, following on from the punishment room in the Camden premises. “There is no actual room 17 here”, explains Mr Newman’s colleague Nick Caligorou, who has taught at JFS for 34 years. “But we brought the name with us and everyone in the school knows about Room 17. Children misbehave for a reason. It is our job to find out the reason and sort it out. It’s a zero tolerance policy.”
A pupil who offends during the day’s first lessons spends morning break in Room 17; if it’s after break, they will forfeit lunchtime. Afternoon offences are carried over to the next day.
The teachers regard bullying as probably the worst offence. Drugs, particularly marijuana, are another issue. Although one pupil was excluded in the most recent term for what the official report describes as “assault on a teacher”, Mr Newman says it was someone who had spotted a staff member outside school and jumped on his back in a playful fashion. “The teacher took exception and because there was physical contact, we have to put it down as assault. But I cannot recall there ever being a real assault on a teacher here.”
A similar policy has b e e n implemented more recently at Hasmonean High Boys’ School in Hendon, where head Rabbi David Meyer reports that “if you asked me four years ago if I was happy with the situation here, I would have said ‘no’. I have changed a number of aspects that have made things much better.
“The boys might be in trouble for selling — they are not allowed to sell anything here. We had a problem with chewing gum trodden into carpets, so no chewing gum is allowed and we have new carpets that stay clean.”
One pupil was exclud- ed for a day for pushing past a teacher to get into a lesson. “The boy was mortified but there was no negotiation. There is no way a student can touch a teacher.”
A member of staff patrols the front gate every morning to see that boys arrive properly dressed. Anyone who is not is sent home and told to return suitably attired — “no funny tie-knots or shirts outside trousers”.
On every classroom wall is an A4sized sheet detailing rewards and punishments. “We give incentives to the boys every term, from food from the tuck shop to vouchers for local shops.”
King David High School in Liverpool had 17 fixed-term exclusions from the academic years 2004 to 2007, when the city’s average per school was 140.
Among the misdemeanours were gang bullying, physical assault against an adult and a pupil and racist abuse including the drawing of a swastika on a Jewish child’s desk.
Headteacher Brigid Smith, who has been at the school since 2005, is “not surprised” that its exclusion level is below the average.
“The school does not have a high level of deprivation, which is often linked to this. It is a Jewish school but only a quarter of pupils are Jewish. The boy who drew the swastika had been wound up beforehand. Obviously we must take it seriously. He had never done anything before or since. Another incident was a non-Jewish child calling another a ‘Paki’”.
Other instances of misbehaviour included a pupil who threw a rock and another who brought 350 party poppers into school, setting several off.
MsSmithdecidedthat“thepartypopperswereenoughtowarrantexclusion. I felt 350 could cause chaos. In 2005 there was one drug-related incident. In school we do not have a particular danger of that but I’m not naïve about pupils experiencing culture outside.”
At King David High School in Manchester, there have been 139 fixed-term exclusions from academic years from 2003 to 2006, involving 113 pupils. The one permanent exclusion was in 2003/4, for physical assault.
The prevalent reasons have been verbal abuse, threatening behaviour towards adults and persistent disruption. Chair of governors Joshua Rowe says the school’s record is “very good. There is zero tolerance for physical assault, which makes you liable for permanent exclusion.
“We do not tolerate drugs, physical assault or for anyone to touch anyone else in a threatening manner. It has to be that way or else kids will follow through with it.”
Bullying is a more difficult issue, “as you cannot always pinpoint the immediate cause and effect and you have to be careful. We will not rest until we solve the bullying problem.”
Staff at all the schools stressed that a handful of troublesome students could have a major impact on a year’s disciplinary figures.
Laurel Freedman, senior educational psychologist at Binoh, Norwood’s education and therapy service, deems it “essential to develop a school culture that values and rewards positive behaviour. Many children need to be taught how to regulate their behaviour, cope appropriately with anger and frustration and develop effective skills in social negotiation.”
Susan Hallam, professor of education at the University of London’s Institute of Education, maintains that “if schools are going to deal with improving behaviour, they have to have a consistent policy that everyone knows and to which the staff sticks.
“What these schools are doing is what we would describe as good practice.”
The view at the Department for Children, Schools and Families is “that unacceptable behaviour in schools must be dealt with firmly. Good behaviour and an atmosphere of respect should be the norm in all schools. Teachers’ authority should not be challenged by pupils.
“Schools now have a stronger range of powers to manage discipline including out of hours detentions, the right to confiscate personal items and punish pupils for poor behaviour outside the school gates.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office has written to the King Solomon High School in Redbridge, reminding it of its obligations in respect of Freedom of Information requests.
FoI applications from the JC to the school for information on exclusions have been ignored. The King Solomon was the only school which refused to supply figures about exclusions for this investigation. ADDITIONAL REPORTING: JOSHUA FREEDMAN
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