Last year, our school banned any sight of mobile phones during the school day, including at breaks and lunch.
‘It’ll never work!’ scoffed the other schools in the town. But, as I wrote last year, it did work. With barely any teething problems, the mobiles disappeared and the children began talking to each other. It was marvellous.
This year, we have gone a step further and started a new revolution. The behaviour of the young has deteriorated dramatically over the past few years. With no correlation to socioeconomic group or anything else, children come to us with less and less respect, aspiration or even plain good manners. Not all of them; the majority still behaves in the way you would expect from your own children. But the problem is the creeping minority. Where once you would get one or two badly behaved children, you are now likely to have enough that they can disrupt a lesson. So what is to be done?
The revolution is called Ready to Learn, and is a movement coming up from the West. It appears on paper to be extraordinarily draconian. There is a list of the basic expectations of every class: arrive on time, don’t chew gum, have the right equipment, don’t answer back, and work in silence when asked. The children are given one warning and, if they step out of line again, they are sent away. They are not ‘parked’ across the corridor in another class where they have a different audience for their antics. Neither are they asked to step outside the room, so they can wander the corridors pulling goofy faces through the glass of other rooms
No. They are sent away for five hours in an isolation room. Five hours. So, if they are sent out in lesson two, they spend the rest of the day (plus an hour’s after-school detention) in isolation, as well as lesson one and two the next day. If this happens more than once in a half-term, there will be an exclusion.
There was total uproar when the students were told about this at the end of the last academic year. They threatened to leave en masse to go to other schools in the town. They said that, if none of them followed the rules, we wouldn’t be able to carry out the punishment – where were we going to put 500 ‘isolated’ students, after all?
And then we came back at the beginning of September. And something extraordinary happened. Very, very few of the students have been bucking the system. We teachers are almost disappointed that we can’t nail more of last year’s baddies – because they all seem to be behaving. The children are working so hard that we are having to replan all last year’s lessons because we are getting through more content.
But here is the real revolution. I bumped into two girls I taught last year. They had been very difficult – mouthy, truanting, rude and unwilling to work. Last week, they stopped me in the street with shining faces. ‘I’ve not been to isolation yet, Miss,’ said one with a huge smile. ‘And I’ve done all my homework.’
‘I’ve been in,’ the other admitted gloomily – but it was because of a piercing and an answering-back, rather than for the reasons that were getting her into so much trouble last year.
When I asked them why school life was so much easier for them, they said it was because they knew exactly what the expectations were. Children actually do like rules. Because these two girls, whose faces last year were twisted with rage and sourness, are on the path to better grades, and it is making them happy.
Everyone is winning.