The recent announcement that a free school to be staffed by ex British servicemen and women has set alarm bells ringing with teachers and teaching unions. The proposed Phoenix Free School will be run using strict military style discipline, for me this immediately conjures up images of students standing to attention as their teacher inspects their homework. I’m imagining Louis Gossett jr’s Sgt Emile Foley from An Officer and a Gentleman standing nose to nose with a boy berating him for failing to hand in an essay while also demanding to know “you eyeballing me boy?” Or perhaps a Captain Mainwaring type bumblingly asking a Year 10 boy to make sure his shoes are shiny. Stupid boy.
I’m sure this isn’t what the people behind the Phoenix Free School have in mind but if they do intend to establish a school in which high standards of behaviour are maintained through a strict and unwavering set of rules they will not be doing anything new here. If this military style discipline means having a behaviour policy in which respect, courtesy and self discipline are at the heart of it then these schools already exist. What’s more they are being expertly run by, guess what? That’s right. Qualified teachers.
Children do not need the expertise of the military and their band of unqualified teachers to get them to behave. They do need a headteacher who knows exactly what kind approach to discipline is needed for the community they serve. I have worked in a school in which the approach to student discipline was likened to a boot camp by people who had never set foot in the place. Only today I saw somebody online refer to it as a jail. Why was this? Because students where expected to have black socks on? Top buttons done up? Attend Saturday morning detentions? Walk in silence to each lesson? Eat together? Such mythology around this type of school often arises. But what this school did have was a Principal and a body of staff who believed that this was the appropriate approach for the students who came through their doors everyday. The school was judged as outstanding in its last inspection.
Of course I’m not advocating this is how all schools should approach behaviour and discipline but if this is what the Phoenix Free School is suggesting then it is nothing new. There are headteachers and teachers that by having clear sets of expectations and rules; that are consistently applied by all staff who are already creating a culture and environment in which good student behaviour is the norm.