On Detentions: Systems Should Manage Like a Champion

“If a thing’s not worth doing well, it’s not worth doing at all.” Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh 

I was fascinated by the programme ‘Tough Young Teachers‘ that went out on BBC 3 at 9pm on 9th January. The title doesn’t do the show any favours; it reminds me of the film ‘Bright Young Things’ which was thought to be a more suitable title than ‘Vile Bodies‘, the book on which it was based. Although here the ‘Tough, Bright, Young, Teacher Things’ come from what some people in education think somewhat unfairly is the ‘Vile Body’ called ‘Teach First’. Now, I don’t want to dwell on what the programme showed because every moment could be mirrored in hundreds of classrooms up and down the country especially by beginners to the great vocation of teaching and it has been written about very eloquently by Tom Bennett here. No, what I want to talk about is what was either left on the cutting room floor or is notable by its absence: Systems. Systems that help teachers manage their time and energy effectively, not by leaving each member of staff having to get toughened up because they have been chucked in a classroom and the door shut behind them. Systems are not just about another teacher passing by and dropping in to see  what the racket was about, though this can help. Systems are in place to be used to stop everyone running around like headless chickens.

A beginning teacher reading ‘Teach Like a Champion‘, will find lots of good advice. However, if the beginning teacher is thrown in at the deep end and is given next to no support by the systems in place then no matter how much of a champion you are you will always be struggling against the odds, some will make it, many won’t.

Champion teachers are supported and  nurtured by good systems management.

I will overlook the sight of children standing up to eat like cattle in a field, though I can assure you I would want no child of mine treated in that way… what interested me most about the programme was the issue of ‘detentions’. I do not believe a beginning teacher should be faced with this ‘minefield’ at the start of their teaching career, chasing up children who don’t attend and trying to find out if hospital appointments are genuine. All this should be covered by a school behaviour policy, which should include the management of detentions. In my opinion detentions should be clearly organised and managed by the school in the following ways:

1. Departmental Detentions. These should be run by the Head of Department and or senior staff in the department once a week. These detentions should be on the same day every week, after school for an hour and where possible other departments should run theirs on different days. Staff should put children into these detentions for late work, shoddy work, no work, and/or minor misdemeanours including the dreaded ‘low level disruption’ within  lessons. There should be a clear process by which the HoD is informed and also the child and the parent/guardian. Sports fixtures, rehearsals, extra lessons after school should never take precedent. If there are any problems re: ‘Hospital Appointments’, non-attendance, etc. senior staff should deal with these.

For more serious and/or recidivist behavioural and academic issues and for problems that occur outside of classrooms and, sometimes, the school, including on social media, other detentions should be managed by Pastoral Heads, again through a system where parameters are clear as are responsibilities for chasing things up. For more serious cases detentions should take place on a Friday after school until, let’s say, 6pm and be managed by senior staff. In the case of academic issues children attending these detentions should be referred by HoDs. Even more serious misdemeanours can then be referred to the dreaded ‘Saturday Morning’ detention or through an ‘inclusion’ unit within the school.

A teacher should be able to keep children back after class for an amount of time if they feel it’s necessary and it does not disrupt that child getting to their next lesson. Teachers could call children back at the end of the day, if necessary, this can be managed by having a 10 minute ‘break’ at the end of the formal school day before clubs and detentions start. In all these cases if a child is rude, starts telling a teacher that their lessons are ‘boring’ or doesn’t turn up, staff, especially new staff, should receive the full backing of the systems in the school that should already be in place to support them.

It is very difficult to teach like a champion if there aren’t systems around you that manage like champions.

8 thoughts on “On Detentions: Systems Should Manage Like a Champion

  1. Thanks for this, Martin. I suppose the really tough question we have to ask is whether detentions end up changing behaviour, or even ‘managing’ it next time around. That’s not to say that I don’t think systems and detentions can work. However, it is where I’ve found systems often run up against issues, particularly in the ‘toughest’ schools in which I’ve taught. If a child simply doesn’t care what punishment you throw at them … where do you go next? (And often, for students with very poor behaviour, a detention is the least of their worries.) If the same child does the same behaviour in the next lesson, and in all their other lessons, then clearly the detention hasn’t worked and perhaps then we need to reflect on where we go next.

    That’s one of the lessons that I think experience teaches us about behaviour, particularly when you teach in several different kinds of schools: that it’s often a whole lot more complicated than just putting a system in place. Sometimes what happens is you push a child all the way through the system you have put in place, and they end up popping out at the other end (perhaps getting excluded) without any change ever having taken place. (I didn’t watch the programme so can’t comment on the specifics of what took place.)


    1. Hi Sue,

      Thank you for your comments.

      Of course there are issues around whether they ‘always’ work, they are something I personally used very rarely. However, the programme cited a new teacher who was having to set her own, chase up children etc. I don’t think that’s the best use of her time and energy. If a clear system is in place then children who don’t respond are picked up more easily and can be dealt with/helped more quickly. A clear policy helps the child rather than hinders them.


      1. Right. This post isn’t really about detentions: it’s about systems and good leadership. I love Alistair Smith’s observation that the role of a school leader is to strip out every demand on teachers time save that they plan and teach great lessons. Amen to that.


  2. I broadly agree but sometimes teachers can use the detention as a way of dealing with poor behaviour and expect the problem to be solved; it rarely is . Relationships ultimately matter rather than systems


  3. David Didau… Absolutely, this post was triggered by the lack of a system re: detentions and uses this as an example for what stresses occur if systems are not in place to support staff AND students. I like the Alistair Smith quote, thank you for sharing it.


  4. The system is key to ensuring there are universal sanctions and that the sanctions are understood by pupils and teachers. If the sanctions are inconsistent then so will be behaviour. Out of interest, what would be your sanction for pupil telling you the lesson was boring?


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