Collective punishment: fair or farce?

Collective punishment: fair or farce?

There are growing calls for the practice of collective punishment in schools to be banned in all states and territories.

Collective punishment is a disciplinary method that involves the entire class suffering due to the misbehaviour of one student. The practice was put to a stop in Tasmania after a Devonport parent complained to the state’s education department.

The parent called for the other states and territories to follow Tasmania’s lead in restricting collective punishment in classrooms.

Dr Jonathon Sargeant, senior lecturer in inclusive education and classroom management at the Australian Catholic University (ACU), said mass punishment can actually do more damage than the actual intention.

"Collective punishment may communicate a teacher’s dissatisfaction with the behaviour of certain individuals but as a preventative technique there is limited effect," Dr Sargeant told The Educator.

"While the law and order view of fairness that everyone should get the same, is simple to understand, the negative social consequences can be far reaching."  

He said that teachers who are not well-enough prepared initially in the behaviour management aspect of their work can practice methods that have more to do with suppressing disruption than teaching children to communicate their wants and needs in more socially safe ways.

"It is important for teachers to make an intentional plan to act and think in ways that are based on good intervention practices such as PBS rather than reacting to the anger or frustration they may feel ‘in the moment’," Dr Sargeant said.

"Prevention of behaviour disorder and scaffolding for robust emotional health needs to be the objective of every school program." 

Berwick Lodge Primary School principal, Henry Grossek, slammed the idea of collective punishment as “counterproductive”. 

“As a student, I hated it and it rarely worked. Extend it to adult society and what would be the result?” Grossek told The Educator.

Grossek pointed to passengers of a speeding driver as one example.

“If the driver of a car speeds and is caught by a policeman, should we also formally punish the passengers, simply on the basis of association?” he asked.

Grossek said teachers sometimes forget to put themselves in students’ shoes because they become detached from the experience of being a child.

“As teachers and leaders, we should never forget what it was like to be a student, and that’s called high-level emotional intelligence,” he said.

“With the best of intentions, educators think of children as being logical adults and more mature than what they actually are, and we get impatient, but kids are kids for a very good reason, and that’s because they’re learning – just like we did.”

Grossek said collective punishment can damage the perception that students have towards teachers when teachers should be trying to promote this perception.

“Group punishment is not seen as fair by students, so teachers who engage in this practice are actually doing the opposite in terms of relationship building with children than what they should be doing, which is trying to build a positive relationship,” he said.

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said the practice of collective punishment "is not consistent with Department policy, nor is it in line with contemporary educational perspectives on managing or supporting student behaviour in a schooling context".

"The Department's Student Discipline in Government Schools Policy requires the state's public schools to incorporate strategies and practices across the school to promote positive student behaviour, as well as specific strategies to maintain a climate of respect," the spokesman told The Educator.

"Maintaining good discipline and a positive school and classroom climate requires attention to many factors including the consideration of respect, equity and fairness. The Department endorses strategies and practices that reflect these important values."
In a statement provided to The Educator, the South Australian Education Department said "the policy and regulatory requirements in public schools are for teachers to consider the individual circumstances of each child when responding to behaviour". 

A spokesman for Queensland's Education Department said decisions about classroom management are "determined by classroom teachers, reflecting the standards and responses outlined in the Responsible Behaviour Plan for Students". 

"The decision to use collective punishment for classes in Queensland state schools is at the professional judgment of the classroom teacher, relevant to the particular situation," the spokesman told The Educator.

"Teachers are highly skilled professionals who have the knowledge and expertise to make assessments about effective classroom management, tailored individual needs and differentiated instruction." 

A spokesperson for the Western Australian Education Department said "every public school has its own behaviour management policy and sets expectations about positive student behaviour".

"Support is always provided to individual students who may need it," the spokesperson said.