Does strict discipline pay off in the classroom?

A new study published in the International Journal of Educational Management says classrooms should return to the more strict discipline approach that was pushed out by “permissive” education in the 1970s.

In the study, ‘School discipline, school uniforms and academic performance’, researchers crunched OECD data on classroom discipline, finding that strict, high-discipline countries were the highest performing countries academically. 

The lead author of both studies, associate professor, Chris Baumann, from Macquarie University, told The Sydney Morning Herald that school uniforms also correlate with better discipline in the classroom.

“The argument does not mean that we have to be super strict, of course we have to care for our students and have a loving approach,” said Baumann.

“However, it does seem that discipline has been overlooked a bit.”

Dr Anna Sullivan, a senior lecturer in Education at the University of South Australia, says that when it comes to disciplinary practices in the classroom, many of the commonly used methods for mending broken teacher-student relationships and addressing students’ misbehaviour are not working.

She told The Educator that rather than having a heavy-handed approach, schools should instead focus on relational aspects and take a more educational – rather than managerial approach – to discipline in the classroom.

“The harsh reactions to student behaviour tend to come from the taken-for-granted notions of what is understood to be common sense,” she said.

“Schools are intended to be ‘safe’ and some people think that safety comes from close monitoring and swift responses to restore ‘order’. Such responses are intended to demonstrate that schools are in control and can ensure safety.”

Sullivan said this view has dominated thinking about discipline for so long that “people just expect it and schools just do it.”

The ‘step system’ is not working

Around 85% of teachers in a recent survey indicated that they had used a “step system” involving an escalation of actions during the last week of teaching.

Sullivan said there’s little evidence to support such exclusionary approaches. If used regularly, removing students from their learning as a behaviour management practice violates a child’s right to an education.

Another longstanding practice used in schools is the “ripple effect”, where teachers reprimand students in front of others, or keep public records of students who are non-compliant to influence behaviour.

However, research now shows that there are other ways in which schools can adopt approaches to discipline that are more humane and caring.

“These approaches are more complex and focus on prevention. In fact, these schools don’t focus on discipline, but rather on doing schooling differently so that students aren’t managed but educated,” she said.

“Schools in the Behaviour at School Study found that after changing their focus, they were able to get rid of timeout and detention rooms and that the schools became much more friendly and welcoming places for everyone.”