Press release

Gove gives green light to teachers to use tough sanctions to tackle bad behaviour

Updated behaviour guidelines sent to schools.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Litter picking in the playground, removing graffiti and cleaning the dining hall are all sanctions teachers should consider to clamp down on bad behaviour, Education Secretary Michael Gove has said.

There has been significant progress since 2010 on improving behaviour, with persistent absence and exclusions for abuse and assault both down significantly. However, with 700,000 pupils still in schools where behaviour is not good enough, there is much still to do.

Updated government guidelines were sent to all schools in England this week, making clear that tough but proportionate punishments, ranging from writing lines to asking pupils to report at the school gates early in the morning, are just as crucial to an effective education as praising and rewarding good behaviour.

While the previous guidelines made clear the legal backing for setting punishments, they stopped short of outlining potential sanctions - leaving many heads and teachers unclear of the action they could take, particularly with regard to misplaced health and safety fears or concern about litigation.

Almost 1 in 3 secondary teachers - tens of thousands of teachers in hundreds of schools across the country - don’t feel confident using the powers they have to discipline pupils.

Potential punishments listed in the guidance now include:

  • school-based community service - such as picking up litter or weeding school grounds, tidying a classroom, helping clear up the dining hall after meal times, or removing graffiti
  • writing lines or an essay
  • loss of privileges - for instance the loss of a prized responsibility or not being able to participate in a non-uniform day
  • being ‘on report’ for early morning and other scheduled times

Education Secretary Michael Gove said:

Our message to teachers is clear - don’t be afraid to get tough on bad behaviour and use these punishments.

The best schools already ask pupils who are behaving poorly to make it up to their teachers and fellow pupils through community service. I want more schools to follow their example by making badly behaved pupils pick up litter or help clear up the dining hall after meal times.

Standards of behaviour are already improving in schools but there is much more still to do. These new guidelines will give teachers the confidence to be tougher on bad behaviour and ensure every child has the chance to learn in a controlled, orderly environment.

Dame Sally Coates, principal of Burlington Danes Academy in West London, said:

Teachers are not able to do their jobs if pupils are not behaving properly.

So I am pleased the Department for Education is backing teachers to take action when the rules are broken.

Even low-level behaviour issues, like not having a smart appearance or good manners, are vitally important as they are crucial attributes in life.

Peter Barnes, Headteacher of Oakgrove School in Milton Keynes, said:

Some teachers do get worried about setting tough sanctions and so updated guidelines are a good idea as they show we are supported at the highest level when tackling bad behaviour. Everyone will know where they stand.

We have a very strong ethos of discipline in our school. Pupils, teachers and parents are aware of our behaviour policy and we have introduced a policy of community service where pupils who break the rules perform a task that benefits the school.

This clear and consistent policy means problems are headed off at an early stage and it provides an excellent platform for learning.

David McFadden, Headmaster of The London Oratory School, said:

A school cannot succeed without a strong behaviour policy. From support staff to headteachers, school staff need a compass by which to enforce good behaviour.

This is best done by combining rewards for proper behaviour with strong sanctions for poor behaviour.

These guidelines are a vote of confidence in the wishes and needs of teachers across the country.

Sir Dan Moynihan, CEO of the Harris Federation, a group of 13 academies, and former headteacher said:

My experience tells me that a school’s results can only be as good as the behaviour of its pupils. It is therefore important that teachers are aware of the range of sanctions available to them.

Sanctions that contribute to the community spirit and wellbeing of the school in particular should be welcomed by teachers and parents alike.

Debbie Clinton, Principal of Nunthorpe Academy in Middlesborough, said:

At Nunthorpe Academy we know how important it is for children to understand self-discipline and to have a sense of pride in their school and their community.

We frequently have children patrolling the local community picking up empty crisp packets; or scraping chewing gum from parts of our floors (although it is rare to find chewing gum in our school!), and it’s often because they have misbehaved. Our students know that if they disrupt the life of our school, they will have to make up for it in other ways.

We have always thought every school should do this, so the new guidance is very welcome. It should encourage other schools to adopt similar clear, tough but absolutely fair policies.

Tom Clark CBE, Chairman of FASNA (Freedom and Autonomy for Schools - National Association), which represents more than 1,000 autonomous state schools, said:

The new guidance provides clear, practical advice for schools around the sanctions they can use to discipline pupils.

These sanctions should be common practice in all schools. I hope this advice will give teachers greater confidence in using the powers that are available to them to deal with bad behaviour.

The government has already put teachers back in charge of the classroom with a range of reforms designed to restore their power, including allowing them to:

  • issue no-notice same-day detentions
  • search pupils without consent
  • use reasonable force to remove disruptive pupils from the classroom when necessary

Schools have also been given the final say on expulsions after removing the right of appeals panels to over-rule their decisions and put pupils back in the classroom, undermining headteachers’ authority.

These reforms have led to significant improvements in behaviour, however figures show there is still more to do:

  • almost 1 in 3 secondary school teachers (29%) do not feel confident using the powers they have to discipline pupils
  • 140,000 fewer pupils were persistently absent last year compared to 2010 to 2011, a reduction of a third. However, there are still more than 300,000 children regularly missing school
  • more than three-quarters of pupils want tougher discipline for students who misbehave, according to research by Pearson and Teach First

Notes to editors

Read the updated guidance ‘Behaviour and discipline in schools’.

DfE enquiries

Published 5 February 2014