Columnist: Educating Yorkshire’s Jonny Mitchell has his say on discipline

Headlines: Jonny Mitchell
Headlines: Jonny Mitchell

Thornhill Community Academy’s straight-talking headteacher Jonny Mitchell showed the world what life in the classroom is really like in the award-winning TV documentary series Educating Yorkshire.

Now he writes exclusively for the Reporter Series.

Every week he will give us his take on life in and outside school from his hometown in Dewsbury.

I don’t know about you, but I visibly shudder when someone decides it is appropriate to tell me about tackling behaviour using the line “I got caned at school and it didn’t do me any harm.”

As if I am going to head at speed back to my office, carefully remove my Swiss-Army knife and hurriedly whittle down an old cricket bat so as to extend the mighty hand of discipline to any unfortunate miscreant that might cross my path.

The problem with the whole concept of beating kids into submission shouldn’t be difficult to isolate.

It’s barbaric, yes; it’s inhumane, yes; it’s an open door to a lawsuit, yes; all of these things, in fact.

But, essentially, it is also very old-fashioned and certainly rooted in “another time”. I mean, can you imagine the reaction of most parents when I ring to tell them their offspring had been caught truanting a lesson, so I rugby-tackled him to the floor and wildly thrashed him on the backside with a crude Neanderthal whipping-stick? I can. And fifty years ago? Quite the opposite.

Corporal punishment would be supplemented by another crack round the face at home from most parents.

But it wasn’t outlawed for nothing, let me tell you. It was outlawed because it gave the power-crazy the opportunity to take up arms against the schooling-classes; “now, let that be a lesson to you, young man/lady!*” *delete as appropriate….. Oh yes, and it didn’t work.

Managing behaviour in modern schools is a reflection of managing behaviour in modern society. It’s not rocket-science. It’s all about relationships, communication, expectations, values.

And that’s not wishy-washy liberalism (yet something else I’ve been tagged as, to add to last week’s list). It’s a fact.

Kids aren’t scared of teachers, headteachers, adults. Nor should they be. They should be afraid of consequences, they should worry about what will happen to their prospects if they fall foul of the rules and boundaries.

And that is where it gets interesting.

Some schools have excellent and consistent behaviour systems, which outline exactly what happens when a child transgresses. But even these schools have sanctions which don’t always work – because school is only one cog in the wheel of education.

I can say this freely without fear of reprisal, because I am a parent of three girls, all of whom are pretty good at school and don’t get into much bother. But they cross the threshold, and a strange transformation occurs. Feet are stamped, toys are thrown, voices are raised. And I forget how to deal with it. And they get worse, and more frustrated.

Twice a year, it’s fine – “Father Christmas won’t come,” or “You can think again about your birthday party”, etc, etc, etc. Dead in their tracks. “Sorry, Daddy”, and cue the inevitable hug and “I love you the most, Daddy…” But the rest of the time, it is a minefield of negotiation, soft-soap and all that palaver.

“Enough” I cry (to myself, and certainly not loudly). Say something, and mean it. YOU WILL NOT WATCH TV for a week. YOU’RE GROUNDED for a week. Whatever it has to be.

All parents want to believe their children. I certainly do. But sometimes, tough love is the only way to operate.

If little Johnny kicks off at school, and school punishes him, then why not back it up at home? “Away with you, X-Box. Confined to the loft for a month. Bye-bye mobile phone / internet access / i-pod, i-pad….” – kids are brilliant at getting those messages.

But if you give them an inch, they are also brilliant at getting their own way. I should know – I am a sucker for it!