School discipline

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Not to be confused with Academic discipline.

A Harper's Weekly cover from 1898 shows a caricature of school discipline.
This Punishment Book, from the school attended by Henry Lawson, is one of the earliest surviving examples of this type of record.

School discipline is a required set of actions by a teacher towards a student (or groups of students) after the student's behaviour disrupts the ongoing educational activity or breaks a pre-established rule created by the school system. Discipline guides the children's behaviour or sets limits to help them learn to take care of themselves, other people and the world around them.[1]

An obedient student is in compliance with the school rules and codes of conduct. These rules may, for example, define the expected standards of clothing, timekeeping, social conduct, and work ethic. The term discipline is also applied to the punishment that is the consequence of breaking the rules. The aim of discipline is to set limits restricting certain behaviors or attitudes that are seen as harmful or going against school policies, educational norms, school traditions, etc..[1]

The Importance of Discipline

Disciplining children is important to create a safe and fun learning environment. Discipline requires knowledge, skill, sensitivity and self-confidence; like any art, it is something that will acquire through training and experience; it becomes easier with practice. Many people confuse discipline with classroom management; discipline is one dimension of classroom management and classroom management is a general term. [2]

Discipline was brought up due to misbehaving students. Students misbehave because of the lack of engagement and stimulation, a rigid definition of acceptable behaviors and lack of attention and love.

  • Lack of engagement and stimulation - Students are curious and constantly searching for meaning and stimulation. Classes that are too one-dimensional, that fails to involve students sufficiently, are too challenging or are very much information heavy. Leaving little room for discussion and consideration will not satisfy students' curiosities or needs for authentic intellectual stimulation. [3]
  • A rigid definition of acceptable behavior - Most students, particularly older ones, are asked to sit at their desks for many minutes at a time and listen, read/and or take notes. Teachers who fail to offer opportunities and movement and interpersonal engagement are likelier to have to use strictness and rules to maintain law and order.[3]
  • Lack of attention and love - When students fail to receive the attention that they crave, they are likelier to find other ways to get it, even if it means drawing negative attention to themselves and even consequences. The more teachers do not let their students know how much they care about them and value their work, the likelier they are to respect a teacher's request and conform to their expectation.[3]


School discipline practices are generally informed by theory from psychologists and educators. There are a number of theories to form a comprehensive discipline strategy for an entire school or a particular class.

  • Positive approach is grounded in teachers' respect for students. Instills in students a sense of responsibility by using youth/adult partnerships to develop and share clear rules, provide daily opportunities for success, and administer in-school suspension for noncompliant students. Based on Glasser's Reality Therapy. Research (e.g., Allen) is generally supportive of the PAD program.[4]
  • Teacher effectiveness training differentiates between teacher-owned and student-owned problems, and proposes different strategies for dealing with each. Students are taught problem-solving and negotiation techniques. Researchers (e.g., Emmer and Aussiker) find that teachers like the programme and that their behaviour is influenced by it, but effects on student behaviour are unclear.[4]
  • Adlerian approaches is an umbrella term for a variety of methods which emphasize understanding the individual's reasons for maladaptive behavior and helping misbehaving students to alter their behavior, while at the same time finding ways to get their needs met. Named for psychiatrist Alfred Adler. These approaches have shown some positive effects on self-concept, attitudes, and locus of control, but effects on behavior are inconclusive (Emmer and Aussiker).[4] Not only were the statistics on suspensions and vandalism significant, but also the recorded interview of teachers demonstrates the improvement in student attitude and behaviour, school atmosphere, academic performance, and beyond that, personal and professional growth.[5]
  • Appropriate school learning theory and educational philosophy is a strategy for preventing violence and promoting order and discipline in schools, put forward by educational philosopher Daniel Greenberg[6] and practised by the Sudbury Valley School.[7][8][9]

Corporal punishment

Throughout the history of education the most common means of maintaining discipline in schools was corporal punishment. While a child was in school, a teacher was expected to act as a substitute parent, with many forms of parental discipline or rewards open to them. This often meant that students were commonly chastised with the birch, cane, paddle, strap or yardstick if they did something wrong.

Corporal punishment in schools has now disappeared from most Western countries, including all European countries. Thirty-one U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia have banned it, most recently New Mexico in 2011. The other nineteen states (mostly in the South) continue to allow corporal punishment in schools. Paddling is still used to a significant (though declining) degree in some public schools in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. Private schools in these and most other states may also use it, though many choose not to do so.

A cartoon picture that shows students receiving "Corporal Punishment."

Official corporal punishment, often by caning, remains commonplace in schools in some Asian, African and Caribbean countries.

Most mainstream schools in most other countries retain punishment for misbehavior, but it usually takes non-corporal forms such as detention and suspension.

In China, school corporal punishment was completely banned under the Article 29 of the Compulsory Education Act of the People's Republic of China, but in practice, beating by schoolteachers are still common,especially in rural areas.

In Australia, school corporal punishment has been banned in most states.

  • New South Wales (NSW) - Corporal punishment was banned in government schools in 1990 and in non-government schools in 1995.[10]
  • Queensland (QLD) - Repealed provisions that allowed for corporal punishment in state schools in 1989.[10]
  • Victoria (VIC) - Corporal punishment was banned in government schools in 1985 and in non-government schools in 2006.[10]
  • Tasmania (TAS) - Corporal punishment was banned in both government and non-government schools in 1999.[10]
  • Australian Capital Territory (ACT) - Corporal punishment was banned in all schools in 1997.[10]
  • Northern Territory (NT) - Currently there is not legislation banning corporal punishment in government schools but in 2009, it was banned in non-government schools as a part of school registration requirements.[10]
  • South Australia (SA) - Repealed provisions that allowed for corporal punishment in schools in 1991.[10]
  • Western Australia (WA) - Corporal punishment was banned in government schools in 1999, regulations do not extend to non-government schools.[10]


Detention is one of the most common punishments in schools in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Singapore, Canada, Australia, South Africa and some other countries. It requires the pupil to report to a designated area of the school during a specified time on a school day (typically either recess or after school) and remain there for a specified period of time, but also may require a pupil to report to that part of school at a certain time on a non-school day, e.g. "Saturday detention" at some US, UK, and Irish schools (especially for serious offenses not quite serious enough for suspension).

Typically, in schools in the US, UK, and Singapore, if one misses a detention, then another is added or the student gets a more serious punishment. In UK schools, for offenses too serious for a normal detention but not serious enough for a detention requiring the pupil to return to school at a certain time on a non-school day, a detention can require a pupil to return to school 1–2 hours after school ends on a school day, e.g. "Friday Night Detention".[11]

In Germany detention is less common. In some states like Baden-Württemberg there is detention to rework missed school hours, but in others like Rheinland-Pfalz it is prohibited by law. In schools where some classes are held on Saturdays, pupils may get detention on a Saturday even if it is a non-school day for them.

In China, long-time detention is less common than in the US, the UK, Ireland, Singapore, Canada, Australia, South Africa and some other countries. Short-time detention by schoolteachers is still common, but usually lasts no more than 3 to 5 hours.[citation needed]

In Australia,[12] the policy for school detention: the principal must consider circumstances when determining what a reasonable time and place for detention entails and make sure that any special conditions relating to the imposition of detention are specified in the school's 'Student Engagement Policy'. The conditions that schools must ensure is that: no more than half time of recess is used for detention and where students are kept after school, parents should be informed at least the day before detention and should not exceed for 45 minutes. [13]


Suspension or temporary exclusion is mandatory leave assigned to a student as a form of punishment that can last anywhere from one day to a few weeks, during which time the student is not allowed to attend regular lessons. In some US, UK, Australian and Canadian schools, there are two types of suspension: In-School (ISS or Internal Exclusion) and Out-of-School (OSS). In-school requires the student to report to school as usual but attend a designated suspension classroom or room all day.[14] Out-of-school suspension bans the student from being on school grounds during school hours while school is in session.[15] Schools are often required to notify the student's parents/guardians of the reason for and duration of the out-of-school suspension, and usually also for in-school suspensions.[16] Suspended students are often required to continue to learn and complete assignments from the days in which they miss instruction.[16] In some British schools, there is a reverse as well as normal suspension. A pupil suspended is sent home for a period of time set. A pupil reverse suspended is required to be at school during the holidays. Sometimes pupils have to complete work while reverse suspended.


Main article: Expulsion (education)

Expulsion, exclusion, withdrawing, or permanent exclusion terminates the student's education. This is the ultimate last resort, when all other methods of discipline have failed. However, in extreme situations, it may also be used for a single offense.[17] Some education authorities have a nominated school in which all excluded students are collected; this typically has a much higher staffing level than mainstream schools. In some US public schools, expulsions and exclusions are so serious that they require an appearance before the Board of Education or the court system. In the UK, head teachers may make the decision to exclude, but the student's parents have the right of appeal to the local education authority. It was completely banned for compulsory schools in China. This has proved controversial in cases where the head teacher's decision has been overturned (and his or her authority thereby undermined), and there are proposals to abolish the right of appeal.[citation needed]

Expulsion from a private school is a more straightforward matter, since the school can merely terminate its contract with the parents if the pupil does not have siblings in the same school.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "What is Discipline?". Retrieved 17 May 2016. 
  2. "What is Discipline?". Retrieved 7 May 2016. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Why Kids Misbehave in Classrooms". The Huffington Post. 26 May 2015. Retrieved 7 May 2016. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Cotton (December 1990). "Schoolwide and Classroom Discipline". School Improvement Research Series. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. 5. )
  5. Efficacy of Class Meetings in Elementary Schools, Ann Roeder Platt, B.A., California State University, Sacramento. The University of San Francisco, The Effectiveness of Alderian Parent and Teacher Study Groups in Changing Child Maladaptive Behavior in a Positive Direction. Jane Nelsen
  6. Greenberg, 1987
  7. The Sudbury Valley School (1970). Law and Order: Foundations of Discipline, The Crisis in American Education — An Analysis and a Proposal. (p. 49-55). Retrieved 10 February 2010.
  8. Greenberg, D. (1987). With Liberty and Justice for All, Free at Last, The Sudbury Valley School. Retrieved 10 February 2010.
  9. Greenberg, D. (1987). Back to Basics, The Sudbury Valley School Experience. Retrieved 10 February 2010.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 "Federal Government rules out return of corporal punishment, after curriculum adviser says it can be 'very effective'". ABC NEWS. 16 July 2014. Retrieved 7 May 2016. 
  11. "Behaviour and discipline in schools: Guidance for governing bodies". Department for Education (UK). 17 July 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2015. 
  12. Training, Department of Education and. "Detentions". Retrieved 15 May 2016. 
  13. "Detention". Retrieved 15 May 2016. 
  14. Skiba, Russel (2006). "Zero tolerance, suspension, and expulsion: Questions of equity and effectiveness". In Evertson, C.M. Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues. Erlbaum. pp. 1063–1092. 
  15. "Discipline Policy and Procedures" (PDF). Delran Township School District, New Jersey. Retrieved 25 January 2009. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force (2008). "Are zero tolerance policies effective in the schools? An evidentiary review and recommendations". American Psychologist. 63: 852–862. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.63.9.852. 
  17. "Improving Behaviour and Attendance: Guidance on Exclusion from Schools and Pupil Referral Units" (PDF), Teachernet, Department for Children, Schools and Families, England, retrieved 25 January 2009 


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