Someone recently asked about how schools are using detentions. This led me to consider how far the school I teach in has progressed in the last 10 years. I teach in a high school in Belfast. When I began teaching there, one hour detentions were very common and staff were on a rota to take detention twice a week.
On detention afternoon pupils would pile into a classroom and be given a task that would not be very specific to their learning needs. The numbers kept rising and teachers’ became tired writing out detention slips. Parents were generally very supportive and did not really question the use of detention, it just happened and the majority pupils did it. Senior Leaders would be quite often use up their valuable time trying to find a ‘absconders’.
Numbers kept rising and when staff were asked the clear message was that it was not benefitting the pupils or staff. Instead of pupils undertaking meaningful or reflective work, they were undertaking meaningless tasks. One thing that was clear was that – the system wasn’t working!
We took the opportunity of a move to an innovative, new school building and to make a fresh start. Short 15 minute pastoral and departmental detentions remained for things such as forgotten homeworks but 1 hour detentions were transformed.
Firstly, detention was renamed as ‘Study Support’. This then changed perceptions amongst pupils, parents and staff that this was extra time that pupils were using to learn!
Secondly, a more defined structure was put in place that made ‘Study Support’ harder to get in to. This gave staff more ownership of the issues that they were placing pupils into detention for. In order to place a pupil into “Study Support” staff must first outline what they have done to try to resolve the issue and have completed a 15 minute departmental detention, discuss with their Head of Department or Head of Year the situation, phoned home and only after this could a pupil be placed in ‘Study Support’ which is led by a member of the Senior Leadership Team. When putting a pupil into ‘Study Support’ the teacher must provide meaningful and productive work for the pupil to do.
I feel that this really made teachers consider the reasons why they were being put into ‘Study Support’ and the number of detentions dramatically reduced year by year as pupils started to realise that there was a clear chain of consequences. We also found that parents became more engaged. Even if they were phoning to query the reason for the ‘Study Support’, this was a great opportunity to onboard them in helping us support their child’s learning.
One resource that I found useful for pupil who had been put in for a pastoral reason, such as truancy, was a reflective journal. This made them think about what they did, why they did it, what could have happened and considerations for the future. This not only helped the pupils learn from their mistake, but also highlighted to us on several occasions about other pastoral issues – i.e. why they didn’t come to school in the first place.
We went from having nearly 50 pupils in detention per week to approximately 5 pupils per week. This term has had a very good start and we have only had 4 pupils in ‘Study Support’ since the beginning of September. This system has really transformed the number of detentions and general pastoral system in the school.
Moving forward there are lots of considerations for all schools. Does detention really matter? Does it make that much of a difference? Are there other consequences that are more effective? Is this benefitting pupils? There is no easy answer and every school is going to be different.
In closing, the best advice I can give no matter what your school decides is to ‘make it meaningful’. There is no point in a child sitting in front of you wasting time. Grab every learning opportunity there is to grab, and make awesome use of it!
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