What To Do When You Disagree with School Discipline Policies

Many parents (particularly those who follow gentle parenting principles) struggle with the discipline policies at their child’s school, but what should you do if you find yourself in this position? The following is an excerpt from a section of my ‘The Starting School Book’ concerning this issue.

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Some of my top tips include:

1. You have to come from a position of understanding the limitations faced by the school and the teachers. Remember to approach any discussions with them with the mutual respect, understanding, empathy, collaboration and open and honest communication we mentioned at the start of this chapter, however, keep your goals realistic. The school are not going to change their whole approach to discipline based on your discussion, but they may agree to look at one very small aspect of it. Here, pick your battles, go for the smallest section that bothers you the most, rather than trying to change the world.

2. Be your child’s advocate. Be prepared to stand up for your child and their rights, even when you feel uncomfortable doing do. Your child needs you to be their voice and in their corner. Always approach discussions with the school as a team with your child.

3. Your child’s class teacher should always be your first port of call. If you still have concerns after speaking with them the next step is to request a meeting with the deputy or head teacher. Of, if your concerns are about SEND (or potential ones), ask to meet with the schools SENCo. Make sure you write down your concerns before heading into the meeting and take notes while you are in there. You could also follow this meeting up with an email detailing the key points discussed, ask them to place a printout in your child’s file. Emails create paper trails that are much harder to ignore.

4. Consider joining your school’s board of governors. Sometimes it is easier to petition for change from the inside.

5. Consider how you can ameliorate any negative impact at home. Remember right at the start of this book, we discussed that you were and always will be, the most important influence on your child? Children are resilient and we can make them more so. If you focus on unconditional support at home and you act as your child’s sounding board and champion, then a few days on a sad cloud or red traffic light, and a handful of superficial certificates really will have a negligible effect. Discuss how a certificate made a child feel, ask if they felt proud and say “ah, we don’t need certificates to show that do we? It’s what we feel inside that matters the most and I’m *always* proud of you”. Teach them to feel pride in their efforts as well as their accomplishments and help them to realise that they are always safe to discharge their difficult emotions with you at home. You can also discuss why schools need to use behavioural control you don’t use at home, explaining to your child that because schools have so many children to care for they have to do things you don’t use or agree with at home.

Ultimately, you have very little control over how schools do things, but you have total control over how you do things at home and that is always far more important.

While I am happy to compromise on most school discipline, there are two forms that I cannot ever support. Attendance Awards and Clean Plate Certificates. Awarding children for having a high attendance at school (usually in the region of ninety-eight to one hundred percent) and thus punishing those children who do not have good attendance for whatever reason is a ludicrous and wicked scheme. Children have no control over whether they are sick, they have no control over whether their parents struggle for whatever reason to get them into school and they have no control over other issues that may prevent them attending. Effectively punishing a child who has a chronic health condition, requiring multiple medical appointments, one who has been unlucky enough to contract several infectious illnesses in a term, or one whose parents are separating, experiencing financial problems or health problems of there is mean and short-sighted. These schemes do far more harm than good and they should be stopped immediately. My firstborn has an autoimmune disorder meaning he regularly missed school for consultant appointments and because he was too sick to attend, thankfully these attendance schemes didn’t exist when he had just started school (though he was unfortunate enough to run into them as he progressed through school). If they had this would have been an issue that I would have raised immediately and taken as far as I needed to take it to be heard. It is discriminatory and highly damaging.

My other non-compromised form of school reward was stickers or certificates given for ‘eating well’ or clearing dinner plates. These awards encourage over-eating and non-mindful eating, which as children grow, can turn into severe eating disorders. My daughter once left school with an “I ate all my lunch up today” sticker and I immediately asked the school to never reward (or punish or chastise) her for her eating again. I don’t think they realised just how damaging one little sticker could be, because from that day onwards I didn’t see any other eating related stickers or certificates again.

My Starting School Book can be ordered HERE in the UK and HERE in the rest of the world.


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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