Well, all I can say is that I hope you are counting. How many times have you praised your out-of-control
little monster today? If government advice on school discipline published last week applies, as logically
it should, in the home, then parents across the country will need to keep a constant check on their
response to the undesirable behaviour of their offspring.
Five to one is the ratio of praise to punishment, ladies and gentlemen. Criticise rarely; keep punishment
to the barest possible minimum; praise and reward however monstrous the offence. Follow the latest
ministerial guidance and your children will understand the difference between right and wrong and learn
to act with adult responsibility in every circumstance. Just pat them on the head and tell them how
wonderful they are.
I have no idea how long it took to produce last week’s bulky guidance, but I can guess: months.
Experts from across the country will have travelled first class to meeting after meeting. They will
have been wined and dined, and, their deliberations finally brought to a carefully minuted close, they
will have laid their weary heads onto the pillow of some five star hotel. Who knows what it all cost?
Nobody will ever ask, and, in any case, Alan Johnson, the education secretary, will have generated a
headline or two, so who cares?
Do teachers need to be told that praise can motivate? Do politicians and their advisers really think
they have access to a fund of practical wisdom and advice that has somehow eluded those who actually do
Of course it is important to praise children, and, looking back as a parent and a teacher, I would be
the first to admit that I probably did not praise enough. Few of us do. Time and again, as an inspector,
I can remember watching a flicker of disappointment cross a child’s face when the teacher more or less
ignored their answer to a question. A little recognition goes a long way, and everyone who has
responsibility for children needs to remind themselves of this commonsense truth.
To that extent the government’s advice is sensible. How, though, did it come up with this 5:1 statistic?
Did Johnson’s officials sit in classrooms checking out the ratio of praise to punishment? I very much
doubt it. This is a finger-in-the-wind generalisation that is meaningless in any specific circumstance.
Meaningless, and, what is worse, insidious. Yes, children should be praised when they do something good.
To suggest it is somehow wrong to punish them when they do something bad, or, more dangerous still,
actually to reward unacceptable behaviour, is to send a message that is not so much stupid as dangerous.
Children need boundaries. They need to know what they are allowed to do and what they are not allowed
to do. And they need to understand that if they choose to break the rules the consequences are unpleasant.
Talk to any head teacher who has turned round a failing school. The first thing they will tell you is that
had to deal with pupils who would not accept the conventions of normal schooling. Without order, nothing.
It is not rocket science.
Punctuality, attendance, uniform, behaviour: the heads would make their expectations clear, and they
would ensure everyone knew what would happen to those who stepped out of line. Good behaviour would be
praised and bad behaviour punished. Make the rules clear and apply them fairly. Children know where they
are and teachers can start teaching again.
Source: The Sunday Times of April 15, 2007