Lancashire primary school wins approval for punishment-free policy

A Lancashire primary school has won many admirers for its sanction-free approach to pupil learning . . . and now it can add a TV star and former Fleet Street editor to that list.

During last week’s Festival of Education at Wellington College, journalist and television personality Piers Morgan was asked by Charlotte-May Tomlinson, a former pupil of Barrowford School, for his thoughts on a sanction-free school – where pupils don’t get punished.

Anthony Seldon, the headmaster of the independent Wellington, jumped in: “Does it mean you don’t have naughty children?”

To which Charlotte, now in year 7 and one of six former or current Barrowford pupils who attended the two-day festival, replied: “We don’t believe there are naughty children.”

Morgan, the former editor of the Daily Mirror and judge on America’s Got Talent, said: “As long as you learn from mistakes then I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Discipline is important but making kids accountable for their actions is much more important.”

Barrowford School, a 355-pupil primary in the former industrial town of Nelson, has been sanction-free for four years. Instead of punishment, pupils are encouraged to talk through their actions and feelings before agreeing a solution to move forward.

“Ninety-nine per cent of the time, all the children need is an apology,” head Rachel Tomlinson told Schools Week.

She explained the school’s core value was “unconditional positive regard”, adding: “It’s safe to make a mistake, in learning and in relationships. Things go wrong every day. But if they go wrong there’s no risk of the children not belonging anymore.”

Pupils have a restorative conversation if there is conflict, facilitated by teachers for younger children, to talk through what happened and how they feel.

“Our pupils are hugely emotionally literate. They can put names to their feelings, articulate them and recognise them.”

Earlier this week the Government’s new behaviour expert, Tom Bennett, spoke out in favour of excluding pupils.

He told the BBC that some schools allowed disruptive pupils to stay in the classroom, rather than exclude them, to hide bad behaviour from Ofsted inspectors.

But Ms Tomlinson said that the punishment system in schools “robs the victim and perpetrator of the things they need”.

Barrowford’s system is based on restorative justice, which focuses on the needs of victims and perpetrators, rather than just punishing the offender.

No pupil has been excluded, permanent or temporarily, in the seven years Ms Tomlinson has been at the helm.

“What’s also happened now is that lots of kids come to us who have been excluded from other schools (some in reception), and they are incredibly successful in our system.”

The school was rated good by Ofsted in 2012 with inspectors praising the “moral, social and cultural” awareness of pupils.

Barrowford has since also gone “reward-free”, with all stickers, certificates and house points scrapped.

“We used to reward positive behaviour,” Ms Tomlinson added. “But quite quickly the children told us that it was unnecessary. They learn and behave because it’s the right thing to do – it became intrinsic. It’s celebrated now, but not rewarded.”


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  1. Naomi

    How are they going to know if they have done something wrong if there is no punishment in places and that is just teaching them that they can be naughty and get away with everything

    • Kirsty

      I think you missed the point. They deal with conflict by resolving it. They don’t let children behave in any way they chose, instead they teach morality, resilience and conflict resolution. That has been highly researched and proven to be very effective indeed. Naughty children who are disciplined or thoughtful children who reflect on their actions and figure out how to not make the same wrong choice again. I think it’s clear which makes the better adult.

      • Sarah

        Exactly, resolve the conflict, talk, communicate! Don’t punish shout and isolate In a corner! What does that achieve? An angry kid with a grudge! My girl goes to Barrowford and I work in mental health, so to me this all makes perfect sense! And I have witnessed first hand the good they all do!

    • Alice

      Yes, Naomi, I’m afraid there just isn’t the body of evidence to back up that punishment works. Whereas there is for restorative justice approaches. Why is it that in old-fashioned schools it’s always the same kids in detention? Detention doesn’t work.

      • Sarah

        Detention never works! Ever! It’s a joke that becomes a game with the unruly kids who strive for attention but never get it because the teachers don’t have the time of day for them! And would rather use their power to belittle!

  2. claire

    I think this is a fabulous way of approaching behaviour and if only all schools followed suit. Ive sent evidence to my son’s school about the negatives of smilies and rewards but I think its all abit too radical for many.