Williamson calls for silent corridors and banned mobiles ‘to be the norm’

Education secretary Gavin Williamson wants the school culture created by behaviour policies such as silent corridors and banning mobile phones to “be the norm”.

The comments follow the Departments for Education’s announcement it will be launching a new £10 million behaviour taskforce to tackle classroom disruption and unruly behaviour.

It’s the latest sign of the Conservative government making clear it wants stricter discipline in schools. Prime minister Boris Johnson has previously pledged to give headteachers the “powers they need to deal with bad behaviour”.

Williamson said this morning that the country’s best schools all had discipline “in common” and praised schools which had banned mobile phones, implemented silent corridors and teachers escorting pupils to classes after breaks.

Pointing to “Michaela – Britain’s strictest school” as an example, he said: “Reading and writing exercises are conducted in silence, and pupils are given demerits for things like forgetting their pens or slouching in class. Last summer, Michaela’s pupils – many of them from disadvantaged backgrounds – famously triumphed in their GCSEs”.

He added such measures would also improve teacher morale and retention.

“Poor behaviour is dreadful for teacher morale . . . having to deal with unruly pupils and disruption on a daily basis adds to their workload and stress and is driving many from the profession they love.

“Those teachers deserve better, and they have the full support of the Government to impose discipline in their classrooms and create calm and nurturing environments for teaching.”

Stricter rules would also improve pupil outcomes, Williamson claimed, and allow pupils to “fulfil their full academic potential” as “it takes just one incident of bad behaviour to derail an entire lesson.”

Earlier this week former teacher-turned-Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis praised zero-tolerance behaviour polices during a Westminster Hall debate on exclusions, calling on such schools to be “unreservedly celebrated” for ensuring staff aren’t “treated as punch bags”.

But such policies have proved controversial in the sector. The National Education Union previously described them as “draconian” and “inhumane”.

The union’s national conference last year heard claims that such approaches lead to pupils being “informally excluded from classrooms” and to pupils spending “inappropriate and harmful amounts of time” in isolation.


Williamson’s text full:

Visit some of the country’s best performing schools, and you’ll notice that many of them have one thing in common: discipline. Across the UK, dedicated head teachers have been trying all sorts of common-sense solutions to curb unruly behaviour and low-level disruption in the classroom – with impressive results.

Some have banned mobile phones, asking students to place them in lockers at the start of the day. Others, like the City of London Academies, have implemented lining up, with teachers quietly escorting pupils in some years to class after break and lunch. This ensures the class stays together, lessons start on time and the corridors are silent – allowing classes to continue without disruption.

At Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford, students, with the support of their families, agree to a number of learning habits, like making sure they are in the correct simple uniform every day, that they always respond appropriately to adults and they bring all the necessary equipment to class.

And of course there’s Michaela, Britain’s “strictest school”. Reading and writing exercises are conducted in silence, and pupils are given demerits for things like forgetting their pens or slouching in class. Last summer, Michaela’s pupils – many of them from disadvantaged backgrounds – famously triumphed in their GCSEs.

These schools are achieving great things thanks in part to the calm, disciplined and nurturing environments they have created. As part of our ambitious plans to level up across the country, I want this kind of culture to be the norm, particularly in the one in three schools judged as not having good enough behaviour by Ofsted.

Improving discipline is one of our key priorities, which is why we are today inviting schools with the best records on behaviour to join a team of experts and lead a £10 million programme to improve discipline across the system.

We plan to build partnerships between schools which are leading on this issue with those who want to turn their own cultures around, allowing institutions with poor behaviour to learn from those with the best. They’ll be led by former teacher and behaviour expert Tom Bennett, along with a team of current and former headteachers with broad experience of creating disciplined environments in their own schools.

Why have we made this a priority? Well, first, because poor behaviour is dreadful for teacher morale. Our teachers are incredibly hardworking and dedicated professionals. Having to deal with unruly pupils and disruption on a daily basis adds to their workload and stress and is driving many from the profession they love. Teachers say such disruption is one of the key reasons they would consider leaving the job, while almost a fifth of those working in secondary schools said they lacked confidence in their school’s ability to deal with challenging behaviour.

Those teachers deserve better, and they have the full support of the Government to impose discipline in their classrooms and create calm and nurturing environments for teaching.

But perhaps most importantly, instilling good behaviour in our classrooms would bring the most benefit to pupils themselves, no matter who they are or where they come from. Ill-discipline doesn’t just hold back the brightest pupils, but those most in need of attention, and those who are most likely to fall behind in school when their education is disrupted.

Like everyone else in their class, those pupils deserve to be taught in an environment where they can be challenged so they can fulfil their full academic potential. Being taught the tenets of good manners, courtesy and respect for others is also immensely valuable for pupils as they learn to cope with complex relationships in adult society. This can also help turn around local areas as the emerging generation take on leadership roles in their communities.

We already have some of the best teachers in the world, and a truly stretching curriculum. But it takes just one incident of bad behaviour to derail an entire lesson. By backing schools to tackle such behaviour, we can finally put teachers in a position to focus on what they do best – to teach.

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  1. Matthew Clements-Wheeler

    Whilst I support an agenda that seeks to (re)normalise good manners and respect for others, I fear that this national culture must start at the top. The behaviour of politicians and our national leaders sometimes falls a long way short of what Williamson rightly asserts here should be the norm for schoolchildren.

    Can we assume therefore that Williamson will be exhorting the entire cabinet to model these behaviours in the Commons to set the tone from now on?

    “No slouching in your seat Rees-Mogg… Pay attention Johnson…no talking at the back… the (division) bell is for me and not for you….”

  2. Bad behaviour should be managed as it arises not blanket policies that punish everyone to prevent it

    This in particular is restricting our children too much so much is expected of them for hours, breaks have been cut and they have to concentrate for long periods of time our style of teaching is so backwards and ridged. They are not little soldiers. In the work place you are not expected to do these things .

    They need to blow off and wind down a little bit inbetween lessons in order to concentrate and get through them..

    Dear lord we are suffocating our children

    • A Teacher

      Laura, are you seriously suggesting that a school would be better without a policy of sanctions and praise?

      If by ‘blowing off and winding down’ you mean ruining a lesson – I would have to disagree.

  3. I can reassure the profession that @GavinWilliamson has not visited enough schools to be able to recommend that silent corridors are the way forward.

    What a load of nonsense…

    And when is someone going to point out to the policy wonks that there is NO robust evidence to suggest that zero tolerance works:

    Nada. Zilch. Yep, that’s no robust studies.

    Dear Gavin, any decent policies coming under your leadership to resolve the retention crisis?

  4. Mark Watson

    I’ve just actually read what Gavin Williamson said. I wonder how many of the above commentators have done this. I’m pretty sure the SchoolsWeek journalist didn’t. At no point whatsoever did he “call for silent corridors and banned mobiles to be the norm”.

    What he actually called for was for “calm, disciplined and nurturing environments” to be the norm. I’d challenge any of the ranters above to present a cogent argument that disagrees with this wish.

    He did refer to specific examples of how certain schools operated – silent corridors, no mobile phones, correct uniform, no slouching etc – but there is absolutely on call for schools to slavishly follow one or more of these example. What he said is that he wanted “institutions with poor behaviour to learn from those with the best”. That doesn’t mean implement exactly the same policies, it means see what other good practice is and implement those parts that you think will work at your school.

    • ‘ I’d challenge any of the ranters above to present a cogent argument that disagrees with this wish.’
      Come on Mr. Watson! You have had a little rant of your own from time to time. Good for you. Nothing wrong with that.
      The Minister in post does not manage but leads and holds to account at best. Ofsted is under pressure for over reaching its mandate. If the Minister becomes too didactic where does that leave the auditor – Ofsted? If school leaders are to be meaningfully held to account they need to determine how to lead without micro suggestion. If it works – award them. If it does not – hold them to account. Secs of State lasts eighteen months two years at best.

    • Mark – I, too, have read what Williamson said. But two of the three schools (Dixon’s Trinity, Michaela) both have ‘no excuses’ policies.
      When Williamson spoke of ‘calm, disciplined and nurturing environments’ he linked back to his three examples which were ‘achieving great things’, thanks in part to the disciplined environment they had created.
      This implies the kind of discipline policy they have is the one that should become the norm.
      His third example, City of London Academies, didn’t do ‘great things’ if judged on Progress 8. It scored below average.
      Progress 8 is, of course, an inexact measure of the education a school offers. It’s influenced, as you’d expect, by the proportion of pupils who achieved highly (or not) in Sats. In the case, of City of London, the number of schools included (three) is too small to come to any reliable conclusion about the performance of the trust as a whole.
      Williamson links the obvious point about the necessity of discipline with a subliminal message that this can only be achieved by ‘no excuses’. While this strategy may work in a particular school with particular pupils, it won’t work everywhere.

  5. Other news outlets did the same: Sky, TES, Express (accompanied by video of a fight outside a school and a picture of a boy about to thump another one). Gavin’s announcement appeared in full in the Telegraph with a picture of Kathryn Birbalshingh, head of Michaela.
    I think we get the message – mobile phones out, silent corridors in, ‘no excuses’ is the best.
    (I’d provide links but the comment would get stuck)

  6. I am surprised to read comments from teachers that decry the idea of tighter discipline. Children need discipline and too often do not get this at home so it becomes difficult in the classroom. This does not mean that we should give up and take a less authoritarian approach. Teachers are in charge. Pupils will one day need to cope with a work environment that requires discipline. It’s not all pals together and persuasion by being popular.

    • Mark Watson

      Thank you Ben. I would suggest this is precisely the reaction of the vast majority of the population outside the “professional bubble” of teachers / SchoolsWeek commentators.

      It’s why I challenged anyone to object to what he actually said, i.e. for schools to be “calm, disciplined and nurturing environments”. Needless to say no-one took me up on this, and instead chose to continue their hobby horse demonisation of the usual suspects (Michaela etc.)

      • Mark – I refer you to my replies above. The subliminal message was clear and was interpreted as such by other sections of the media.
        Williamson has linked a sensible comment (that schools should be ‘calm, disciplined and nurturing’) with praise for the zero-tolerance policies of two particular schools.
        As for mention of the ‘usual suspects, in particular Michaela, ministers constantly praise this school while ignoring other, equally outstanding, schools.
        This is nothing new, Gove also had his favourites some of which have fallen from their exalted status. And Liz Truss once praised Great Yarmouth Primary Academy (part of the Inspiration Trust, set up by schools minister Lord Agnew) for being upgraded from Satisfactgory/RI to good. But she not only ignored 15 other schools which had done the same in the same week, but didn’t notice that three schools had actually improved from RI to Outstanding. They received no ministerial accolade.
        Great Yarmouth Primary Academy was placed in special measures after an inspection in late 2019.

        • Mark Watson

          Janet, you’re speaking as though you expect politicians to be even-handed. How many times over the last nine years, and especially over the last four hand a half years when Jeremy Corbyn has led the party, has a Shadow Education Secretary praised an academy school (let alone a free school) and held it up as a case study in excellence?

          The fact that Conservative politicians single out academy schools for praise is not ideal, but surely that’s the expectation?

  7. John Mirra

    Silent corridors sounds like a horrible idea. School shouldn’t be like a prison.

    Banning mobile phones screams of people not being with the times.

    Instead of a “bring back the cane”/Victorian discipline approach (that seems to be an eventual goal here) why don’t we take a modern approach?
    Embrace technology as a potential way of helping the education system, give teachers the resources to deal with unruly students, that means dedicated staff members, facilities and approaches, and of course pay them a fair wage for the work they do.

  8. Since his appointment on 24th July 2019, Gavin Williamson has visited ~38 schools and colleges throughout the ~216 day period he has been in post. He has also visited 5 universities. I know Williamson’s key role is not to visit schools, but I have taken this into context.

  9. Joanna Ayres

    No, I don’t agree. Children need to have some social interaction and it would be good to encourage them to talk to each other in their social time to reduce dependence on mobile phones. My son is allowed to take his phone to school provided it stays in his bag. If he misuses it , it is confiscated which is fine. Why can’t the Minister adopt a sensible, balanced approach! Oh, I think I’ve answered my own question!