Chapter 10


Discipline Policies
for Inclusion or Exclusion

by Megan Pilkington

Introduction:  The Challenge for Schools

Discipline in schools has become a major issue for teachers, students, parents and the school community. Currently most state government schools have in place a traditional discipline policy that aims to protect the right of students to learn and provide an environment for students to feel safe at school. Despite good intentions, this traditional policy is based on a punitive approach to dealing with behavioural problems. Students who are considered disruptive, display aggressive behaviour or bully other students are dealt with in a manner that removes them from their peers, and in certain circumstances may result in suspension or expulsion.

               However, students who are frequently sent to ‘time-out’, suspended or expelled do not necessarily change their behaviour as a result of the implementation of the discipline policy as is evidenced by the repeat appearance of particular students in this process. My observation is that these students become more isolated and are eventually excluded from access to education and academic success as a result of their behaviour and the response to it by teachers, other students, parents and eventually the community; and they may end up in the juvenile justice system.

            I would ask whether the traditional approach to discipline is really effective for all concerned, particularly if the desired outcomes are student wellbeing, access to education and academic success for all students. The Adelaide Declaration on the National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century (MCEETYA, 1999) recognises the role of schools in providing a foundation for the intellectual, physical, social, moral and spiritual development of young Australians. I believe that a discipline policy that may result in the suspension or expulsion of a student does not assist in the achievement of these goals because students are excluded from access to education in response to their behaviour.

            I also believe that it must be asked whether schools should continue to adopt a punitive approach to discipline, having what is essentially mandatory sentencing, when what can be considered as a parallel to the school discipline system – the Victorian Juvenile Justice System - has adopted a diversionary and rehabilitative focus.

            The Victorian Government has adopted a multi-agency approach in the Juvenile Justice system (Minister for Community Services, 2000) in recognition that juvenile justice is a social as well as legal problem with social causes and effects, and recognises that the developmental needs of young people are distinct from adults. This diversionary and rehabilitative approach responds to the individual young person and that person’s needs and circumstances. This approach also recognises the victims of crime, the interests of the community and focuses on prevention, rehabilitation and community based support for offenders. This is an inclusive approach to discipline in stark contrast to the exclusive traditional approach used by schools.

            Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989) which is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights – civil, political, cultural, social and economic. The approach by the Juvenile Justice System reflects the recognition by this Convention that children should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and be brought up in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity. Article 28 of the Convention recognises the right of the child to education with a view to achieving this progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity. The Convention states that discipline should be administered in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and that appropriate measures should be taken to reduce drop out rates and encourage regular attendance at school. I believe the United Nations Convention provides an internationally recognised legal blueprint for an inclusive approach to the education of all children that must be regarded as the foundation and reference point for discipline in schools.

            I challenge schools and teachers to change the focus from a mandatory, punitive and crisis management approach to discipline problems to a holistic, preventative and educational approach to socialisation. Following is a discussion about practice initiatives that adopt a more holistic approach to discipline that is democratic, values ‘connectedness’ and inclusion, and embraces an integrated partnership between the school, families and the community. All children have the right to be brought up in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity. Adoption of these practices will provide an opportunity for this right to become a reality for all children.

Approaches to Discipline

Societal approaches to discipline and restorative justice practices

Discipline in schools must be viewed in the wider context of societal approaches to discipline because schools should reflect the policies and practices of society. The Victorian Juvenile Justice System has adopted a rehabilitative and diversionary approach to wrongdoing that reflects societal moves away from the punishment and incarceration of juvenile offenders. This is in contrast to the adult justice system that has a focus on punishment and deterrence. This difference can be examined in a framework proposed by Wachtel (1999).

Figure 1:Social Control Window

Wachtel, T. (1999)

          Wachtel (1999) identifies that modern societies establish a framework of social control that is designed to protect citizens from crime and wrongdoing in families, schools and workplaces. However, he points out that punishment is seen as the most appropriate response and is the prevailing practice in response to crime and wrongdoing. Wachtel highlights that those who fail to punish offenders are seen to be permissive, with the punitive-permissive continuum as the popular but limited perspective in dealing with crime and wrongdoing. He suggests a more useful approach is to view social control as the interplay of control and support. Wachtel’s view as shown in the diagram to the left.

            Wachtel defines “control” as discipline or setting limits and “support” as encouragement or nurturing. Using this approach the punitive-permissive continuum is subsumed in this more inclusive framework.

            This more inclusive framework identified by Wachtel has four general approaches to social control:

•  neglectful, where there is an absence of limit setting and nurturing, and the focus is on ‘NOT’ doing anything in response to inappropriate behaviour;

•  permissive, which is characterised by scarce limits but an abundance of nurturing, where everything is done ‘FOR’ people and little is asked in return;

• punitive, which is high on control and low on nurturing and support, focussing on doing things ‘TO’ people;

• restorative, which is high in both support and control as it confronts and disapproves of wrongdoing, but supports and intrinsically values the worth of the wrongdoer, who acknowledges the consequences of their actions and makes amends for any wrongdoing The restorative approach does things ‘WITH’ people and includes victims, family, friends and community. Success of restorative justice practices however relies on ALL of the affected parties being prepared to meet and accept responsibility for their role in any incident with a view to showing empathy, remorse and forgiveness.

            The Victorian Juvenile Justice System has adopted a restorative approach that does things ‘WITH’ people rather than the approach to discipline adopted by mainstream schools, which does things ‘TO’ people. This diversionary and rehabilitative approach, which addresses the individual needs of young offenders and links them to community support services, has resulted in a lower recidivism risk (Department of Human Services, Victoria 2001). As a parallel, this suggests that an alternative approach to discipline in schools could be expected to be more effective than the traditional approach in reducing discipline problems, therefore increasing the access of students to education and academic success.

Approaches to discipline in Victorian schools

Approaches to discipline in schools can be broadly divided into two different categories. The first, and what can be considered the ‘traditional’ approach, regards discipline as primarily a classroom management issue. The second and ‘alternative’ approach has more of a socialisation or curriculum/educational focus. This ‘alternative’ and importantly more inclusive approach is congruent with the focus of the Juvenile Justice System in Victoria.

            The Framework for Student Support Services in Victorian Government Schools (Department of Education, Victoria, 1998) provides a holistic approach to student wellbeing and support, which is based on the needs of the students and the whole-school community.

            The ‘Guidelines for developing the student code of conduct’ (Directorate of School Education, 1994), sets out guidelines on how schools should implement their own codes of behaviour. The guidelines set out to foster:

• a healthy school culture;

• high standards of behaviour;

• mutual responsibility and self-discipline;

• positive, non-discriminatory relationships among students.

The traditional approach to discipline

However, the reality is that the aims of the code of behaviour in many Victorian schools are accomplished by the implementation of a traditional discipline policy which applies graded punitive sanctions, which do something ‘TO’ students as a means of behaviour modification – eg. making students go ‘TO’ timeout, giving detention ‘TO’ students, sending students ‘TO’ the year level co-ordinator, all of which may ultimately result in suspension, expulsion or in extreme cases, police charges being laid. This approach is deemed to act as a deterrent. Marshall, Shaw and Freeman (2002) regard these models as political and economic:  political  as ‘they involve power balance, or imbalance, and unilateral decision making as to punishments and ways of rectifying human errors’ (p.2), and economic - ‘because they are seen as efficient in terms of energy and time’ (Marshall, Shaw and Freeman, 2002, p.2).

            Despite the aims of the ‘Guidelines for developing the student code of conduct’ (Directorate of School Education, 1994), it is argued that the traditional approach to discipline does not provide strategies for developing mutual responsibility, self-discipline and positive non-discriminatory relationships among students. The impact of the traditional approach is to exclude students from the classroom, jeopardising their access to education and academic success. Students are simply punished if they do not conform. This approach has a primary focus on the individual to conform. There is individual blame for non-compliance and students are trained to comply and change their behaviour or risk the application of graded sanctions which may ultimately result in suspension or expulsion. This approach is characterised by a lack of flexibility; rarely does a structural change in the organisation of the school occur in response to an individual behavioural problem.

Alternative approaches to discipline

A common theme for alternative approaches to schooling and discipline as practised within various alternative schools (see Preshil, 2002; Steiner, 2002a and 2002b; Montessori, 2002 and The Circle School, 2002) is recognition of schools as co-operative and democratic centres of natural learning. These alternative approaches to schooling promote educational freedom with responsibility, and incorporate behaviour as a curriculum and educational issue belonging in the teaching and learning arena. Education is student-centred with recognition that learners themselves have the ability to make both rational and intuitive choices about their education.

            For behavioural issues there is support for all involved and if necessary, a structural response to problems which may involve a change in the curriculum to become more relevant, if this is the underlying problem, or other changes that may be required in the organisation of the school environment. There is a focus on doing things ‘WITH’ students rather than ‘TO’ them. This approach is inclusive, flexible and preventative as it accommodates structural change, curriculum flexibility and supports the learning of strategies and processes for more appropriate responses from the school and/or the student in the future.

            A foundation principle of ‘alternative’ approaches is the recognition that students deserve respect and dignity, with an emphasis on ‘guiding’, rather than ‘punishing’ or ‘denying’ if objectives or learning outcomes are not met. Alternative schooling also values ‘connectedness’ and ‘inclusion’ within a partnership that encompasses the school environment, the community and the family. I believe the challenge is to incorporate many of the alternative school approaches into mainstream schooling at an economic and affordable educational cost to parents.

            I also believe mainstream schools have a responsibility to model approaches to discipline adopted by society (in this case the Juvenile Justice System) for parents, particularly those in the lower socioeconomic status groups who may not have the economic or social capital to be able to gain access to these alternative approaches.

A comparison of discipline practices in schools

The ‘practices’ applied both within the school and in the classroom for these two different approaches result in quite different outcomes for students, the school and the community. Table 1 adapted from Semmens (2001) shows some of these differences.

Table 1. A Comparison of Discipline Practices in Schools

Traditional Approach


Practice Characteristics


Alternative Approaches


Behaviour issue


Curriculum issue

Externally imposed


Internally developed

Pre-requisite for learning





Negotiated and understood


Class Climate


Earned for responsible behaviour


Inherited – Freedom, protection, appeal etc.






Respect for others

Academic reputation

School ethos

Belonging, usefulness and competence




Hierarchy of sanctions for offenders


Reconciliation and restorative justice

Evaluating Current Approaches to Discipline

School discipline policies must be measured not only by their congruency with societal approaches to discipline, but also by their effectiveness and efficiency for society. Owen (1999) considers that contemporary school policies in a democratic society must be established in a context that ensures that the ‘policies, support, administrative programs and other resources designed to improve the social condition are as effective and efficient as possible’. Abu-Duhou (2002) has identified the characteristics of effective contemporary school policies. The traditional and alternative approaches to discipline can be examined against Abu-Duhou’s (2002) criteria and this is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. A Comparison of Discipline Policies In
Schools Against The Criteria For Effective Policies

Traditional Discipline


Policy Characteristics

(Abu-Duhou 2002)

Alternative Discipline Approaches


Values the right of the majority of students to learn and feel safe at school more highly than the right of students with behavioural problems to learn the necessary social skills to change behaviour, thus these students are excluded.

Interests of a range of policy stakeholders

Values the rights of all students equally and includes all students.

Considered strategic as it reduces the incidence of bullying but doesn’t foster all of the aims of the Student Code of Conduct.

Strategic - policies must contribute to the overall vision or mission

Holistic as it considers all of the aims of the Student Code of Conduct.

Does ‘TO’ without recognition of the long term consequences of doing ‘TO’ such as:

·         labelling of students;

·         impacts on self-esteem as there is a failure to recognise the intrinsic value of the ‘wrong-doer’, neglects the needs of the ‘victim’;

·         transferring the problem from school to the community when ‘offenders’ leave school because outcomes are not linked to service delivery.

Causal – links between service delivery and outcome

Does ‘WITH’ and looks at outcomes and the effectiveness of service delivery.

Looks at the nature of service delivery (eg the curriculum) as contributing to behaviour.

Parents involved when graded sanctions applied.
Year Level co-ordinators involved generally to organise work for students on suspension.

“Joined up” – works across sectoral boundaries

Integrated curriculum, strong partnership between family, school and the community, not just when discipline issues arise.

The student is excluded from the classroom as this easier so the teacher can continue the business of facilitating ‘real learning’.

Realistic – takes account of everyday realities

Teachers and students work cooperatively to prevent and resolve discipline issues; students learn to make amends.

Consistent and inflexible – one rule for all in all settings.

Flexible – can be applied in different settings

Inconsistent and flexible – individual factors taken into account.

Response focused - victims and bullies can remain labelled for the rest of their life as the punitive approach does not foster self-responsibility. This can exclude them from access to education and academic success.

‘Problem-based’ approach.

Outcome focused – delivers quality benefits for end users

Holistic and preventative which delivers quality benefits as it fosters all of the aims of the Student Code of Conduct.

Democratic ‘solution-based’ approach that considers all issues and consequences of proposed solutions.

The Relationship Between Discipline and Other Issues in Schools

There are a number of other issues within schools that are closely linked with discipline issues and affect access to education and academic success. Some of these issues are briefly discussed below and also covered in more depth in other chapters:

Student/teacher relationships - A report on the perspectives of young people (ACEE and AYRC, 2001) identified that the most important factor linking young people to schools was the relationships between students and teachers. Students overwhelmingly stated that their reasons for disengagement from schooling were aspects that could be addressed by schools and included: teacher relationships, teaching methods, curriculum structure and school structure, ethos and social environment. Also paramount were students’ friendships and their social environment. In the report, students highlighted the need to have more control over many aspects of their life in school as well as being treated with respect, understood and listened to. There is evidence that the way students are treated in schools has not been effective in assisting them in their role within their family, community and eventually the workforce and is often an underlying cause of discipline problems in schools.

•  School ethos and social environment – Students surveyed in the report on the perspectives of young people (ACEE and AYRC, 2001) identified school ethos or social environment as one of many reasons for student disengagement from schooling, and an aspect that can be addressed by schools.

Relationship between families, schools and the community - Tyler (2002) identifies the 1990s as having seen a dramatic increase in family ‘breakdowns, neglect of children, soaring levels of violence and crime, higher levels of drug and alcohol abuse and higher suicide rates’. These issues are enormously complex and schools are just one of the many common threads implicated in students feeling disempowered and lacking a connection to family, school and their community. Boyd (1996) recognised that a dramatic re-conceptualisation and restruc-turing of the relationship between schools, the community, community agencies and families, is needed in order to recognise the interaction of these complex issues and provide mechanisms to accommodate them.

Curriculum – Lack of curriculum relevance can result in the disengagement of students, particularly in the middle school years, so that behaviour management becomes an issue. If schools continue to persist with a lack of flexibility in the curriculum, students will continue to become bored and unruly. They are then targeted as requiring discipline, rather than the curriculum as the original source of the problem being examined and modified. In the long term this can lead to truancy, expulsion and exclusion (Collins, Kenway and McLeod, 2000). The curriculum must also acknow-ledge more extensively the need for the integration of vocational training and support the transition from school to employment.

Decision to leave school/barriers to return - With respect to issues that influence young people’s decision to leave school or which provide barriers to their return to schooling, there is also recognition now that students can be alienated by the school culture, including poor student-teacher and peer relationships. This is also a significant issue for students of diverse sexuality. With alternative approaches to discipline, student values and beliefs can be successfully and routinely examined and discussed, in order to foster tolerance and self-responsibility in an environment that provides an open forum for discussion and is supportive and inclusive. The alternative inevitably results in a need for control through traditional punitive approaches; as the foundation for the traditional approach has an inherent lack of trust and controls through punishment and exclusion. The resulting exclusion is one of many factors with the capacity to influence the retention rate of students in school or provide a barrier to return to school.

Socioeconomic status - The issue of socioeconomic status is also an issue that must be taken into consideration in any discussion about discipline. Teese (1995) highlighted that discipline problems are not confined to students who have a low socioeconomic status, but these students are considered to be more vulnerable than their private-school peers. Teese (1995) highlights the need for ‘recognition that individual self-reliance and resourcefulness had to be fostered amongst working-class children to compensate for their lack of family economic and social capital.’ ‘Connectedness’ to ‘family and school were collective supports which would be relinquished earlier than amongst upper middle-class groups for whom school was closely integrated with family and was a major point of continuing collective organisation’ (Teese, 1995). ‘Connectedness’ and a sense of inclusion act to minimise the likelihood of students being ‘disciplined’ and locked out of access to education and academic success because of their behaviour.

  Funding - Many Victorian schools are adopting ‘alternative’ approaches with a preventative focus that relies more on the use of non-punitive interventions in an ‘attempt to establish social connections with students and to develop moral sensibility as to the consequences of behaviour.’ (Marshall, Shaw and Freeman, 2002 p.2). However there appears to be little formal support in terms of funding or professional development to support schools who wish to formally adopt initiatives such as: the process of Community Conferencing and Restorative Justice Practices currently being trialed in schools, or the Health Promoting Schools Model (see below). Abu-Duhou (2002) highlights that the success of contemporary school polices relies on adequate resourcing and funding. I believe that adequate funding, particularly for professional development and outsourcing of community services as part of an integrated approach to discipline will remain the single largest obstacle to the incorporation of ‘alternative’ approaches to discipline in all mainstream schools.

Examples of Practices that Promote Inclusion

Currently in schools, practice initiatives exist that are designed to address some of the other issues that impact on discipline in schools. For example the School Focussed Youth Services (SFYS, 1998) is a joint initiative between the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services to increase services to stop students ‘falling through the gaps’ as a response to the ‘Victoria: Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force 1997 Report’ (State Government of Victoria, 1997). The SFYS work with the education, health and welfare sectors to enhance the physical, mental and social-emotional well being of children and adolescents at primary and secondary levels of Government, Catholic and Independent schools.

            The international World Health Organisation’s ‘Health Promoting Schools Model’ (WHO, 1996a and 1996b) has been adopted in Tasmania (Murphy, 1988) and elsewhere in Australia as an attempt to address the school ethos and social environment issues identified by students surveyed in the report on the perspectives of young people (ACEE and AYRC, 2001). Adoption of the model changes the focus from a crisis management approach to discipline problems, to a focus on prevention, adopting an integrated partnership approach to schools, families and the community. This addresses some of the underlying ethos and social environment issues that may contribute to discipline problems. I believe national adoption of the Health Promoting Schools Model as part of a holistic approach to education is more likely to maintain access to education and guarantee academic success because of the inclusive integrated partnership between students, schools, families and the community.

            The Individual School Drug Education Policy (State Government of Victoria, 1998) encompasses all primary and secondary Victorian Government schools and invited Catholic and independent schools. The policy is aimed at establishing drug education as an ongoing core component of the school curriculum. The policy has been well funded and well supported in terms of guidelines, support teams, professional development, resources and funding, but as it is not a whole school approach, cannot foster all aspects of student wellbeing.

            Currently, a Community Conferencing pilot project, with a focus on inclusive discipline practices, is being trialed in Victorian schools. The project run in 23 Victorian Schools and due for completion in December 2002 (Marshall, Shaw and Freeman, 2002) has been established to support and evaluate the application of restorative practices in Victorian schools, and to assess the value of the process of Community Conferencing.

            Restorative Justice practices guide a range of actions from simple affective responses through to formal conferencing where all parties affected by the wrong doing or crime are brought together to turn negative incidents into an opportunity to build empathy and a sense of community. Wachtel (1999) has suggested that the restorative approach to social control is gaining momentum as an alternative approach in the adult justice system. It has been adopted by the Victorian Juvenile Justice System and is slowly gaining support as an approach for use in schools. The range of restorative practices is shown in Figure 2: Restorative Practices Continuum.

Figure 2:

Restorative Practices Continuum

Wachtel, T. (1999)

            Restorative practices allow those who have been affected by wrongdoing to express their feelings to the offender(s) and allows victims an opportunity to express the harm done to them, thus providing an opportunity for learning, building empathy and creating a sense of ‘connectedness’ within a community.

What Do Student-teachers Think About the Traditional Approach to Discipline in Schools?

A survey of student teachers at Melbourne University was con-ducted to ascertain views on the range of policy topics related to inclusion and exclusion of students from access to education and academic success. Two questions were asked about discipline policies.

            The first question aimed to determine student-teacher views about the effectiveness of existing discipline policies in schools. The second question aimed to canvas views about suggested alternatives or changes to existing policies if student teachers felt the existing policies were inadequate.

Responses to the questions:

• Suggest that the effectiveness of discipline policies in schools varies widely and for many reasons;

• Acknowledge the ineffective-ness of coercion, where ‘good’ behaviour depends on the values of students, and is not a result of the effectiveness of a discipline policy;

• View alternative school approaches as taking a more holistic approach to education and are therefore more likely to address the underlying issues that lead to behavioural or discipline problems in the first place;

• Suggest a change away from the punitive approach to dealing with discipline problems to address the underlying causes, with a need to improve communication and relationships by treating students as individuals worthy of respect;

• Highlight discrimination particularly for students of diverse sexuality as being poorly dealt with;

•  Suggest a reduction in class sizes and improved funding as practical changes that may improve the effectiveness of discipline policies.

            I believe that issues of control may be an underlying factor where student-teachers and teachers feel more comfortable if they are in ‘control’ and have the ability to punish. Schools frequently reflect the prevailing attitudes in society, so a spectrum of opinions about discipline would be expected, with responses varying from those wishing to adopt a more compassionate and understanding approach to discipline issues, to those wanting to maintain ‘control’ using punitive measures to support this control. It is my observation that some schools have already incorporated aspects of restorative justice practices and this is reflected in the responses.

            For any change to be implemented, there must be a willingness for most (and hopefully all) to be prepared to address their underlying values and beliefs. The responses from student-teachers do however signal that many are willing to adopt a more compassionate, holistic and inclusive approach, which I believe is more likely to address the underlying causes of discipline problems in schools.

The Challenge Revisited - Implications for Action by Schools and Teachers

A blueprint for change in schools – what must it have?

In thinking about what we should do to change our approach to discipline in order to achieve the national goals for schooling, it is clear that schools, teachers, student-teachers and students need an inclusive blueprint for action with objective measures to determine the effectiveness of the strategies employed. A blueprint for change must reflect societal trends, take into account and respect the views of young people as well as recognise the need for a holistic approach to education and address curriculum and resource issues. The blueprint for schools will therefore be:

Congruent with wider approaches in society

•  reflect our democratic society, so that schools are communities, which are co-operative and democratic centres of natural learning with educational freedom combined with responsibility, foster mutual responsibility and self-discipline in a positive, non discriminatory environment;

•  be congruent with societal approaches to discipline, paralleling the diversionary and rehabilitative approach of the Juvenile Justice System;

•  use restorative justice practices for discipline issues to ensure the perpetrator makes amends to the victim for any harm, with the full trust and hope that all learn from the experience along the way to prevent a re-occurrence. Teachers and students can be mentors to assist students to develop self-responsibility.

Connect people to institutions

•  provide a dramatic re-conceptualisation and restructuring of the relationship between schools, the community, community agencies and families that will foster a sense of ‘connectedness’ between schools, the community and families;

•  recognise the right of students/staff to raise issues that all may agree require changes in the way that the school/staff approach certain issues and provide an opportunity in a non-threatening environment to discuss those issues with possible solutions and consider their consequences;

•  engender trust and respect for all students and teachers no matter what the issues or ideas;

•  provide for the adoption of an integrated and flexible curriculum that is student-centred, negotiable and provides vocational training, so that lessons have a connection to and are meaningful for students in real life;

•  promote and support vocational training as providing equally successful pathways as university training.

Participatory: involve students and others in solutions

•  recognise and facilitate the integration of the views and needs of young people into the education system;

•  develop a code of conduct with a foundation that assumes that students can and will behave responsibly and that they can be and deserve to be trusted, rather than being seen as needing discipline because they don’t know how to behave and can’t be trusted (see the emerging views on discipline proposed by Kohn and Coloroso in Extracts from Charles et. al. 1999);

•  regard the path to self-responsibility as a journey, and recognise that students are capable of being responsible for their actions but occasionally may need guidance;

•  recognise the need for a collective approach to guidance and support of the development of students as citizens with the qualities of self-confidence, optimism, high self-esteem, and a commitment to personal excellence as a basis for their potential roles as family, community and workforce members who have the capacity to exercise judgement and responsibility in matters of morality, ethics and social justice, and the capacity to make sense of their world, to think about how things got to be the way they are, to make rational and informed decisions about their own lives and to accept responsibility for their own actions’ (DEET, 2000);

•  view the need for restorative justice as flagging issues that need to be addressed in the general education process with all students given the opportunity to discuss the issues, consider possible alternative solutions and discuss the possible consequences of each solution. This is done in any classroom at any time of the day as any issue arises or is done at a year level or whole school level depending on the issue.

Effective and realistic

•  be effective and efficient for society;

•  recognise the changing role of teachers who now:

-    facilitate learning;

-    are part of a collaborative team;

-    assist students to develop patterns for life-long learning;

-    view students in a social context rather than just as individuals;

-    act as a ‘catalyst for building connections between young people and adults and adult institutions’(Bazemore, 1999, cited in Marshall, Shaw and Freeman, 2002 p.5);

-    provide a superior learning environment by establishing a ‘democratically organised’ (Lippitt, 1940 in Slee, 1988 p.55) and ‘positive classroom environment where the leadership functions are well distributed and where all participants can feel power and self-worth in accom-plishing academic tasks and in working together’ (Slee, 1988 p.55);

-    accept a collective responsibility for fostering in students, the development of self esteem and self respect, encouraging self-responsibility, independent thought, courage, creativity, respect and tolerance for differences in others and respect for the environment (moving teachers away from the approach of: ‘I just want to teach my own subject’ and regard discipline problems merely as a distraction from time that should be spent on the proper curriculum);

•  recognise that beginning teachers have typically little experience and lots of enthusiasm but are acutely aware of the consequences for society, of students who are excluded from access to education and academic and social success as a result of discipline policies and practices within schools, and so will support their role as agents of change so schools become more inclusive;

•  recognise the importance of funding for resources, community services and professional development.

            I believe the way forward in Victorian schools is to adopt the Health Promoting Schools Model (WHO, 1996a and 1996b) which will change the focus from crisis management to prevention and adopt an integrated partnership approach to schools, families and the community. If a restorative justice practices approach to discipline is also incorporated into this model, the resulting combined holistic and democratic approach to education and discipline will achieve many of the goals identified in Adelaide Declaration on the National Goals of Schooling.

In the classroom

As a teacher, there are a number of strategies that can foster a co-operative and democratic classroom environment:


•  adopt a flexible approach to thze curriculum, and address curriculum issues as they arise as these are often a source of discipline problems;

•  establish a rapport with other staff who may be interested in an integrated approach to the curriculum;

•  adopt restorative justice practices in the classroom for problems that arise.


•  recognise that many students have been conditioned not to take responsibility for their actions and to blame others, through recurrent punitive action which results in a ‘victim’ approach to life with a feeling of powerlessness over their destiny;

•  recognise that any approach that moves away from a punitive approach to discipline requires an unconditional respect for and trust in students, and a willingness and ability to have open discussions with a commitment to resolution.

Build a cooperative curriculum

•  develop cooperative learning in the classroom as it is an effective way of improving relationships between peers, and teaches listening skills, negotiating and self-responsibility, but recognise these skills need to be taught to students. Many teachers judge co-operative learning to be a failure because they do not take the time to teach the skills and processes that ensure its success;

•  establish collective ongoing discussions with students about what they value and agree on behaviour that would reflect those values, as a foundation for discussion when behaviour becomes unacceptable. Many difficulties arise when students are unaware of cultural differences or have learned to be intolerant of students from culturally diverse backgrounds or who express diverse sexualities.

Build positive relationships

•  provide unconditional oppor-tunities for students to consider possible alternative solutions to problems and discuss the possible consequences of each solution so that students feel confident and supported in choosing consequences that do not impinge on the rights of others and take responsibility for modifying their behaviour as the need arises;

•  patience is paramount to teach students conflict resolution skills and to assist them to gradually become more self responsible as well as more aware, tolerant and considerate of the rights and needs of others. Some students may not have this approach as a role model in their home environment, so you must recognise that this will be a slow but rewarding process.

            Change is possible but must be done slowly and carefully. Share your thoughts with other teachers who share your interest in change and try and establish a working party to review the existing policy. For change to be enacted, it is paramount that it is evidenced based and defines the problem. An efficient and effective policy will have all of the characteristics outlined by Abu-Duhou (2002) and will respect young people and forge a partnership between the school, the family and the community to provide a sense of ‘connectedness’ for students.


It is clear that the existing punitive and crisis management approach to discipline is not aligned with the Juvenile Justice System’s diversionary and rehabilitative approach to wrong doing. There is a clear need for society to adopt in schools a more holistic and preventative approach to student wellbeing, which has an integrated partnership between the community, families, students and the school. Such an approach should result in fewer discipline problems. A preventative and restorative approach with a flexible curriculum and responsive school structure will foster the development of trustworthy responsible citizens. Until such an approach is adopted at the government level and in schools, and is adequately funded, resourced and supported by professional development, schools will continue to exclude students from access to education and academic success.


Abu-Duhou, I. (2002). 482101 Education Policy Schools and Society - Lecture 11 Evaluating School Policy. Faculty of Education, University of Melbourne.

ACEE and AYRC, (2001). Building Relationships, Making Education Work – A Report on the Perspectives of Young People. Australian Centre for Equity through Education and the Australian Youth Research Centre. Report prepared for the Common-wealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Melbourne.

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Appendix 1

1.      How effective do you think the current discipline policies are in schools?

By and large, not very effective. It depends entirely on the society context of the school - high-school-age kids know that no-one can make them do anything, and so good behaviour in schools really depends on the values of the students and their parents, not on the effectiveness of any discipline policy.

They are not effective in most of the cases. Students want to talk about more interesting things (happening to themselves); they want to enjoy and stretch the limits. Remember: adolescents = something is lacking, they are becoming adults.

Detention and punishment only aggravates the child and the child rebels.

Variably effective. One thing that has irked me for a long time is the misplaced tolerance of many, if not most schools in relation to violent, sometimes veiled as playful, physical contact between students. Taken out of the school environment, such behaviour would be disgraced and likely appealed under the Criminal Act. This is taught in first year law! Why so many schools are lax about stamping down on this illegal, let alone disruptive, inappropriate and irresponsible behaviour, is a mystery. Dismissals such as "kids will be kids" or that "schools have encountered this kind of behaviour for so long and therefore should continue tolerating it" are illogical. A much firmer policy should be widely enforced to have schools step in line with other, quite unexceptional, social expectations.

Discipline will always be a problem with large class sizes and a philosophy that discriminates against individuality and humanity in general. There is no point in using disciplinary action if the underlying problem or issue has not been addressed. I do not think discipline is handed well by any policy or school unless it is an alternative school that understands that all humans need a way to express themselves.

Depends what you mean by effective. Sure, the kids shut up occasionally, got sent out side and did detentions. It didn't stop them doing the things that provoked the discipline.

This definitely varies from school to school, and also varies in success of implementation from class to class. Also what may be a successful policy for one student will be a completely useless one for the next.

Really depends on the school, doesn't it. Some work really well, others not. On average, well, but there is room for improvement (unfortunately there always is though).

It depends on the school. Some seem to be effective for discipline after the transgression, but they don't often prevent students from doing it again.

Some are quite good, if they are formed in conjunction with the students, but ones that are more based on teacher and school power play do not appear so effective.

The discipline policies that I have seen so far are quite good. A level of behaviour is set and each school has views that differ on what happens after this - usually a visit to the coordinator.

Although they differ from school to school, the ones I have seen seem to work well.

In both my rounds discipline was very effectively managed. All students had a home-room teacher. At first placement it was these teachers that were responsible for discipline. At my second placement there were year level coordinators. The system worked very well.

2.      If you could change the existing policies, what would you change and why?

The policy sometimes just provided a stick, but didn't provide clear instructions on how to hold it: some teachers waved it about all the time either upsetting everyone or boring them. Lots of teachers remain distant from their students, and discipline enlarges the chasm. Students are not consulted at all either, the only time their assistance is sought is to ‘dob’ in each other. An agreement between all parties on what constitutes cooperative behaviour would be a good start, and because we can't all be good all the time, a debated set of recompenses rather than revenges, could be the penalties.

I would try to ensure that this is being monitored and if an ongoing problem then attempts are made to find out why this is an ongoing problem and find out if the student needs any support.

Confer more responsibility onto students. Often misbehaviour is as a result of neglect or boredom, and students need to realise that they have power, they need to be aware of the nature of that power and what they owe to others with respect to their position in the school as a result.


N/A I am happy with the policies used by the schools.

As part of those I'd change in relation to the above question, policies on bullying, violence more generally should be much more resounding and actively carried out.

Make the 'punishment fit the crime'. In some cases, as in littering and yard duty, the punishment is appropriate. For others, such as getting suspension for wagging or leaving the school grounds at lunch time, it doesn't make sense for anyone let alone the student. A better suggestion would be to have them make up the time they missed after school or on the weekend. It reflects on teacher willingness but it is a logical punishment that the student will understand - and hopefully not do again.

What is discipline? It is something very subjective and 'cultural'. Certain 'misbehaviour' in Australia, is considered in other cultures are part of normal life! The importance is: If students are disrupting classes, just call their attention, if they can achieve at the end of the year, then, it is 'our' problem. Students may not be 'behave properly' just because, may be it is because whatever is being taught is too hard, too easy or too boring! In some countries, students receive a warning and some sort of 'fines':5 for a minor indiscipline, 10 for a bigger, they accumulate throughout the school year. If they reach 25 then they are expelled. Therefore, students once they reach 10 or 15, start to discipline themselves. Do we remember our days at school? What would have we preferred?

Allow for understanding and tolerance of behaviours as well as using education to deal with issues of unacceptable behaviour. Use time out rooms not as a punishment but as a way of allowing students the time to express themselves creatively using artistic means and counselling. Reduce class sizes. More funding. Immediate action would involve listening and asking students to set their own disciplinary action. Change happens over time. Students only respect people they think care about them. Some students don’t have caring family lives. We need to model appropriate behaviour not punish people because we don’t understand or can’t control them. Patience is what is required.

Discrimination, include homosexuality. As not many schools cover it.

I believe that discipline policies must be flexible enough to be adapted for each student, and that if a discipline policy is clearly not successful for a particular/or particular group of students then the discipline policy not the student is at fault.

I would make the policies more student-based and offer them the chance to participate in making them, as I have done in my classroom discipline rules. The school needs to maybe include the student council or a representative group to assist in policy making relating to discipline

Detention in primary schools should be changed to 'talking time'. Teacher finds out the problem, the reason, then, Small groups talk about why it happened and how can be solved. Proposals shared and everybody will contribute to 'maintain' the discipline for their own sake. Children need to express themselves, need to be listened and need to be 'naughty'.

Discipline should be on a more holistic , interpersonal level with discussion with the student and the parents. We should respect the children and discuss things on an emotional spiritual level.

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