Are Super Strict Schools Good for Students?

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Are Super Strict Schools Good for Students?

The following paragraphs describe a secondary school in England:

As the teacher started to count down, the students uncrossed their arms and bowed their heads, completing the exercise in a flash.

“Three. Two. One,” the teacher said. Pens across the room went down and all eyes shot back to the teacher. Under a policy called “Slant” (Sit up, Lean forward, Ask and answer questions, Nod your head and Track the speaker), the students, aged 11 and 12, were barred from looking away.

When a digital bell beeped (traditional clocks are “not precise enough,” the principal said) the students walked quickly and silently to the cafeteria in a single line. There they yelled a poem — “Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley — in unison, then ate for 13 minutes as they discussed that day’s mandatory lunch topic: how to survive a superintelligent killer snail.

What is your impression of this school? Does it sound anything like the one you go to? Does it sound like somewhere you would like to attend?

In “‘You Can Hear a Pin Drop’: The Rise of Super Strict Schools in England,” Emma Bubola writes about the spread of schools like these across England:

In the decade since the Michaela Community School opened in northwest London, the publicly funded but independently run secondary school has emerged as a leader of a movement convinced that children from disadvantaged backgrounds need strict discipline, rote learning and controlled environments to succeed.

“How do those who come from poor backgrounds make a success of their lives? Well, they have to work harder,” said the principal, Katharine Birbalsingh, who has a cardboard cutout of Russell Crowe in “Gladiator” in her office with the quote, “Hold the Line.” In her social media profiles, she proclaims herself “Britain’s Strictest Headmistress.”

“What you need to do is pull the fence tight,” she added. “Children crave discipline.”

While some critics call Ms. Birbalsingh’s model oppressive, her school has the highest rate of academic progress in England, according to a government measure of the improvement pupils make between age 11 and 16, and its approach is becoming increasingly popular.

In a growing number of schools, days are marked by strict routines and detentions for minor infractions, like forgetting a pencil case or having an untidy uniform. Corridors are silent as students are forbidden to speak with their peers.

The article also discusses criticisms:

But some educators have expressed concern about the broader zero-tolerance approach, saying that controlling students’ behavior so minutely might produce excellent academic results, but does not foster autonomy or critical thinking. Draconian punishments for minor infractions can also come at a psychological cost, they say.

“It’s like they’ve taken 1984 and read it as a how-to manual as opposed to a satire,” said Phil Beadle, an award-winning British secondary school teacher and author.

To him, free time and discussion are as important to child development as good academic results. He worries that a “cultlike environment that required total compliance” can deprive children of their childhood.

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • How strict is your school? Do you ever wish there were more order and discipline for students? Do you wish there were less?

  • Supporters of the zero-tolerance approach say that it helps children succeed. Critics say it is oppressive. What do you think? Are super strict schools good for students? Why or why not?

  • At the core of this movement is the idea that “children from disadvantaged backgrounds need strict discipline, rote learning and controlled environments to succeed.” What is your reaction to that?

  • What would your ideal learning environment look like? How would students behave? How would teachers and administrators interact with you? What rules and policies would be in place? Why?

  • One principal of a school that does not follow the zero-tolerance model said that getting high academic scores is not the only goal of education. Do you agree? What does being successful as a student mean to you? Is it earning good grades? Getting into the college or line of work that you dream of? Learning to be independent and to think critically? Something else?


Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.