Silent Corridors

This week I’ve been reading many tweets and articles on the subject of silent corridors. This isn’t a new debate by any means and it’s one that’s always guaranteed to cause a debate between the participants of edutwitter. In January 2019 Ofsted caused a stir by praising Magna Academy for silent corridors as reported in this article. They defended their position by adding that they only report on policies which are consistent and proven to work. They did not actually endorse this approach. This was of course seen as a mixed message from the inspectorate.

On Friday 28th February 2020 the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson resurrected the debate as reported by SchoolsWeek here. He is calling for silent corridors and other strict policies to be the norm in our schools. Williamson praised schools with strict discipline procedures and argued that one incident of poor behaviour could derail an entire lesson. To help combat poor behaviour in schools the government’s behaviour tsar @tombennett71 has been asked to lead a tasforce in supporting schools to tackle classroom disruption.

There are always two sides to any argument and The Guardian reported in April 2019 that the teaching union NEU  described zero tolerance approaches to discipline such as silent corridors as harmful and said they may be causing lasting damage to our children.

I have watched this debate with interest over the last 18 months and can say I sit firmly on the fence with this one. I can see both sides of the argument. In general I fully support the measures that have been implemented in some of our mainstream schools. I trust my fellow professional teachers to know what is best for their cohort of children and young people. Walking quietly between lessons, not running around excitedly screaming and tagging pals on the back is a good thing for most children. When visiting schools I have witnessed children pushing others into empty classrooms and holding the door closed, pushing children into toilets and not letting them out and even emptying other children’s  bags on  the corridors, all in the name of fun of course. I’m not sure all of this puts them in the right frame of mind for learning during their next lesson. Having said all that I can’t see what harm a quiet conversation between friends can do. When I was a child I wouldn’t have liked to have gone hours without speaking to my friends, in fact I would have hated it. Would it have done me any harm? No, probably not.

That brings me to children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). From the perspective of our children on the autistic spectrum silent corridors are generally a good thing. These are the children who are likely to have a sensory meltdown if the corridors are noisy and overcrowded. Their anxiety levels rise too high and they are unable to cope and a meltdown occurs. Calm areas and a quiet environment is what they need. Alternatively there are other children for whom remaining silent for the transition between lessons is not appropriate. They may need some reassurance, some talking to in order to ensure they are prepared for the next lesson. Others might be taking part in a sensory diet and need to literally run off their energy. For these children, silent corridors as a policy is not inclusive. However, there are other ways to accommodate the needs of these groups of children and it shouldn’t be at the expense of the rest of the school. Teachers and leaders can find a solution in their own schools where the needs of all groups can be adequately met, where one group does not suffer as a result of policies implemented as a blanket rule for all.

A good friend and colleague of mine @Artology, whose professional opinion I trust and respect tweeted an alternative strategy today directly to Gavin Williamson himself. Helen said that in her experience as a teacher of children with SEMH for the last 12 years her top tips for behaviour management include being positive, being kind, setting clear expectations, discussing rules and consequences, using praise, being consistent and building positive relationships with the family. These behaviour strategies are consistent with my own as a teacher of  children with SEND for 20 years plus.

When discussing this issue on Twitter with some colleagues both @smithsmm and I agreed that where we do have issues is with education ministers and MPs telling us how to run our schools. After all the years of training invested in us as teachers and leaders why can we not be trusted to determine for ourselves what works best in our individual schools? Why must we have blanket policies dictated from on high? Sometimes, the MPs issuing the orders haven’t set foot in a school since leaving their own many years ago. Although in this particular case I am very happy that Tom has an educational background.

In summary, I don’t think we should have a blanket policy covering all schools. That wouldn’t be good for anyone, teachers or children and it certainly wouldn’t be inclusive. No single system will be right for every child and we shouldn’t try to make it so. On balance, teachers and leaders should be trusted to do what is right for their cohort of children. They know them best and they know what will and won’t work. I started this post by saying that I am  entirely on the fence, after writing and reflecting I am now wondering if maybe not silent, but quiet corridors might be a realistic alternative for schools to consider. Just a thought.