Managing children’s behaviour and establishing and maintaining discipline in the school are essential components of the role of the primary teacher.
The INTO has published several policy documents relating to this issue, including Discipline in the Primary School (2002), Managing Challenging Behaviour (2004) and Towards Positive Behaviour in Primary Schools (2005). These documents emphasise the importance of adopting positive approaches to promoting good behaviour and discipline in schools, and outline strategies which have been successfully used by primary teachers. Chapter 7 of Developing a Code of Behaviour: Guidelines for Schools also deals with promoting good behaviour.
Teachers are reminded of Sections 2, 3 and 4 of Rule 130 of the Rules for National Schools (as amended by Circular 7/88):
(2) Teachers should have a lively regard for the improvement and general welfare of their pupils, treat them with kindness combined with firmness and should aim at governing them through their affections and reason and not by harshness and severity. Ridicule, sarcasm or remarks likely to undermine a pupil’s self-confidence should not be used in any circumstances.
(3) The use of corporal punishment is forbidden.
(4) Any teacher who contravenes sections (2) and (3) of this Rule will be regarded as guilty of conduct unbefitting a teacher and will be subject to severe disciplinary action.
(While Rule 130 has been superseded by Developing a Code of Behaviour- Guidelines for Schools, insofar as it applies to matters dealt with in the Guidelines, the above sections remain relevant.)
It is acknowledged that despite the best efforts of schools, inappropriate behaviour happens, and that even minor breaches of the Code of Behaviour can be disruptive, particularly if they are persistent. Chapter 8 of Developing a Code of Behaviour – Guidelines for Schools outlines a problem solving approach to addressing inappropriate behaviour, including a whole school strategies, clearly defined roles and responsibilities and the use of sanctions.
Schools should determine what sanctions to use. Examples of appropriate sanctions include:
- Verbal reprimand
- Removal from the group (class)
- Withdrawal of privileges
- Withdrawal from the particular lesson or peer group
- Carrying out a useful task in the school
- Formal report to the board of management
If detention is used in the school, this should be made clear in the written Code of Behaviour. Parents should have adequate notice of detention.
Inappropriate sanctions include:
- Physical punishment or the threat of physical punishment: physical chastisement of a student is illegal under section 24 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997.
- Ridicule, sarcasm or remarks likely to undermine a student’s self confidence.
- Public or private humiliation.
- Applying sanctions to whole groups or classes in cases of individual or small-group wrongdoing.
- Leaving a student in an unsupervised situation (e.g. a corridor) while in the care of the school.
- Persistent isolation of, or ignoring, a student in class.
- Sanctions that are used in a discriminatory way: the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2011 require that schools do not discriminate under any of the nine grounds in the use of sanctions.
Temporarily removing a student from the classroom to a supervised location may be appropriate in the interests of classroom management in order to ensure the learning of other students and to help the individual student to recognise and learn about the impact and consequences of their behaviour. However, consistently denying a student access to a particular part of the curriculum as a general sanction would not be appropriate.