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In education, classroom discipline or school discipline is a form of discipline appropriate to the regulation of children and the maintenance of order in schools and is an aspect of classroom management and teacher student interaction.

The term refers to students complying with a code of behavior often known as the school rules. These rules may, for example, define the expected standards of classroom behavior, clothing, punctuality, social behaviour and work ethic. The term may also be applied to the punishment that is the consequence of transgression of the code of behavior. For this reason the usage of school discipline sometimes means the administration of punishment, rather than behaving within the school rules. The aim of school discipline is, ostensibly, to create a safe and happy learning environment in the classroom. In a classroom where a teacher is unable to maintain order and discipline, students may become unmotivated and distressed, and the climate for learning is diminished, leading to underachievement.

The enforcement of discipline in schools can, however, be motivated by other non-academic, often moral objectives. For example, a traditional British public school usually has a strong underlying Christian ethic, and enforces strong discipline outside the classroom as well as in it, which applies particularly to boarders. Duties can include compulsory chapel attendance, sport participation, meal attendance, conformation to systems of authority within "houses", strongly controlled bed-times and restricted permission to leave the school grounds. Such duties can be stringently enforced, formerly by corporal punishment, and more recently by curtailment of freedoms and privileges (e.g. gatings, detentions), and by punishments administered by senior pupils on more junior ones (this last form tends to be the harshest and most arbitrary form of discipline, and even in modern times can include practices such as forced prolonged exercise to the point of exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and has been known in extreme cases lead to severe abuse). Such systems of discipline are often deliberately arbitrary, working on the philosophy that purely reasonable rules are inherently logical and therefore open to question and debate. The conservative elements inherent in traditional religious schools often demand full and unquestioning, instinctive respect for and adherence to rules, and an atmosphere of complete obedience, which necessitates a universal, rigorously enforced system of discipline.

Historical Attitudes to School Discipline[]

Throughout the history of education the most common form of school discipline was corporal punishment. Whilst a child was in school a teacher was expected to act as a substitute parent, with all the normal forms of parental discipline open to them. In practice this meant that children were commonly punished with the birch or cane.

However, corporal punishmnent was often problematic. Unless strictly monitored it could be open to abuse and there was a growing opposition to any use of physical force in disciplining individuals from the late eighteenth century onwards. A further complicating matter was the rise of compulsory education, as parents might be compelled to send their children to schools in which the disciplinary regime was at odds with parental views on punishment. Corporal punishment was consequently abolished in many countries and replaced by positive reinforcements of behaviour, in addition to forms of discipline more agreeable to parental tastes, such as the detention of students.

Most modern educationalists in Europe and North America advocate a disciplinary policy focused on positive reinforcement, with praise, merit marks, house points and the like playing a central role in maintaining behavior. When positive reinforcement does not work teachers adopt a variety of punishments including detentions, suspensions and ultimately expulsion of the student from the school.

In part, the disciplinary regime of a school relates to the amount of deference a pupil is expected to show to their teacher. In the Caribbean and East Asia in particular a child is expected to show complete obedience to their teacher, with corporal punishment banned in 109 nations (as of the end of 2006), it's still a sanction in some countries in these regions.[1]

Current Theory and Practice[]

School disciple practices are generally informed by theory from psychologists and educators. There are a number of theories to form a comprehensive discipline strategy for an entire school or a particular class.

  • Reality Therapy involves teachers making clear connections between student behavior and consequences in order to facilitate students making positive choices. Features include class meetings, clearly communicated rules, and the use of plans and contracts are featured. Researchers (Emmer and Aussiker, Gottfredson, Hyman and Lally) have noted modest improvements as the result of this approach[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Created by William Glasser.
  • Discipline with Dignity supports the idea that good discipline starts by keeping student dignity intact by providing practical strategies for teachers to share responsibility for discipline with students themselves by tailoring discipline to each individual. Created by Drs. Richard Curwin and Allen Mendler.[1]
  • Positive Approach is grounded in teachers' respect for students. Instills in students a sense of responsibility by using youth/adult partnerships to develop and share clear rules, provide daily opportunities for success, and administer in-school suspension for noncompliant students. Based on Glasser's Reality Therapy. Research (e.g., Allen) is generally supportive of the PAD program (Cotton, 2001).[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  • Teacher Effectiveness Training differentiates between teacher-owned and student-owned problems and proposes different strategies for dealing with each. Students are taught problem-solving and negotiation techniques. Researchers (e.g., Emmer and Aussiker) find that teachers like the program and that their behavior is influenced by it, but effects on student behavior are unclear (Cotton, 2001)[How to reference and link to summary or text].
  • Transactional Analysis works for students with behavior problems to learn to use terminology and exercises to identify issues and make changes within the context of counseling programs. The notion that each person's psyche includes child, adult and parent components is basic to the TA philosophy. Research has been conducted (e.g., Cobb and Richards) has found the TA counseling approach beneficial (McIntyre, 2005)[How to reference and link to summary or text].
  • Assertive Discipline focuses on the right of the teacher to define and enforce standards for student behavior with clear expectations, rules and a penalty system with increasingly serious sanctions are major features. Research (e.g., Mandlebaum and McCormack) is supportive, but inconclusive about the effectiveness of the AD approach (Emmer and Aussiker, Gottfredson, and Render, Padilla, and Krank) (McIntyre, 2005)[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Developed by Lee Canter.
  • Adlerian approaches is an umbrella term for a variety of methods which emphasize understanding the individual's reasons for maladaptive behavior and helping misbehaving students to alter their behavior, while at the same time finding ways to get their needs met. Named for psychiatrist Alfred Adler. These approaches have shown some positive effects on self-concept, attitudes, and locus of control, but effects on behavior are inconclusive (Emmer and Aussiker) (Cotton, 2001)[How to reference and link to summary or text].

Modern Examples of School Discipline[]

A modern example of school discipline in North America and Western Europe relies upon the idea of an assertive teacher who is prepared to impose their will upon a class. Positive reinforcement is balanced with immediate and fair punishment for misbehaviour and firm, clear boundaries define what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. Teachers are expected to respect their students, and sarcasm and attempts to humiliate pupils are seen as falling outside of what constitutes reasonable discipline.

Whilst this is the consensus viewpoint amongst the majority of academics, some teachers and parents advocate a more assertive and confrontational style of discipline. Such individuals claim that many problems with modern schooling stem from the weakness in school discipline and if teachers exercised firm control over the classroom they would be able to teach more efficiently. This viewpoint is supported by the educational attainment of countries -- in East Asia for instance -- that combine strict discipline with high standards of education.

It's not clear, however that this stereotypical view reflects the reality of East Asian classrooms or that the educational goals in these countries are commensurable with those in Western countries. In Japan, for example, although average attainment on standardized tests may exceed those in Western countries, classroom discipline and behavior is highly problematic. Although, officially, schools have extremely rigid codes of behavior, in practice many teachers find the students unmanageable and do not enforce discipline at all, while others impose brutal standards of discipline, backed up with beatings and whippings.

Where school class sizes are typically 40 to 50 students, maintaining order in the classroom can take divert the teacher from instruction, leaving little opportunity for concentration and focus on what is being taught. In response, teachers may concentrate their attention on motivated students, ignoring attention-seeking and disruptive students. The result of this is that motivated students, facing demanding university entrance examinations, receive disproportionate resources, while the rest of the students are allowed, perhaps expected to, fail. Given the emphasis on attainment of university places, administrators and governors may regard this policy as appropriate.

Consequently, that many students graduate high-school with very unrealistic expectations and little in the way of useful skills, leaving it up to employers or vocational colleges to teach the basic social expectations needed for employment or higher education. Frequent complaints of teachers at the university and college level are that students lack the concept of punctuality, consider that attendance to class is sufficient for a passing grade so use class time to catch up on sleep or email, and lack the self-discipline and motivation needed for effective study. Students frequently refuse to complete homework or classwork, or even bring books and paper to class, on the assumption that high-school standards of behavior will be accepted and that an automatic pass grade will be awarded provided they do not actively disrupt classes. University administrators frequently pressure teachers to issue passing grades despite poor achievement due to constraints imposed by the Ministry of Education in relation to funding.

Corporal punishment[]

Main article: School corporal punishment

Throughout the history of education the most common means of maintaining discipline in schools was corporal punishment. While a child was in school, a teacher was expected to act as a substitute parent, with many forms of parental discipline or rewards open to them. This often meant that students were commonly chastised with the birch, cane, paddle, strap or yardstick if they did something wrong.

Corporal punishment in schools has now disappeared from most Western countries, including all European countries. Thirty U.S. states have banned it, the others (mostly in the South) have not. Paddling is still used to a significant (though declining) degree in some public schools in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. Private schools in these and most other states may also use it, though many choose not to do so.

Official corporal punishment, often by caning, remains commonplace in schools in some Asian, African and Caribbean countries.

Most mainstream schools in most other countries retain punishment for misbehaviour, but it usually takes non-corporal forms such as detention and suspension.


Detention is one of the most common punishments in schools in the United States, Britain, Ireland, Singapore, Canada, Australia and some other countries. It requires the pupil to go to a certain area of the school during a specified time on a school day (either break or after school), but also may require a pupil to attend school at a certain time on a non-school day, e.g. "Saturday detention" at some US, UK and Irish schools. Students can do work, stand against the wall or just sit at the desk in a convenient and quiet manner. [2] In the UK, the Education Act 1997 obliges a (state) school to give parents or guardians at least 24 hours' notice of a detention outside school hours so arrangements for transport and/or childcare can be made. This should say why it was given and, more importantly, how long it will last (Detentions usually last from as short as 20 minutes or less to as long as 2 hours or more).[3] Typically, in schools in the UK and Singapore, if one misses a detention, then another one is added or the student gets a more serious punishment. In UK schools, for offences too serious for a normal detention but not serious enough for a detention requiring the pupil to return to school at a certain time on a non-school day, a detention can require a pupil to return to school 1-2 hours after school ends on a school day, e.g. "Friday Night Detention".[citation needed]


Main article: Suspension (punishment)

Suspension or temporary exclusion is mandatory leave assigned to a student as a form of punishment that can last anywhere from one day to several weeks, during which time the student is not allowed to attend regular lessons. In some US and Canadian schools there are two types of suspension: In-School Suspension (ISS) and Out-of-School Suspension (OSS). In-school suspension requires the student to report to school as usual but sit in a special room all day. Out-of-school suspension bars the student from being on school grounds.[4] The student's parents/guardians are notified of the reason for and duration of the out-of-school suspension, and usually also for in-school suspensions. Sometimes students have to complete work during their suspensions, for which they receive no credit.(OSS only) [citation needed] In some UK schools, there is Reverse Suspension as well as normal suspension. A pupil suspended is sent home for a period of time set. A pupil reverse suspended is required to be at school during the holidays. Some pupils often have to complete work while reverse suspended.


Main article: Expulsion (education)

Expulsion, exclusion, withdrawing or permanent exclusion is the removal of a student permanently from the school. This is the ultimate last resort, when all other methods of discipline have failed. However, in extreme situations, it may also be used for a single offense.[5] Some education authorities have a nominated school in which all excluded students are collected; this typically has a much higher staffing level than mainstream schools. In some US public schools, expulsions and exclusions are so serious that they require an appearance before the Board of Education. In the UK, head teachers may make the decision to exclude, but the student's parents have the right of appeal to the local education authority. This has proved controversial in cases where the head teacher's decision has been overturned (and his or her authority thereby undermined), and there are proposals to abolish the right of appeal. [citation needed]

Expulsion from a private school is a more straightforward matter, since the school can merely terminate its contract with the parents if the pupil does not have siblings in the same school.


Methods of maintaining discipline in schools are not always successful. The misbehaviour of children is common in all schools, although most schools managed to keep this within tolerable limits. Occasionally, however, poor disciplinary management within school can cause a more general breakdown in order.

In modern years this has been popularly characterised by violence against teachers and other children. This is, of course, not a new problem. The public schools of eighteenth and nineteenth century England, for instance, were subject to a number of violent armed uprisings and violence against teachers was a common phenomenon throughout the nineteenth century. Even low levels of indiscipline at school can result in a detrimental working environment for children and good teaching will often depend on good school discipline.

Effective discipline requires the consent, either explicit or tacit, of parents and pupils. Whilst few children will enjoy punishment, most will submit to it providing it is perceived as being equitable.

Moreover, to be effective, punishment should never appear arbitrary. School hierarchies award teachers great power over their students and the perceived abuse of this power to punish children in arbitrary ways can be the source of much resentment and hostility.

Problems with school discipline have also led to a reduction in the number of people willing to become teachers, especially in high schools or schools regarded as being difficult. Student misbehaviour and rudeness is the leading cause of teacher resignations. In some areas and countries, this has led to a severe teacher shortage, with classes either not taught, or taught by an unqualified person. In some schools, a senior class, for example, may have up to a dozen different teachers in a single year, as the replacements decide to leave rather than deal with student behaviour. Many countries are now trying to offer incentives to new teachers to remain in such schools, but with very limited success.

The effects of classroom discipline can be compared to emotional abuse, the teacher in the role of abuser and students in the role of unwanted victimization. Merely a game of power and domination.

See also[]


  1. (n.d.) Discipline Associates website.
  2. To make the punishment harder, some schools make the student just sit there and wait for it to be over. Other schools will let the student do homework, or make them tidy up an area. School discipline and exclusions,,, retrieved on 25 January 2009 
  3. Behaviour and discipline, Department for Children, Schools and Families,, retrieved on 25 January 2009 
  4. Discipline Policy and Procedures, Delran Township School District, New Jersey,, retrieved on 25 January 2009 
  5. Improving Behaviour and Attendance: Guidance on Exclusion from Schools and Pupil Referral Units, Department for Children, Schools and Families, England,, retrieved on 25 January 2009 

Cotton, K. (2001) Schoolwide and Classroom Discipline. Online Resource Accessed on June 8, 2005 at: *

McIntyre, T. (2005) Assertive Discipline. Retrieved on August 12, 2005 at: *

William Glasser Institute (2005) Counseling With Choice Theory: The New Reality Therapy. Retrieved on August 12, 2005 at: *

External links[]

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