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Principal's Blog

2011 TERM 4

The end of 'no touch' – about time!

Schools in the UK are no-longer allowed to have a no-touch policy. The UK Government has moved to give teachers the power to enforce safe and effective school environments, and cuddles are back!

I have felt sorry for those working in mainstream schools for many years, where teachers have been given no actual means of maintaining a safe learning environment for either themselves, or their students.  A physical demonstration of affection and care for students is also, sadly, a rare thing now in most schools.  I have also experienced the ongoing frustration of good parents, troubled that their children's learning is being compromised by ill-disciplined children, and the fact that the school has done nothing about it.  In many cases, the school, given the rules that it has to operate under, couldn't actually do anything.  The change in the UK is a big step in the right direction.

But what are the implications for policy here in Australia?  Well, my feeling is that, given the generally slow flow of education ideas around the planet, we will probably see this in about ten years’ time, when the rest of the school system will 'catch-up' to this special aspect of the Fitzroy Community School schooling experience.  I will be greatly pleased when we are no longer special here, and that all students experience a jump in the quality of their schooling

The change to a 'no touch' policy in mainstream schooling a generation ago was a mistake, and sadly a whole generation have had a less than optimum school experience because of it.  This change was understandable though, as some schools and teachers did go too far in disciplining students.  A more sensible approach would have been to educate these few teachers, rather than banning all forms of physicality between teachers and students.  The new policy in the UK acknowledges how hard enforcing discipline can be in some situations.

In my experience of working with children, two key things are necessary.  Love and discipline.    Children need both love and discipline.  To remove the physical from these seems ridiculous, and a tragedy when it becomes official policy and applied universally.

Mistakes were made in the past.  Things did sometimes go too far.  But a much bigger mistake was made when touch was eliminated from education.

In looking to the future, the best suggestion I can offer governments is to get out of micromanagement, and allow schools to do their best and let parents choose.  Promote ideas of 'best practice' but do not make them part of the required compliance framework enforced on schools.  Our ideas of how to educate continue to evolve.  Legislation only seems to set in concrete a set of expectations and procedures that often look bleak, ill-thought out or just silly to another generation. 

Best practice, from a governmental perspective, should be to allow individual schools, teachers and principals to give their best, to innovate, modify and develop their operations to best cater for the children they are working with.  Remote-control policies, in my experience, usually end up holding us all back.

The list of blanket rules that have prevented good people from being and giving their best is a very long one.

Timothy Berryman (Principal)

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