Does detention in schools actually work? Time for a change, How??

16 Mar

In my school, the stereotypical students that got detention were those of two types. You had the children who couldn’t stop talking or were disruptive in some way in the classroom, and then you had the students who wanted to be anywhere than in the classroom and so behaved in any manner that would let them escape! Sound familiar?           (Just to point out I was neither!)

Atkins et al. (2002) investigated whether detentions and suspension in urban, low-income schools were a punishment or a reward? They compared the rates of disciplinary referrals of the children who hadn’t received detention/suspension (never group), students who had had 1+ detention/suspension during fall but not spring (fall group) and students how had 1+ detention/suspension in each the fall and spring (fall + spring group). They found that the number of referrals over the year increased for the ‘fall + spring group’, highlighting that detention/suspension was functioning as a reward and not a punishment.

This study to me sounds far too familiar in many schools. So is it not time to re-vamp the punishment system… find something that actually will benefit children?

Upon researching I came across ‘Choice Theory’… let me expand!

Recently a large-scale study established there are 3 major characteristics that differentiate teachers who are able to manage pupils well to those who don’t. An effective teacher can be characterised as:

–          Has insight to where the child’s behaviour has originated from and/or what is causing it

–          Understand that no-one can actually control another individual

–           Have control of themselves when dealing with the child’s behaviour.

Internal control psychology enables us to understand why individuals behave in a particular manner. Choice theory, like other internal control theories, argues that each behaviour exhibited by an individual has a purpose. That purpose involves satisfying biological and psychological needs (Survival, Love and Belonging, Fun and Enjoyment, Power and Self-worth, and Freedom).

This theory is called choice theory because all behaviour is our best effort, at that particular moment, to control ourselves. Individuals have full responsibility for their behaviour; they cannot be ‘made’ to do anything by another, and this is why authoritarian management (like used in schools) will not results in long-term behaviour change! Behaviour is internally motivated. Short-term compliance can be established via rewards and sanctions, but will also not result in long-term behaviour change.

When choice theory is used in the classroom as the teachers  frame of reference, hey begin to notice how their efforts to control the students via nagging, criticising, punishing and rewarding demolishes the relationship that could be characterised as trustful and harmonic. Many schools that use internal control psychology instead of traditional coercive techniques associated with school discipline now stimulate responsibility and respect!

These types of schools can be identified by their methods to:

–          Abolish punishment and instigate approaches that educate and support pupils

–          Empower students as appose to control them

–          Allow  and encourage students to evaluate their own behaviours and reflect on their individual learning strategies

–          Encourage discussion about ‘quality’

–          Establish a recognition between students and teachers that they should be allies in a learning community and not enemies

Academics that spend a little more time planning how they will handle their classrooms to make sure that they are needs-satisfying environment for both staff and pupils, should find they have less episodes of disruption, violence and absence,  and the children may even produce a higher standard of work!                 Win-win all round I think!


So let’s see a little less detention and suspension, and standing outside the class… and lets have a little more understanding!


Every Student Can Succeed (2001) – describes what to do and say to challenging students.

Theory in the Classroom (1998) – proposes the use of learning teams to capture the excitement students experience in sport.

The Quality School Teacher (1998) – outlines he specifics that teachers need to create a quality classroom.

The Quality School (1998) – discusses the need to replace coercive management with systems that bring staff and students closer together.

Schools without Failure (1969) – proposes a programme based on involvement, relevance and thinking


8 Responses to “Does detention in schools actually work? Time for a change, How??”

  1. rgadd18 March 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm #

    To me this sounds like a form of behaviour analysis. They are looking at the cause and purpose of the behaviour, which is why behaviour analysts look at the antecedent. I agree with your changes to the punishment system, I blogged on it before and I agree that the current system does not work. I think more focus needs to be put onto the principles of behaviour change rather than coming up with new methods that are half based on them but try to incorporate other areas too. Vicki Snider (2006) states a myth of teaching is that eclectic instruction works; where you take parts of different methods and try and make a new one, this does not always work. The different parts might not be compatible, or the wrong parts of an originally effective method taken. Simply using Skinner’s (1997) principles of reinforcement and looking at the function of the behaviour is the best way to solve most behavioural problems in a classroom environment.

  2. elburns March 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    I completely agree with you here, I believe that behavioural techniques such as ‘timeout’ are being used completely out of context and for the benefit of the teacher and the rest of class and do not sort the inappropriate behaviour out at the time, ad the possible cause of the behaviour. This is especially important as individuals could be behaving inappropriately to escape the classroom environment.
    Research has shown of time-out techniques that can take part within the boundaries of the classroom, specifically in special education. This technique involved having a ribbon on their wrist. The wrist was made into a secondary reinforcer by pairing it with a primary reinforcer of food. When the ribbon becomes a reinforcer, when worn, children are encouraged reinforced with praise. When a child is behaving inappropriately the ribbon is taken out and the child is ignored, whilst the rest of the class is reinforced still. Therefore the child cannot escape the classroom environment, but still has a time out (Fox & Shapiro, 1978).
    Therefore time-out and possibly old disciplinary techniques, can still work if used appropriately and not as a quick fix.

    • cassharp March 20, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

      Thank you for your comment, after reading it I started thinking about punishment and reinforcement. Teachers instigate punishments for inappropriate behaviour exhibited by students, which produces rapid-although often, temporary-suppression (Maag, 1999). Positive reinforcement is generally associated with discipline and as a result is misunderstood. People assume the terms “punishment” and “discipline” are synonymous. Unfortunately suppressing a student’s inappropriate behaviour with punishment cannot guarantee that they will know what appropriate behaviour should be exhibited instead.

      Rutherford and Neel (1978) believed that using punishment leaves the development of desirable behaviours to chance. Punishment is often inflicted by adults along with the phrase “I am going to teach you a lesson”. To teach someone involves providing skills and knowledge, not eliminating or suppressing behaviour.

      Educators really need to think of the message they are passing on to the students via the consequences they instil because of inappropriate behaviour.

  3. sophmoss March 19, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    When pupils got sent out of the classroom when I was at school, it was always the same few and they didn’t seem phased by it. It didn’t act as a punishment because the behaviour did not reduce and they would continue to get sent out of lessons through the year. You can clearly relate these factors to behaviour analysis as rgadd18 said, and I think it would be useful if teachers were made more aware of these processes to see for themselves when a punishment or reward is working in the way they require.
    Reinforcement of incompatible behaviour and non-exclusionary forms of timeout were rated as more acceptable than pure isolation for children’s deviant behaviour in a study by Kazdin (1980). When investigating the specific manner of isolation later in this study, it was found that that isolation was more acceptable when a contingency contract was included and when it was used to accompany another form of time-out rather than on its own. This suggests there are different factors that affect the use of time-out.
    Boon Von Brock and Elliott (1986) collected teacher’s ratings from the Behaviour Intervention Rating Scale to investigate acceptability of token economy, response cost, or time-out classroom interventions. The interventions of token economy and response cost had statistically similar ratings and were both rated significantly more acceptable and effective than the time-out intervention. This research suggests there are more suitable ways to deal with problem behaviour, and perhaps simply sending children out of the classroom does not work in the way teachers want.
    Finding a more suitable method would be beneficial to children’s development and treatment of behaviour problems, as well as reducing disruptions for the teachers and other classmates.

  4. scofedhannah March 19, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    In my opinion the ‘naughty’ students in my high school definitely saw detention as a way to escape the “boring” classroom. I honestly believe that is why they were disruptive in the first place; which is quite a bad situation. I went to an interesting talk today by Rachel, which emphasized the importance of ABA and by making subtle changes in classroom management children’s attitudes and behaviours may change. Teachers who react to positive behaviours in the classroom instead of the negative behaviours will be emphasizing what is expected, I suppose this is done already with younger children receiving gold stars if they have been good (Denham, 1986). An important aspect to tackling bad behaviour is engagement, getting students to be engaged and interested in a task will sidetrack them from being disruptive and actually let them enjoy school.

  5. G Billy January 24, 2013 at 4:07 am #

    Teachers gives detentions for just not performing. Just asking the teacher to not do something give you D.T.

  6. culturedebunker November 7, 2015 at 11:11 pm #

    Detentions don’t work. It does for some, but for the hardcore repeat offenders, it is often a ruse for them to get out of the classroom and avoid the lesson. I see the same kids in detention which proves the point. If it did work, they would not be in detention all the time would they?

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