Pop QuizSecondary Education

Pop Quiz: Access Denied

Time out. A phone call home. Copying out the school rules. Detention. Exclusion. A move of class. All popular high school sanctions, all designed to mould behaviour in a particular way, and all very often quite ineffective. Anyone who’s worked in an average high school for even a short amount of time will be familiar with the various procedures that teachers have at their disposal in case of indiscipline. Sometimes these can be effective, especially if the student isn’t the type to normal be in trouble. Some young people, however, treat these sanctions as passing inconveniences or even as amusements. It can be nearly impossible to find consequences that the most hardened students actually feel any degree of concern about.

This week I witnessed a new (in my experience, at least) sanction that actually seems to have had an effect. One particular incorrigible pupil had been causing trouble throughout the school but particularly in any lessons that involved ICT. They had been caught attempting to circumvent the school firewalls many, many times. After all the usual steps had failed, the school decided to take drastic measures. They banned this pupil from using any school ICT equipment. Each of our pupils has a personalised username and password that they need to access the school network, and this pupil’s was deactivated. The individual in question now has no way of accessing any of the computers, desktop or laptop, in any part of the school.

This punishment has become legendary throughout the school over the last few days. Everyone is talking about it. Some students are up in arms about the unfairness of it all, while some others are quite amused. It’s been so effective that some pupils have actually claimed that they’re going to “be on their best behaviour” in case it happens to them. Of course, there are some pretty serious side effects with a sanction like this. In locking the pupil out of all school computers, they have also been locked out of several potential educational experiences. Teachers may have to reconfigure pre-planned lessons if they teach this pupil. It could be argued, especially by parents, that the school’s punishment is denying this pupil a vital and necessary part of their education.

It’s been interesting to see the normally-jaded student body so animated about a behavioural sanction. I’m not convinced that it will stick, though. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if something like this gets successfully challenged – if the parents are savvy enough to make it into a big deal.


What have your experiences been with behavioural sanctions? Have you ever seen or used any particularly effective ones? Do you believe that they work? What’s the alternative?


The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in the afternoon (ET).


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Alasdair is a high school English teacher in Scotland. He's a passionate skeptic and science fan, which is why he runs a discussion club for young skeptics in his school. He loves space and astronomy more than pretty much anything and is studying for a physics degree in his spare time in order to become qualified to teach science.

He lives with a cat made of distilled hatred and spikes.

1 Comment

  1. May 13, 2014 at 12:48 pm —

    This seems straightforward, if the school already has an acceptable use policy. Violating that policy would result in the punishment described. That doesn’t mean the parents would not fight about it, but it seems like the school would have a good case.

    On the other hand, removing access to technology as a punishment for other behavior might be more difficult to make stick, although it could also be written into the school policies/student handbook. Resistance from parents can undermine any type of discipline attempt, but clear policies can help.

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