The power of the school gate

I agree with Sir Michael Wilshaw that structure in school liberates students to learn. It provides expectations that develop key skills for life after school but also the safety in explicit expectations that does not interfere with learning. Schools are busy environments with many messages, many of them unclear and mixed. Routines create clarity and make it easier to limit variation in practice from classroom to classroom. Too much time and energy is invested ineffectively due to lack of structure and the setting of a clear structure starts at the school gate.

The entire day needs to be mapped – this plan needs to be simple but thorough so that there is no ambiguity that creates confusion. At each stage of the school day ask questions – who, what, when, where and how? However, where do you start?

The school gate is the most powerful point of the school. This is where your culture and expectations are reaffirmed and made explicit. The school gate must be welcoming but firm, a symbol, that when you cross this point you are at school to develop and learn.

Example expectations and how the school gate can reinforce these and help develop school culture: Uniform, equipment and mobile devices not heard or seen.

The school uniform is the explicit symbol of the school culture and ethos. It demonstrates the student’s pride and respect for the school but it is also a barometer to test the culture of the school. In school, students’ uniform should be perfect but if the culture is strong this will carry on into the community.

The soft power the uniform poses in the community is sometimes under appreciated. The actions and attitudes of the student in the school uniform forms the opinions of the public toward the school. If the students look smart, well behaved and polite then the impression is that the young person must attend an outstanding school, yet the opposite behaviours can quickly damage a school’s reputation.

How can we get this right? It starts at the school gate. To enter the school the school uniform must be perfect – no excuses. If there are issues with the wrong pants or shoes they can go home and change. There may be some who say that it is excessive but if it has been clearly communicated at home than what is the issue Regardless, all parties are aware that at this school our expectations are high and pride in our appearance is a non-negotiable.

Another major blocker in the classroom is missing student equipment. Tackling missing or lack of equipment at the school gate can stem sanctioning from being a bureaucratic exercise and stop it from disrupting learning. Students without proper equipment cause issues that range from giving detentions or providing equipment for them. This takes time and if this is happening across the day for a number of students there is a large amount of learning time being affected.

We can all sometimes forget to have our equipment but its about creating the habits that will support future employment. A plumber who regularly forgets his equipment to work is not going to be a plumber for too long. A surgeon without all his tools is not someone I want operating on me. Therefore, the message is clear, in order to make progress, maximize learning and teach preparedness all students must have equipment and show it at the school gate.

It is at the school gate that we can ensure all students are prepared by displaying their equipment on entry to show that they are ready for lessons rather than a fragmented approach of fixing this issue throughout the day.

The use of a mobile of phone in school can be distracting. There may be a reasoned argument by some for the use of mobile phones to support learning in the classroom but currently I see them as a distraction. The majority of the time it is students listening to music, sending messages or playing games and this is not just during break and lunch but in lessons. In addition, there are extreme issues of the inappropriate use of mobile phones that cause big issues and drain valuable time such as unwanted pictures being taken or students being bullied on social media.

The rule is simple – mobile devices should not be seen or heard during the day. Yes, students will still bring them to school but the expectation is clear, don’t have them out or they will be confiscated. This message starts as students approach the school gate – it is time to turn the mobile devices off and put them away until they walk back through the school gates to go home.

School is a busy place and there is enough stress for teachers and students to be committing large amount of time and resources for expectations that can be addressed at the school gate. The school gate must be symbolic that when entering the culture and ethos is about learning and, though arguable draconian in nature, sweating the small stuff at the start of the day creates a calm and orderly environment that frees the rest of the day for learning.

The power of the school day starts with defining what your expectations are to be and what routines can address them. However, to ensure its success routines and consequences need to be clearly communicated to parents or guardians, all adults in the school and the students. Clear communication makes it easier to reinforce and creates a partnership with the community and allows for the school culture to be seen and supported by all inside and outside its gate.