Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Primary students to sign contracts

A Northern Beaches private school is getting eight-year-old children to sign good behaviour contracts - including that they won't act in a "huffy and puffy manner".

Year 3 students at Pittwater House Junior School in Collaroy were asked to sign and date contracts agreeing to certain behaviour in the classroom, and to punishments if they misbehaved.

Local MPs said they were concerned about whether it was appropriate for young children to be asked to sign contracts.

But an education expert said the contract idea simply followed a trend to make Australian classrooms more "collaborative and democratic".

The two-page contract reportedly outlined rules preventing children from being unkind to classmates, to stay in certain areas, not share food, and not dramatise issues.

Punishments included missing recess and lunch, and having an incident reported to parents.

Manly MP Mike Baird said: "I'm all for outlining acceptable behaviour, but I don't see a contract as the right way."

Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said children under 10 were unlikely to understand what it meant to sign a contract, and to distinguish between right and wrong.

But Bruce Johnson, a professor of education at the University of South Australia, rejected that.

"I think we underestimate the ability of kids to contribute, eight-year-old kids are quite savvy," he said.

"The fact that a child is eight is asked to contribute to the definition of rules that they are part of [is a good thing]."

Asking children to sign contracts about rules of behaviour was "part of a social-contracting experience where kids and the teachers negotiate what rules apply in a classroom", he said.

"Often the origin of these rules is kids themselves. It's quite a different regime to what happened previously where teachers said: 'These are the rules, and you will follow them or these are the consequences'.

"It's a far more collaborative and, I think, fairer way ... it's not draconian at all."

For children older than 10, Dr Carr-Gregg said contracts could be effective, as long as they were involved in the drafting and the contract was not "handed down like tablets of stone from above".

However, he had concerns with contracts that outlined punishments for any breaches.

"That's a fairly young age to have a contract which has punitive components to it. You're more likely to get somewhere with that age group of you use carrots as opposed to sticks."

Professor Johnson said contracts were commonly used in South Australian schools, and had been for almost 20 years.

"I would think it's part of the broader trend across Australian schools to make them more collaborative and democratic," he said.

Children at Pittwater House Junior School were told not to discuss the contract with their parents. The school denied this.

Contracts have been used previously in other NSW schools, the paper said.

An Education Department spokesman said managing classroom behaviour was a matter for individual schools, and it was not possible for the department to know how each class did this.

The department would also not comment on the specific matter at Pittwater House Junior School because it was a private school, he said.

Pittwater House Junior School has been contacted for comment.


Juvenile justice supervision figure 4yr high
An Institute of Health and Welfare report has found that the number of young Australians being detained under juvenile justice supervision has reached a four-year-high.

Primary school bans cartwheels, handstands
A North Queensland primary school has banned cartwheels and handstands in the playground.

No school, no cash 'hardline' benefits plan
Families face losing their welfare for three months if their children continually skip school, under legislation to be introduced to Federal Parliament this week.

No comments: