Rules, Expectations and Attributes

Published on 23 June 2015

Last Sunday was Father’s Day. Being a father myself, I’d like to think that everyday should be a celebration of fatherhood, when we consider the role that our fathers play or played in shaping our lives. The reality, sadly, is that I don’t always get spoilt by my children like I did last Sunday. I know that I don’t do the same for my father either so perhaps I’m getting what I deserve. However, I do know that the day did refocus attention on my Dad who visited on Saturday. It reminded me that I love this poem by Seamus Heaney, which also links to the topic of this post.

Digging – by Seamus Heaney 

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound

When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:

My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   

Bends low, comes up twenty years away   

Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   

Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   

Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

Once I carried him milk in a bottle

Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up

To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods

Over his shoulder, going down and down

For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head.

But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb

The squat pen rests.

I’ll dig with it.

In the poem, Heaney reminds us that we’re not exactly the same as our fathers; we may not have exactly the same sets of skills or attributes, but there remain similarities. Although he can’t use the spade as well as his father and grandfather before him, Heaney finds another way to express himself with just the same level of commitment and craftsmanship. I remember my father spending hours in the garden, in his shed and around the house making, building and changing things around. These skills were a mystery to me – a man who can barely construct a piece of flat pack furniture without putting one of the parts on the wrong way round. Nevertheless, his work ethic both at home and in his job as a solicitor, his commitment to his family and his clients are what have stuck with me and I find myself now following in his footsteps. I’ve developed these characteristics because of the type of household which I grew up in and the kind of school which I attended. We had rules and expectations and, as a result, I’ve become the person I am today.

At Swindon Academy, we've had our Code of Conduct and Behaviour for Learning system in place for three years now. It's worked well in establishing a clear set of classroom rules which our staff and students know. It's established boundaries and, when students cross these boundaries, they know there are clear consequences. The overwhelming majority of our students adhere to the code of conduct. They follow the rules, only very occasionally or never even receiving one warning. In fact, quite a number of students will have behaved in line with the rules before they were even codified in the form they are now, because they had learnt from elsewhere that these ways of behaving were beneficial to them in a school context. 

We believe that all of our students - even those who were well behaved before it existed - need the Code of Conduct and Behaviour for Learning systems in place because there are some students who do not adhere to the rules or forget to do so. These systems exist in order to ensure that lessons can continue effectively so that we can all maximise the use of the academy day.

We're currently in the process of running a sequence of assemblies with our students in which we're outlining how, from September, we'll:

  1. Tighten up even more on a number of our rules. 
  2. Implement a set of expectations. 
  3. Support and challenge our students to develop a set of attributes. 

Before exploring each of these in separate posts, I'd like to write here about what we mean by rules, expectations and attributes at Swindon Academy. 


Generally, where rules are enforced effectively and consistently, they act as a method through which we find out what not to do. They prevent us acting in a negative manner and they are vitally important in establishing basic social and learning behaviours. For example, one of our ten Code of Conduct rules is:


Sit in your seating plan position and remain in your seat unless the teacher has given you permission to move around.

This is clearly a very basic rule and students should know that, if they break it, there is a basic consequence - that they receive a warning on the first occasion and a half hour detention if they continue or repeat. 

In life, we come across straightforward binary rules like this all the time, such as speed limits. If we are caught breaking them, there is a negative consequence. It's very rare in life that we are congratulated for a single occasion when we stick to the rules. How often has a police officer ever pulled you over to say your're driving really well and sticking to the speed limit? You'd think they were being sarcastic or patronising. In football, the players who haven't committed a foul don't get applauded for doing so. 

Having said this, over a longer period of time, sticking to the rules is occasionally acknowledged - there are fair play awards, rewarding sporting behaviour across whole tournaments or seasons or careers. In schools and classrooms where there are low expectations, students who meet very basic expectations are rewarded and praised. In the worst instances, students who frequently break the basic rules are rewarded, whilst those who consistently meet and outperform higher expectations aren't noticed. 



Whilst our rules establish how we don't want students to conduct themselves, our expectations make clear how we do want these students to behave. There is much talk in education about having high expectations. In this document, I've explored what low expectations might look like in relation to each of the aspects of our Teaching and Learning model, before reversing this to establish what high expectations ought to look like around our academy. 

This has been helpful in establishing for teachers what a culture of high-expectations should look like and has led to the third version of our Teaching and Learning model.

In order to communicate a set of fundamental expectations to students which sit alongside the code of conduct, from now on we will be talking to them about five P's. We've taken this set of expectations from Cockburn School in Leeds which a number of our Senior Leaders have visited and were impressed by. The five P's are:


The first four of these are still fairly straightforward to live up to - the fifth is what you should be if you do all of the others. I'll explain more about them in my post about expectations. 

You are more likely to be acknowledged if you are meeting expectations like these in life than you are for following rules. 

In the short term, the reward for meeting expectations is not likely to be great. If you consistently meet expectations over a period of time, the reward becomes greater. For example, if you were to hold the door open for someone, you are likely to receive a "Thank you." In the longer term, if you are consistently polite, you are likely to make a better all round impression on people which could open up opportunities to you. In the short term, if you are punctual to meetings at work, you'll have first choice of the biscuits and may be able to play a greater part in the decisions made early on. In the longer term, you could develop a reputation for being well organised and influential which could lead to promotion. 




Once we have grasped the importance of following rules and begun to meet the high expectations other people set for us, as well as receiving small rewards we begin to develop more positive attributes and set high expectations for ourselves. These attributes come from the culture in which we live. It is hard, though not impossible, to develop and maintain positive attributes in an environment characterised by poor behaviour and low expectations. It is far easier to do so in a community which provides you with the opposite.

There are thousands of positive attributes which a school might want their students to develop and seek to promote and a very similar number of attributes you would want your students not to develop.. There are also many ways (some effective, some ineffective, some efficient, some inefficient) through which a school might go about promoting, modelling, supporting and encouraging these attributes. In fact, even if a school might argue that teaching character or attributes are not something they want to be doing, they will still be promoting attributes - some of which may not be desirable - as a result of the ways in which they interact with their students, through the verbal and non-verbal language which they use and through their rewards structure. In my post on attributes, I'll explain which attributes we're choosing to focus our attention on and why, as well as how we're going to focus our attention on these as efficiently and effectively as we can. 

Categories: Blog, Teaching and Learning Model

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