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Red cards let school 'send off' troublemakers

Geoff Mortimore · 27 Feb 2012, 14:16

Published: 27 Feb 2012 14:16 GMT+01:00

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Headlines about bullying, school violence, and concerns about a lack of respect for educators on the part of students, while perhaps exaggerating the problem, have nevertheless focused attention on the issue of discipline in Swedish schools.

Across the country, schools are trying out various initiatives, including a few rather unorthodox methods for keeping disruptive students in check.

While the rough and tumble world of the football pitch may strike many as an odd place to look for inspiration when it comes to enforcing discipline, the Hjortberg primary school in Falkenberg in southwest Sweden has found that an approach used by officials to deter players from falling afoul of the rules also appears to work in the classroom.

After employing a football-inspired system of red and yellow cards during physical education classes, the school was so impressed by the results that educators have now expanded the approach to other classes as well.

“It's a way of increasing safety and improving the climate in the classroom above all” school principal Karin Hultskår tells The Local.

The card system is based on a scale, depending on the gravity of the bad behaviour.

If a student does not listen, or disturbs the lesson, he or she receives a yellow card. If the transgression is more serious, the student receives a red card and has to leave class for a certain period of time.

When a red card is awarded, the child’s parents are contacted and after being “sent off” three times, the school calls both parent and child to a meeting.

Hultskår added, however, that the problem of discipline in Swedish schools has been “blown out of proportion” to some extent in the Swedish media.

“I don't think in general that Sweden has a serious problem with school discipline,” she says.

Nevertheless, similar methods are also being tested at other schools, as Swedish administrators and teachers try to head off potential problems and create a better working environment for all.

”Having a safe creative environment is absolutely key for both the children and the teachers,” Donald Christian, principal at the International English School in Nacka Strand, tells The Local.

The publicly funded-privately managed network of “free schools” follow the Swedish curriculum but offer roughly half the lessons held in English and stresses zero tolerance for bullying and employs a system of discipline based on ’tough love’.

”It is important to think of discipline as a part of a wider package," Christian explains.

”I firmly believe in our mantra ’from structure comes creativity’. Children who come here experience a different kind of environment. So if you lay the groundwork for the kids to learn where the limits are and if those limits are firm but fair, they will understand and come to like that structure.”

The school uses a carrot-and-stick system known as LUNDS (Late, Unprepared, Notice (i.e, if a child forgets gym clothes), Disruptive and finally, Star, which is awarded for especially good behaviour.

However, a detention system is also enforced for serial offenders.

As administrators explore different approaches to enforcing discipline in schools, it appears Swedes support efforts to help make the country's schools more effective.

A survey carried out last year by the Sifo polling firm found that six out of ten Swedes think that education is the most important social issue for politicians to prioritize.

It also showed that many people think teachers should have greater powers to impose order in the school, for example, being able to confiscate mobile phones, impose detention and dismiss unruly students from classrooms.

”There is strong support among the public for giving teachers the ability to take actions to create a good working atmosphere. Teachers often say that they feel isolated so it is a difficult balancing act (keeping both students and teachers happy). Students may have problems and they must of course be taken seriously, but there are also teachers who are afraid to act, because they may either be made to suffer personally or reported,” says Metta Fjelkner President of the National Union of Teachers in Sweden (Lärarnas Riksförbund).

”Students have the right to report a teacher, but the question is, where is the line between abuse and appropriate punishment? Teachers have an important educational role as well.”

Story continues below…

Although there are currently no national rules on how schools treat discipline, there are general guidelines which can then be interpreted by individual principals.

”Basically, I think there must be certain rules that everyone should follow, but I don't necessarily think that there is a need for special systems,” says Fjelkner.

So while Swedish schools may not be the centres of mayhem they sometimes appear to be in the Swedish media, there is plenty of work to be done in terms of finding approaches to maintaining discipline and ensuring schools provide an environment conducive to learning.

At the Hjortberg school, principal Hultskår is careful to point out the new “yellow card, red card” system shouldn't be thought of as a system of punishment, but rather as a way to make class time more secure and productive.

However, it remains to be seen if the school's experiment will ultimately succeed.

”It is too early to say after just a couple of weeks how effective it has been,” Hultskår told The Local.

Geoff Mortimore (mortimore.geoff@gmail.com)

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Your comments about this article

16:41 February 27, 2012 by zooeden
so what one could carry 100 red cards???? Expell those idiots, yeah, kids, but Idiots are the parents who let them hours in front of TV, or play video games, no social skills, no talking to the kids, no parenting in half of the cases, so typicall!!!
17:27 February 27, 2012 by Trenatos
Sorry but.. this just isn't enough.

We need a uniform system for how to handle situations with rules and policy that everyone has to follow.

As it stands today, there are many schools who handle things well, but there are also schools who handle things absolutely horridly, as evidenced by the recent suicide by a young female student, who was bullied for years.


Stop making excuses and stop belittling the problem and do something about it.
19:12 February 27, 2012 by Svensksmith
At the school where I teach, we have a negative and positive point system. It works for the students who occasionally misbehave but are, for the most part, good kids. For the 3% of kids who are incorrigible, nothing works.
19:56 February 27, 2012 by Tanskalainen
Lock the 3 percenters in the closet with Uncle Juholt.
03:16 February 28, 2012 by TheWatchman
This is what we have in Canada, minus the red cards. I don't really see the purpose of them. You can just kick a kid out of the class anyway, you don't need a car for it.
08:00 February 28, 2012 by SimonDMontfort
The 'red card' system would work if the "disruptive student" realises, by being excluded from the class, that his/her disruption has gone too far - alternatively the "disruptive student" might just decide to trash the school, or go out on the streets and commit crime.
11:34 February 28, 2012 by stevo1
maybe 'unruly' children are a signal that things at home are not quite right. Serial offenders, bullies etc are a 'red flag' to Social Services and they should start an investigation immediately into these families. Schools should have mandatory reporting to Social Services when they notice distinct behavioral changes in children, as in Australia. The quicker Social Services get involved with families, the quicker these children's behavior changes for the positive. If nothing is wrong in the home (unusual) at least parents will make significant change to make sure their children behave in an appropriate manner at school and everywhere else, as most parents do not like having involvement with Social Services as they are humiliated socially to a certain extent!
11:53 February 28, 2012 by flintis
How niaive, this political correctness has gone tooooo far, a swift whack with a birch & there will soon be very few troublemakers, bullies & you'll find these ignorant yobs we now call kids will become respectful very quickly
12:25 February 28, 2012 by Grokh
problem is usually their parents cant say not so the child turns out to be a spoiled brat that thinks he can do anything without consequences.

and most the times the parents are actually worse than the children.

not to say its all parents fault , but if they were good parents from the start the child wouldnt be a brat.

And sweden is too lenient with just about anyone that does whatever they want be it a criminal or a 16 year old who thinks nazism is good
12:27 February 28, 2012 by Marc the Texan
Three red cards before calling a parent? There's a problem for starters.
18:29 February 28, 2012 by Reason abd Realism
In a nation like Sweden where football is even more popular than ice hockey, and where boys are presumably the more common sources of disciplinary trouble, and where their football sports heroes can be humiliated by the card system, the red + yellow card system in the classroom seems like an excellent idea.

A friend of mine employed a similar system with his students in Canada, in a school for 'troubled teens', which had a baseball theme, where all the kids tried to achieve a 'no-hitter', like the pitcher Nolan Ryan, over a school year. This teacher would stand at the classroom door like an umpire and call out 'safe!' or 'out!' as the kids arrived for class, depending on whether they were on time or late, and also for disruptions in the classroom or for not doing homework etc.. etc....

He quickly made good classroom behaviour a goal for these students, who could easily have been a disciplinary nightmare without this system.
03:41 February 29, 2012 by Grokh
@Marc the Texan what do you do when you call the parents and the parents say "what am i supposed to do about it" or "its none of my business".

swedens youth is in dire need of consequences and i dont mean beating them up with a broom, if they do something stupid they should be told to apologise, thats not asking much and it would do wonders .
08:21 March 1, 2012 by skogsbo
you should need games etc. to get kids to behave in school. If they are expelled for bad behaviour or don't attend it is without doubt down to parenting. Parents need to be brought to account. Kids are empty vessels when they are born, they only know what the witness and learn from those around them, namely their parents for the early years.

If a teacher has not got the skills to control as class, they should be out too, a teacher needs presence not just academic knowledge.

Better to offer rewards to those kids whose attendance is excellent, who always do work timely.. this gives the other kids a goal. The system shouldn't pander those at the bottom, because the good kids end up being neglected.
11:48 March 1, 2012 by Puffin
The problem is that legally the school is required to supervise children they kick out of class and if anything happened to child forced to leave then the teacher is liable
13:00 March 1, 2012 by skogsbo
that's where the parents should be forced to attend school to collect their expelled child, they should be forced to listen to why they have been expelled, then accept responsibility for the kid and escort them from the site. A walk of shame.
03:03 March 3, 2012 by schmuck281
I hear that Singapore has an excellent method of dealing with disruptive children. Call them up and ask about "Caning." Works like a charm, I don't know why the Brit's stopped using it.
22:22 March 5, 2012 by iridesce
From the States:

This sentence stood out the most to me.

"A survey carried out last year by the Sifo polling firm found that six out of ten Swedes think that education is the most important social issue for politicians to prioritize."

If only the majority of us here could achieve such social policy. Haven't probably due to ... lack of education ...
11:06 March 6, 2012 by B Slick
As a person myself working in the school system in Sweden and have been since 2002 i used "the card system" red,yellow and green. As a rule this system worked very well except on the real trouble makers, they could care less. Vittra schools in Sweden allowed me to use this system but were not all that enthusiastic about it.
13:41 March 6, 2012 by CJ from Sunshine Desserts
In the old days these people would be expelled..end of story. In my days there were always disruptors in the classes..anyway they left school at 16 to work in the factories/shipyards etc.....trouble is those jobs don`t exist anymore & as Karl Bildt explained a few years ago Sweden has become a middle class society. Shame...but its just not a problem here in Sweden.
16:24 March 7, 2012 by jikcal
We have to realize that the school's primary purpose is to educate the students. Teach them math, reading and writing etc. It's not on the teacher's plate to raise the kids. That should be responsibility of the parents, not the teachers.

When there is a rowdy or anti social child, the first place is to look at home and the parents. It is impossible for teachers to add social skills education on top of the regular subjects.
22:03 March 8, 2012 by Vermaldeehide
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