The headteacher of a primary school in central London has received support from parents after being criticized for introducing a new measure that requires children to walk around with their hands clasped behind their backs. The “university walk” measure had received mixed reactions, with some parents considering it ‘oppressive’ and ‘dictatorial’, while others found it insignificant or useful in reinforcing good behavior. The school’s executive headteacher, Angela Abrahams revealed that the measure was introduced to ensure the safety of pupils, strengthen their aspirations and maximize learning time. She also said that teachers appreciated the impact the university walk had on learning time and pupils embraced it. However, a minority of parents who oppose the policy feel their views are being ignored. One parent, Carly Taylor, expressed her concern that the school was losing its identity and caring, nurturing environment. Meanwhile, another parent, Natalie Ohana, praised the headteacher as “insightful.” Michael Reiss, a professor at the Institute of Education, University College London, said that children in Jane Austen’s novels were not made to walk around locked with their hands behind their backs, and that the measure was not appropriate in 2015.
As an individual who has spent more than 25 years working in various universities, I find it concerning that the recent incident involving a group of primary school children walking in silence is being referred to as a "university walk." At universities, we strive to foster an environment that promotes autonomy, intelligence, motivation, happiness, and ambition. We encourage individuals to determine their own path and behave in a manner that is appropriate for their goals.
When discussing the appropriate behavior for primary school pupils in corridors, I believe that it is essential to teach them not to run, bump into each other, or make too much noise. Primary school children between the ages of five and eleven are at a crucial stage of development, and it is the responsibility of educators to instill appropriate values and behavior in them during this period. We should teach them to conduct themselves appropriately and develop pride in themselves and good judgment regarding acceptable behavior.
However, we must remember that forcing primary pupils to behave unnaturally can be counterproductive. Even in Jane Austen’s novels, characters were not expected to walk around with their hands clasped behind their backs. While I appreciate high standards of pupil behavior, we must also ensure that we do not impose unnatural behavior on our students.
Former headteacher and teacher trainer, Alan Newland, cautions against collective punishment as it is not an effective solution to behavior issues in a school setting. While it may be tempting for a new headteacher to use this technique to assert their authority and teach students to behave appropriately, it is never a good idea to punish individuals collectively as it reduces their sense of responsibility and accountability.