Parents angered after 100 detentions given out by Whitburn Church of England Academy in uniform and school rules clampdown

The parents of a number of children attending Whitburn Church of England Academy are angry after the school confirmed around 100 children were detained after-school for breaches of school rules and uniform policy.

The pupils were detained on the first day after the half-term holiday with further detentions having taken place since.

Parents were sent a letter before the holiday warning that for “every breach of expected uniform, there will be a one hour sanction after-school the same day”.

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The letter also warned the same sanction would be “imposed” for students using their mobile phones in the school building with use only allowed outside during break and lunchtimes.

Whitburn Church of England Academy pupil Ava-Grace Coutts, 13 with her mum Stevie Coutts. Stevie feels the schools' detention policy in clamping down on rules and uniform is "too extreme".

The letter stated failure to do so would be viewed as “defiance of the school rules and staff will confiscate them”.

Principal John Crowe has defended the policy, insisting the clampdown was to ensure all students adhered to the rules which had always been in place, some of which had been relaxed due to the pandemic.

The school also cited that by the end of the week (Friday March 4) there were only six detentions issued.

The situation led to a number of parents contacting the Gazette and Echo about what they feel are overly draconian punishments.

Mother, Stevie Coutts, has said her daughter Ava-Grace Coutts, 13, who attends Whitburn Church of England Academy, has been given detention over the length of her skirt.

Stevie Coutts, 32, whose daughter Ava, 13, attends the school, said: “The situation has become ridiculous and I think the rules are too extreme. Ava got three detentions in one week for uniform. I’ve had Ava on a waiting list for a dance class for a long time and she finally got a place on the Monday after half-term – the day she was given her detention.

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“I asked the school if I could change the date but they wouldn’t let her. She was also given a detention for putting a small bit of concealer over a spot.

"Students are also being given detentions if they are a minute or two late. I understand the importance of time but surely there has to be a little bit of leeway.”

Much of the parents’ dispute is over detentions for uniform.

Whitburn Church of England Academy has been having a clampdown on rules and uniform expectations as school life begins to return to normal following the pandemic. Photograph: Google Maps
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The letter to parents stated: “Whilst we would encourage the wearing of school trousers for all, please be reminded that trousers should be of formal dress. “They should not be leggings made from stretchy material and be of ¾ length. Equally, skirts should also be of formal dress – not stretchy material or tight fitting, but of material that rests on the knee.”

One parent who asked to remain anonymous said: “My daughter stood up and her shirt popped out and she was threatened with detention. This wasn’t deliberate and is something which can happen.

"My other daughter was given a detention for having a skirt above the knee. You’re not talking a mini-skirt and she had thick black tights. Every day she was given a detention.”

Fellow parent Claire Storey, 33, whose daughter Amelia, 14, attends the school, added: “I just think the punishments are far too harsh. Children grow and we are halfway through the school year now and buying new uniform is an extra expense I can’t really afford.”

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One of the gripes of parents was over the “short-notice” of detentions being administered on the same day.

However, Government legislation stipulates there’s no legal requirement to inform parents of an after-school detention but schools will consider it good practice to inform parents, on the day if necessary, in light of any welfare concerns of children getting home – something which Whitburn did.

But Paul Airey, 44, whose daughters Izobella and Molly attend the school, feels greater consideration needs to be give for the implication for parents.

He said: “I think the clampdown is bizarre as the school has always had a tight uniform policy. Parents need more notice. My wife is a nurse and she had to leave in the middle of a 13-hour-shift to pick up our daughter who’d been given a detention.”

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However school Principal, John Crowe, has vehemently defended the policy as simply “returning to many of our previous rules and routines to ensure our standards and expectations are as high as they have always been” in the aftermath of the pandemic.

He added: “We are sure that most students will respect the reintroduction of these school rules as we strive to return to normal school life. Many other secondary schools are doing the same.

"I’m afraid students not adhering to our rules are being asked to attend a one-hour detention after-school on the same day as the misdemeanour and this is common practice in many schools.

"When this happens, parents and carers are notified, and we advised them at the end of last term that detentions would be imposed on students failing to meet the rules on uniform.”

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On the dispute over uniform, Mr Crowe added: “The majority of our students are immaculately dressed in their uniform, which they wear with pride. We’ve asked parents and carers to continue to support us on this important issue and ensure that uniforms meet the expectations set by the school.

"These are the same expectations that were in place prior to the pandemic and have been for the last 12 years. A reminder of our uniform policy has been sent to all parents, and our rules also stipulate that students do not wear make-up.”

In the letter sent to parents, the school highlighted how rules regarding the use of mobile phones had been relaxed during the pandemic but this “privilege” was now being “exploited”.

In his statement Mr Crowe said: “During the pandemic, we allowed students to have their mobile phones on their person, with permission granted for them to make use of them in social times, in or outside of the building. As we return to normal, we strongly feel the time is right for us to ask students to abide by our pre-pandemic rule of either not bringing them to school, or using them only during designated times.”

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