Understanding and Challenging Dominant Discourses About Student Behaviour at School

  • Bruce JohnsonEmail author
  • Anna Sullivan


We argue in this chapter that a particular set of discourses about student behaviour – those that can be loosely located in the ‘traditionalist-authoritarian-zero tolerance’ basket of ideas – have become dominant in society and, in particular, in many of our schools. We present evidence that a strong rhetoric of control characterises most debates about student behaviour despite counterarguments for more humane and civil approaches, and the availability of ample research evidence that calls into question the efficacy of ‘get tough’ approaches. Having established that authoritarian discourses about student behaviour at school are alive and well and are often used to ‘frame’ debates about how children can and should be treated at school, we then examine the reasons why these discourses continue to attract support. Accounting for the persistence of authoritarian responses to student behaviour requires an appreciation of the macro-level influences on schooling in neo-liberal times, as well as an understanding of the micro-level pressures that impact on teachers. We then examine how some teachers and schools manage to resist these practical and policy pressures to enact more humane and civilised ways of relating to students in school. Finally, we provide an insight into how schools can ‘answer back’ to the dominant discourses about student ‘behaviour management’ by rejecting deficit views of children and their families.


Behaviour Management Restorative Justice Student Behaviour Oppositional Defiant Disorder Dominant Discourse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This paper is an outcome of the Behaviour at School Study funded by the Australian Research Council (LP110100317). The following organisations contributed funds and/or in-kind support to this project:

Department for Education and Child Development South Australia

Catholic Education South Australia

Association of Independent Schools South Australia

South Australian Secondary Principals Association

Association of Principals of Catholic Secondary Schools, South Australia

South Australian Primary Principals Association

South Australian Catholic Primary Principals Association

The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect these partner organisations’ policies.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia

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