Withdrawal from school sport as a sanction


Withdrawing a student from school sport

Withdrawing students from school sport as sanction is a contentious issue and one I think requires thorough thought and forward planning. If used wisely and correctly it can have the desired positive outcome, however more often I believe it is used because it is seen as an easy stick to beat a student with.

I feel it is on the rise and in the last three weeks I’ve had students withdrawn from training for sport and representing their team (all extra-curricular activity) as a sanction for the following reasons: –

  • failure to attend extra revision classes
  • continual failure to hand in homework
  • rudeness to a member of staff
  • behind on coursework
  • disruptive in language lessons
  • poor academic attainment in a number of subjects
  • poor punctuality

My own personal bias

My own personal bias means that withdrawal from school sport should only be ever used for issues directly linked to school sport, such as poor effort, punctuality and attendance with regards to training, poor behaviour when representing the school and then anything that might fall under the NGB rules for that particular school sport. Denying students the chance to train and play sport for the school is an easy option in my mind and I feel a vindictive one. I’m not comfortable withdrawing students from sport, especially when my main role is to promote an active and healthy lifestyle. Punishing either through exercise or withdrawing from exercise does not promote this aim.

Withdrawing a student from extra-curricular sport due to academic issues is a difficult one for me. If it is for a fixture that is during a lesson of a subject that the under performance is occurring in then I would fully support that student not being selected. In fact I have done this on many occasions to the detriment of the team. There is a long withstanding expectation in my school, that is clearly shared with both students and parents that if a student misses a lesson due to sport, then it is the students responsibility to catch up with any classwork or homework missed. It is also the students responsibility to give 48 hours notice of missing the lesson. Failure to do this results in a student being withdrawn from the next fixture.

However with more teaching experience and responsibility within school I do see the link between poor behaviour and using withdrawal from sport as fair sanction. Representing your school is a privilege and requires an element of trust especially for away fixtures. If a student is unable to treat their peers and teachers with respect and good manners in the classroom or during the school day, then how can they be expected and trusted to do this on the school field? Withdrawal from sport should be a final option though, once other avenues have been explored and exhausted, as participation has many benefits for the child. Denying those benefits to ensure good behaviour has to be seriously weighed up before the decision is made.

Outside the circle of PE

Whilst I know many PE teachers feel similarly as me and probably more strongly that withdrawal from sport is an unfair sanction, I thought I would try to gain insight from my PLN on Twitter and ask the thoughts of colleagues from outside of PE.

An initial response mentioned the film Coach Carter and the idea of the ‘student athlete’. This concept is about balancing the roles of being a full-time student and a full-time athlete. They are expected to meet or exceed the academic requirements of the educational establishment in order to play sports. The pressures on these students seem exceptionally high, especially as the sport is seen as a way of getting into university, gaining some form of scholarship or having the chance to play professional sport. The idea behind the student athlete is one I like, especially as they have to be aware of managing academic, athletic and social responsibilities whilst maintaining all three. Perhaps all students should be student athletes? However ‘student’ is the operative word and this must take precedence when deciding the course of an appropriate action or sanction. In the film, the basketball players are not attending class or meeting their required grades. The coach of the team shuts up the gymnasium and prevents them from playing until they meet minimum academic expectation.

Another good point made was that this sanction also has a negative effect for staff. It causes more work for those that run and coach the teams. It can effect their training sessions which they run unpaid in their own time. Should arbitrary punishments also make extra work for teachers not directly involved with the issues. If a student was committing some of the misdemeanors mentioned at the beginning within GCSE or A-Level PE I would not be withdrawing them from debating, drama, music or school trips, knowing full well that if I did I would be causing extra-workload and stress for my colleagues who ran them.

The crux of the matter

Reflecting on it, my real issue is not whether withdrawal from sport is used as a sanction, but how it is carried out. Firstly it is not part of the official sanction policy of my school. It is not mentioned in any policy or document  this sanction could be used. If withdrawal from school sport is going to be used as an official sanction for poor behaviour or academic under performance then pupils and parents this must be made crystal clear.


Secondly the Director of Sport, Head of PE and/or the coach of the team must be involved in the discussion when using this sanction. Not being part of the process can cause problems that I have witnessed before. One potential problem is management of the team. It is time consuming and not knowing a student is unavailable on a certain day can cause a lot more work, especially if this is found out at the last moment. It can be embarrassing to the schools reputation if it turns up without the required amount of players to represent them. Another problem which can occur is where colleagues do not back each other up, with one or another going to SLT to ask them to over turn a decision. All this does is undermine teacher authority and can result in unprofessional conduct within the work place that students may witness.

Finally ensuring that the right people are part of the process makes the sanction more meaningful. It is a powerful statement if both academic colleagues and members of the PE Department deliver this sanction together, backing each other up. It sends out a strong message, not just to that student, but the rest of the school, that representing the school is a honour and privilege that can be taken away if expectations within school are not met.

The way forward

I want to support my colleagues within school and not make every withdrawal from sport a battle where we in the PE Department feel that our extra-curricular provision is seen as ‘not important’. So what are my next steps?

1. In conjunction with pastoral leaders and SLT rewrite our behaviour policy for next academic year to include not only withdrawal from school sport as a sanction, but all extra-curricular activities.

2. To ensure that any withdrawal from extra-curricular activity must involve the member of staff who oversees the activity before any final decision is made. If the sanction is appropriate then they must assist in explaining why the sanction has been given to he student

3. To highlight new policy in pupils handbook and school website.

4. To run a series of assemblies at the beginning of the year that explains how representing the school is a privilege and it could be taken away depending on poor levels of behavior and academic performance.

If you have any thoughts or ideas about how to rectify this contentious issue then I would be very grateful for your advice or feedback.

19 thoughts on “Withdrawal from school sport as a sanction

  1. My year 9 son was excluded from representing the school football, basketball and rugby teams for half a term after someone posted a video of him involved in a scuffle with another pupil and posted it on a social media site. My son missed the county cup final and league cup final. This sanction is not mentioned in the school handbook or behaviour policy. I agree that it is a very easy stick to beat them with. If a child misbehaved in PE would a sanction which involved the pupil being excluded from maths or English ever happen? I think not. So why is it ok for sport?


    1. If poor academic performance or misbehaviour were to occur in PE lessons either core or academic, then the PE Department would deal with it first and foremost. If that didn’t work then I would expect support from my SLT and follow the school behavioural policy. I too have the same issue as you. If it isn’t clearly expressed in the behavioural policy as a possible sanction then it can lead to feelings of unfairness from both student and staff members who run the teams. Personally withdrawal from extra-curricular sport should only happen if the issue occurs in extra-curricular sport, however I do see merit if it is used as a sanction for consistent and deliberate poor behaviour within school that has been dealt with through the school policy and it hasn’t been working. I’m sorry to hear you son missed in what my mind would be a great memory for him and one that would motivate him to stay active. If it was in the school policy I would have upheld the withdrawal, as it wasn’t you have my sympathy. Action and consequence needs to be clear to students, it needs to be consistently applied.


  2. Trying to cover eventualities with policy is like juggling fish, a very slippery and unpredictable pastime. It is as obvious that some conduct must bar a student from representing their school as it is that withdrawal of sport is not the answer to effort in R.E. Every case on merit with negotiation and professional judgement by colleagues that support each other is the ‘grown up’ way. (Oh and let’s stop pretending that “catching up work” is learning). So talk to me you sporty types. I want to help and I need yours.


    1. I would rather withdrawal from sport only be used as a sanction if the poor behaviour was performed in the sporting context, however I know that isn’t going to happen. My concern is that the use of this sanction isn’t in the school behavioural policy booklet. Students do not know it can be used and neither can staff. Putting it in means that there the action = consequence is clear to all, but on the other hand would this mean that this sanction would be used more often? You are right about policy, but I feel without it, it is only going to cause more work for me and the coaches I supervise. We need to be part of the process and not fighting it.


  3. Great post; really thought provoking and worth sharing…
    My main concern with using withdrawal from sport as a sanction, or using sport/games as a reward (as is often done in primary schools), is that it perpetuates the attitudes that health and physical activity are a bonus, and not attributes that are only accomplished through effort. I think it’s important that the culture of schools should promote that health and fitness are gained through effort and understanding. This might do something to address our societies’ needs for quick fixes through special, unevidenced diets or magical exercises.
    A secondary concern is that if a student actually has serious talent in a particular area and is willing to work hard and persevere, they should be encouraged. We don’t punish kids for being poor at cricket if they are good at analysing literature by removing their access to books; why should it be the other way around if they are good at a particular sport? I think this is something you are already discussing in this post.
    Thanks for sharing,


    1. Evening Charlotte. Good to chat with you the other night. You make a good point, and it is a key concern for me in using withdrawal from school sport as a sanction. As a PE teacher my main aim is to encourage and foster the motivation to be physically active outside of the classroom. Preventing a child from doing this, via a sanction, does not sit well with me. I’m probably overtly worried that a child who enjoys sport would then give it up if they were withdrawn from it as a sanction. However should we really be risking that? The use of physical activity as a sanction, or being denied it as a sanction is not acceptable to me. It does take effort, time and understanding and this can easily be destroyed if we aren’t careful.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just curious: how many of the students involved in sport are also involved in other extra-curricular activities? If a student is withdrawn from sports, are they usually withdrawn from any other activities as well? Or is withdrawal from sport treated differently because of the aspect of the sport representing the school publicly?


    1. From my understanding only one student has been withdrawn from other extra-curricular activities, which is school trips. I think it is the combination of what you say Fiona, because they are representing the school, but also that it is something for many of our students something that means a great deal to them. I find that, as someone who is quite traditional is their approach to behaviour management, quite vindicitive.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, this is a great post! You have addressed issues that PE teachers have been facing for years, the fact that other colleges do not value the time and effort it takes to organise and run extra curricular teams and that withdrawing pupils from sport is an acceptable sanction. Like you, I have never seen an official policy but have had teachers take pupils out of teams with no notice. Not only is this damaging to the school’s reputation ( if you then turn up with less players or an under strength team) but it also effects the morale of the whole team. The answer? Representing the school is a privilege but it could be the only positive experience the student is getting and taking that away from them is not fair or right. It is the easy option but unless they are misbehaving in PE or training then this should never be an option. Teachers should follow behavioural policies and have discussions with colleagues and the pupils and their parents. Only once the behaviour has escalated to the pastoral leader HOH/HOY should this option be discussed in conjunction with the head of PE. But if it has become a problem then you need support from SLT and a clearer behavioural policy! Sorry to rant but such an important issue for schools and students!


    1. Cheers for comments Andy. It is an important issue. It isn’t that we are giving a student a sanction, we are denying them the opportunity to be active and healthy as well as potentially make extra work for a member of staff who is already voluntary giving up their free time to run a team. It might be an effective sanction, an I’m in full agreement of ‘break rules, receive sanction then receive support’ approach to discipline but in cases it needs to be clear to all involved in the process including the child. It can’t just be a sanction that is plucked out of thin air, just because a member of staff knows its something the child really cares about. I don’t think I’m going to stop the practice, but If I can be involved at least i can try to make it fair for all.


  6. I am a big promoter of removing students from sports teams if their behaviour does not meet the standards of the school. However, you are right to say it should be within the policy – I just had a student removed for the rest of the year based on an incident with another teacher within the school which he was suspended for, but I decided that this being his third issue this year, I needed to emphasise the punishment further. I think it is unfair on other hard working, rule following students to see their slot removed by someone who is repeatedly breaking rules.
    Ironic that you write this as I am dealing with this with next year in mind. I took a big note beside your comment that students should be banned from all EC – it is unfair to say that only sport is missed, yet they can attend debating/art etc. I am considering a student athlete contract (not too different from coach carter style) plus an addition to the whole school policy.
    We currently have sports colors as well – I just removed this from one student as despite meeting the requirements on the field to have it renewed, his behaviour elsewhere and in training (or lack of attendance more accurately) meant I have taken that away. Again j think I will build this into any “contract”.
    I want students to see it is a reward to represent the school – I have the luxury of too many options, so one student removed for poor behavior is often a great chance for someone else.


    1. I think making sure everyone who has a vested interested has clarity about the consequences can only help the issue. Obviously just having a policy in place, and following it through will not solve every problem, but it should deal with the vast majority of the minor ones. More complex issues will need all staff, parents and the child to be involved and talking from the same page. That is when it is not helpful to have ambiguity in procedures and policies, especially if it sets colleagues apart, which could undermine the school itself. Your recent blog post is excellent and I agree with your approach. Hopefully your SLT will approve the contract/policy and help you implement it within your school. Good luck with the process and let me know how you get on.


  7. As always, food for thought. Just to give you the American perspective – every week all teachers have to complete an online ‘Academic Eligibility’ form for all of their students.

    The Illinois High School Association states that
    “…schools should determine, on each eligibility date, whether the student’s transcript would contain passing grades in each subject in the event the student should transfer from the school on that date”. This grade should reflect the students’ cumulative performance for the semester through the date of the check.

    A student that is academically ineligible is unable to participate and it is the responsibility of coaches, club sponsors and the AD to help the student address the problem and to resume participation as quickly as possible.

    Students can also be tagged as “in jeopardy” as a warning that the student athlete is close to becoming ineligible.


    1. Andrew,

      Thanks for sharing this with me. I wonder how teachers, parents and students in the UK would feel about having this put into a school policy. It raises some issues, but makes it very clear to students that academic performance is required before they have the privilege of representing the school. Who has the responsibility for raising the students ‘in jeopardy’? Is this an administrational task? Also how often is the performance of a student measured and updated?


  8. Great discussion. I agree that treating physical activity as a bonus is just as counter-productive (in the opposite way) as treating it as a punishment. When they get older and ‘more mature’, they have received the message that being active is something that they need to jettison now that they have grown-up responsibilities and no time for the frivolous.

    A school that offers school sport should, hopefully, be doing so because they believe it is an important part of education. And if it is, why are we withholding this education from children but not taking them out of math class to punish them for their behaviour in PE? However, sporting participation is a privilege that is highly motivating for students and the threat of losing that privilege can be very effective if used wisely.

    As an athletic director at an international school, I pushed back strongly when administration considered withdrawal from sport as a punishment for misbehaviour or poor grades. However knowing what a motivating factor sport can be, the policy that we came up with was that if a student had behavioural or academic issues that a teacher or administrator believed could be helped by the possibility of withdrawal from sport, we had a meeting between me, the teacher, principal and student, and came up with a contract that the student would sign, outlining the expected improvement, with withdrawal from the team one of the consequences if the improvement does not materialise. This meant we could deal with each case on its merits, and keep the message clear that sport is an important part of the educational process.


  9. Great blog post, coming in late to the conversation but this is very relevant to the issues I have this year faced with one of my extra-curricular clubs. Now I don’t fully agree with pupils being disallowed from representing their school in sport if they are failing in a way academically unless as a last resort.
    However, within my department a number of senior pupils have been disrespectful to staff and not meeting our expectations in terms of behaviour. This had led to us using the extra curricular sport as something to create a positive relationship with these pupils but it has turned into something that has been used as a threat of being taken away from them if they misbehave. Fair to say this policy hasn’t worked as behaviour hasn’t improved and I have had to remove certain pupils from representing the school for every match due to poor behaviour. Just wondering if you have any other strategies for getting the pupils onside without having to first take away school sport and hanging that over their head every time they don’t meet our expectations?


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