Broken Windows Theory

If you walk by a piece of litter then you have just contributed to breaking a window.

Litter attracts more litter and that can soon attract criminal damage.

Wilson and Kelling (1982) hypothesised that even a single instance of disorder (the metaphorical “broken window”) can spark a chain reaction of community decline if it is not fixed immediately.

And that’s the point.

If there is something that needs picking up or something that needs fixing then don’t wait for someone else to do it.

Litter needs acting on because it sends out the message that no one is bothered and this can quickly lead to community decline.

Broken windows theory predicts that citizens’ perceptions of disorder in their communities cause fear and social withdrawal, which opens the streets for serious predatory crime.

But it’s not just the streets we are talking about here.

Dame Sally Coates in her book Headstrong: 11 Lessons Of School Leadership quite rightly points out that the little things matter in complex organisations such as a school.

Dame Sally talks about her experience of headship of the school she took over. She found out from the site team that the school paid thousands of pounds each year on replacing broken windows. She soon sorted this and any broken window was fixed immediately.

She took the same approach when it came to graffiti,

A piece of graffiti left exposed gives an impression of a lack of ownership and pride in our buildings, and it’s an impression that will soon take root amongst the students.

When I have visited schools in a previous life as an inspector, I found that schools that were litter-strewn were rarely good schools. They also had other issues such as graffiti and broken equipment and a general feeling of neglect. This was what children studied in and lived around daily and it had a negative impact.

Our surroundings have a huge impact on our outlook and contribute towards how we think and behave.

So when it comes to your own school, is there litter around the place that was there yesterday or the day before? When it comes to getting things fixed, do you attend to them immediately so that the rot doesn’t have a chance of setting in?

It’s always possible to tip the balance back towards the positive and for making our environments places to be proud of, not feared. As Dame Sally, says, being fastidious about your school environment is key:

There’s no excuse for shabby corridors, tatty carpets and floors pocked by chewing gum; managing your physical environment is one of the most basic tasks faced by any leader. We want students to take pride in their school and this starts with the environment.

Do you take pride in your school?

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