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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, July 17 2017

Time Out

The delivery of a negative consequence for students whose actions are unacceptable is a difficult thing with the social and ethical restrictions that eliminate older, ‘traditional’ penalties.  In fact it is hard to think of any form of ‘punishment’ that teachers can impose that is not a form of ‘time out’ (TO) or exclusion.  This should not distract from the effectiveness of this practice as effective time out is a form of rejection and that is a very powerful motivator for the vast majority of children.

Time out achieves two outcomes in the short term, first it is the removal of the student who is disrupting the class and secondly the lesson can continue for the remaining students.

There are another benefits including the offending student can learn there is a consequence for their inappropriate behaviour and the exclusion can give them a quiet place to regain the emotional equilibrium.

The use of TO should never be a surprise; the class needs to have it known that this is the consequence for poor behaviour.  Whether or not there are specific warnings given to students who are ‘heading for TO’ depends on the students’ expectations.  There doesn’t seem to be any evidence one way or the other but the implementation must be consistent.


Stage 1  - The teacher makes the decision to remove positive stimulation from the student while they remain in class.

Stage 2  - The student is physically removed to another location in the classroom and instructed to watch but not participate in the lesson.

Stage 3  - The student is removed from the instructional activity and is not allowed to watch the lesson. 

Stage 4  - The student is removed from the room and is sent to a designated area for a brief duration of time. It requires the school to designate a specific space or location and to organise a level of supervision for the students. 

Stage 5  - If all forms of time outs in the school have failed then it may be that the student is removed from the school all together.  This is school suspension.

Length of Time Out

It is a fair rule of thumb that time out should be no more than five to ten minutes for young primary students up to fifteen to twenty minutes for older students.  However, the range of time can be from seconds, say Stage 1 to days, Stage 5.

Returning From Time Out

There should be a predetermined length that the students expect but the students should also understand that return should not happen unless there is a significant demonstration of appropriate behaviour. 

Legal and Ethical Guidelines

Before TO is used the following guidelines should be followed:

  • There must be conformity to the local education’s authority guidelines on time out, suspension, exclusion and expulsions
  • There should be the provision of written procedures so that parents, students and relevant school community members understand the process.  The legitimate educational function of time out is identified (i.e. reduction in dangerous or disruptive behaviour, protection of educational environment, etc.)
  •  Records should be kept of significant TO’s
  • For the higher stages of time outs supervisors, and parent/guardians, should be notified.

A final word of warning, the use of TO will only be effective if the student wants to be in your classroom.  If this is not the case then it may well be a positive result and the behaviour you thought was dysfunctional was indeed functional for that student.  Further to this, where the child goes to do their TO, it should not be to a more attractive place than being in classroom.  For example, if you have a group of students who are friends and they are misbehaving they may well plan to get ‘kicked out’ just to be together with no work to do!

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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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