Concerned parents say their children are “living in fear”, suffering with anxiety and have become petrified of being punished for small mistakes after a secondary school introduced a new behaviour policy.  

They say the “military-style drills” and “oppressive and draconian punishments” at St Ivo Academy, in St Ives, are affecting the students’ health.  

One grandparent has gone as far as describing the school as a detention centre. 

They say students are being given detentions for accidental mistakes, such as a forgotten spare pen, incorrect uniform or not obtaining more than 50 per cent in tests.  

It has also been claimed the youngsters are made to hold their arms in the air during a morning address – with staff allegedly telling them their stance would seem racist if their arms are lowered slightly.  

In response, a spokesperson for Astrea Academy Trust which runs the school, explained the routine “consists of students raising their hands very briefly for a few seconds”. 

She said: “As would be expected, any inappropriate gesture made by a student at any time will be addressed in line with our behaviour expectations, as we will not tolerate racist behaviour of any sort.” 

More recently, parents were told students will be made to wear ‘character cards’ around their neck – and teachers will write negative comments about their behaviour on them.  

But the trust has since responded saying it is introducing “praise cards” as another way to acknowledge positive behaviour from students.  

These will be kept in students’ blazer pockets.    

Parents say the measures have been introduced since Richard Tutt – previously described by The Daily Mail as one of “Britain’s strictest headmaster” - joined the Trust as director of secondary education.  

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The school was rated as “requires improvement” at its latest Ofsted inspection in November 2021. It was given the same rating specifically in the “behaviour and attitudes” category.  

And the academy Trust says it is “absurd to suggest [the] approach is anything other than in the best interests of all students" and that behaviour is improving at St Ivo.   

But many parents say the policy, which was introduced in September 2022 and is implemented at its other secondary schools, is making their children unwell.   

Some no longer want to go to school. Others are even seeking professional help such as counselling.  

One parent shared how their son suffered with ticks as a toddler – and these have returned due to the stress of the school rules.   

The parent said: “Sunday nights are particularly awful for his anxiety, affecting his sleep...  

“... He loves learning and particularly enjoyed the online learning when the staff were on strike, so we know it is not the school work that is the issue.”    

The St Ivo Parents Forum – an independent group representing morer than 400 concerned parents - met with the school on Monday evening (March 6).   

In a recent survey it conducted, 175 of the 305 families that responded said they were worried about their child’s mental health or wellbeing at the school.   

Dr Yasmin Finch, the forum’s chair, said: "My understanding is that we are being used as an experiment in a fanatical school management system which uses military-style drills, oppressive and draconian punishments, and is a throw back to Victorian-type educational goals.   

“I'm genuinely shocked that this is allowed and I'm astounded that anyone in education right now could possibly think this is what a post pandemic generation of children need.”   

There are 1,800 students at St Ivo Academy.  

The Astrea Academy Trust oversees 26 academies throughout South Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire, including the secondary schools Longsands, in St Neots, and Cottenham Village College.   

Parents at other secondary schools where the behaviour policies have been introduced, including the Astrea Academy Sheffield, have also spoken publicly about their concerns to their local paper.  

An Astrea Academy Trust spokesperson said: “It is absurd to suggest our approach is anything other than in the best interests of all our students, their wellbeing and their life chances. It is our priority to continue to improve the culture at St Ivo Academy.   

“That’s why we have introduced routines and policies that maximise learning time and are creating a calm, safe and purposeful environment, where all our students can learn and all our teachers can teach, free from disruption.” 

It was also explained as part of the “school improvement journey”, changes to the rewards system include “Golden Tickets” given to hard working students who can enter a half termly prize draw.  

She added: “Together these changes are having a really positive impact, and we are already seeing an improvement in behaviour at St Ivo which is improving the day-to-day lives of everyone.”