Student Discipline. The Construction and Use of Warnings Concerning Past Behaviour

Timothy David, Ellen Schafheutle, Penny McConnell, Hannah Quirk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Warnings are one of the basic methods for giving advice to students, yet there is a dearth of guidance and considerable variation and inconsistency in their content and application. Much of the associated terminology is confusing. To provide clarity, this paper examines the essential ingredients of warnings and their optimal construction and use in higher education, with a focus on students intending a career in one of the health and social care professions.

Currently warnings are often poorly designed and unclear. One example is giving a student a ‘yellow card warning’ without explaining what errors or omissions have occurred, what action needs to be taken, and what could happen if the warning is ignored.

A range of unhelpful descriptors of warnings are often used, such as ‘formal’, ‘informal’, ‘verbal’, ‘written’, ‘Level 1’, ‘Level 2’, or ‘final’. Any warning needs to provide the student with a written and unambiguous explanation of the meaning and implications of any terms used.

Essential ingredients
Warnings should be recorded (in writing). They should contain the word ‘warning’; a sufficiently detailed explanation of what the student has done wrong; and identification of any rule, regulation or professional guidance that has been transgressed. Warnings should explain what the student needs to do to ensure that the problem does not recur; what the consequences will be or may be if the problem(s) continue unabated or recur; if relevant, what effect the warning will have on the student and their career; the duration a warning will be kept on the student record, and an explanation of what the student can do if they do not agree with the decision to issue a warning.

There is an increasing tendency for students to challenge adverse decisions. To respond to such challenges, education providers need to be able to show that they have acted reasonably, including providing the student with appropriate warnings.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHealth Professions Education
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2020


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