How to square your behaviour management with school policy

One of the most common things I hear from teachers is: ‘I want to do x with my class, but the school insists I do y.’ Some schools have very weak behaviour policies, or good policies with weak execution. I have spoken to NQTs who have clearer ideas about how to deal with poor behaviour than their school leaders do.

What do you do in that situation? It can be frustrating when you know that a child deserves some kind of sanction, but the school pussy-foots about with time-outs and cuddles and coffee with the Head of Learning. Or what about when a new behaviour fad sweeps your LEA, and everyone suddenly has to massage each other’s shoulders and cry before they go home?

Have integrity

Up to a point, you have a sliver of autonomy. You don’t always have to use the latest technique or fad, even if the school recommends it. In fact, I would wait until the school positively demands you do something before following the fashion. Schools can make reasonable requests from you, such as setting homework even if you don’t agree with it. But can they expect you to really use VAK Visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning techniques) in every lesson? Of course not.

Option A is to bend the rules without breaking them. If the school doesn’t do detentions then you should do them yourself. Form a mini department with a like-minded colleague and split the legwork between you.

Feed the beast

Option B is to give the beast what it needs to make it leave you alone, and then do whatever you would normally do. When you are being observed show that you have planned for VAK. Demonstrate it, if necessary, and then ignore it in the other 99.5% of your lessons. When Ofsted are visiting, I get out the monkey suit and jazz hands. The rest of the time I teach only with the children’s best interests in mind and I have no problem admitting that.

Of course, you’re in trouble if your grades are rubbish. But that’s when a conscientious teacher examines their own practice and asks: “Do I need to do things differently?” This isn’t a charter for arrogance. I’m not saying: “Teach as you please and damn their eyes!” There is truly some terrible teaching out there. It is only proper that we monitor and regulate the process.

That doesn’t mean you have to let the fashions crush you, though. The thrill of innovation and the desire for simple answers has already proven the undoing of us, and will undermine us further if we let it.

Stand up for what you believe in

Raise your voice at staff meetings. If you are in a leadership position, promote the things you believe actually help, rather than the things that will please the higher-ups. After an examination series where my cohort had performed exceptionally well, I was once asked what I was doing to improve things next year. My answer? Continue to teach them to the best of my ability, every lesson. “But what about the learning to learn courses,” I was asked, “Have you integrated those into your lessons?” I said no. And I didn’t.

You should resist the introduction of simple answers for complex problems. Read research papers for yourself if you have time. This is easier than you think now that the internet has brought the world into a phone box. Make your own judgements as to whether or not the research has been done properly. If it hasn’t, consider your response to it. Be vocal. Share your views with other people. Aim for public office and fix the whole damn world with your bare hands if you can.

A fight worth picking

Sometimes it can feel like you against the world, but if you care about the children, then this is a fight that is endlessly worth starting. So, next time you read some report that says you need to get kids beat boxing their geography in order to achieve deep learning (whatever that is), consider flinging it in the bin.

Teaching is one of the best careers in the world. I have never been happier than since I found my educational Damascus. I love teaching; I love to see kids learning; I love their little faces when they realise that I won’t permit them to do anything less than their best. I suspect that if you’re reading this, you do too. It is our mission to give kids the best education we can, for our own self-esteem, their life chances and the sake of our communal dignity.

Good luck


Read more from Tom here on his blog, or follow him. His latest new book Teacher, is out now, published by Bloomsbury.


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