As a supply teacher, the first thing I do at a new school is ask for the behaviour policy. With this document in my possession I can actually do some teaching, rather than simply acting as an overqualified steward of 30 students who are trying to find out how far I can be pushed.
At least, that is the power a behaviour policy should bring. In reality, this is not always the case. Rules are often ignored and teachers, especially supply teachers, are frequently left without effective disciplinary procedures to rely on.
The problem usually lies with the senior leadership team (SLT) and, ultimately, the headteacher. For a behaviour policy to be effective, it has to be enforced from the very top of a school and must be rigorously held to. But in many schools that doesn't happen.
I've seen a member of the SLT shake their head sadly and adopt a disappointed voice when a 16-year-old has told a teacher to "shut the fuck up". Of course, the school's behaviour policy recommended a very different approach. I could be wrong, but I suspect that the actions of the SLT member had little lasting effect on that pupil.
This is the reality that many teachers face every day. Fortunately for me, I can put these schools on my "Do not return to under any circumstances, even if you're living off cat food" list.
Carrot and stick
It can be so different. I spent three very happy years working on full-time supply in a school where the headteacher ensured that the behaviour policy worked. It was clear and easily enforceable. You've probably heard of it already - it's called positive discipline (PD).
I've come across PD in several schools, but I've only seen it work effectively in this one. It's basically a carrot-and-stick approach: good behaviour is rewarded and bad behaviour is punished. The policy is watertight, so even supply teachers know exactly what the deal is.
Pupils' planners contain a section that can accommodate up to eight negative comments a week. If a pupil does get eight negative comments in a week, they are put in isolation for a period the next week. If, over the course of a half-term, they receive three negative comments in any subject, in form time or for any other reason (no homework, lateness, incorrect uniform, lack of equipment, inappropriate behaviour in the corridor) this results in a detention. Likewise, any pupil caught out of bounds receives a detention.
How it works
In lessons, the PD procedure consists of:
- A verbal warning.
- A comment in the student's planner.
- Another comment and relocation to another part of the room.
- A further comment, allocation to another classroom and detention.
In cases of exceptionally bad behaviour, teachers can send for the "on call" member of staff - a member of the SLT or the headteacher. The pupil is taken to isolation and a detention is set. Five detentions results in an extended period in isolation, but the slate is wiped clean when the pupil has gone three weeks without a detention.
Meanwhile, good behaviour and hard work are rewarded with praise stamps, phone calls home and merit certificates. Pupils can trade their stamps for small treats or save them up towards events and outings.
The key is that this policy is not left to chance. Many schools have similar systems, yet they do not enforce them. This school does. All senior staff, including the headteacher, regularly patrol the corridors and drop into classrooms to let pupils know they are about. The icing on the cake is that pupils participate in a PD lesson every fortnight, where negative and positive comments are discussed and behaviour issues are debated.
This well-run and effective procedure leaves teachers secure in the knowledge that problems will be dealt with. Since the policy's introduction, the school has progressed from special measures - with student behaviour out of control - to an "outstanding" rating from inspectors.
There are always difficult kids, of course, but strategies are in place to deal with them. PD is teaching these young people to respect themselves and others, while making them understand that we all have to follow the rules. It's a simple formula: clear rules, rigorously followed. If all schools adopted this approach, the lives of teachers would be much easier, particularly supply teachers like me.
Flora Poste (not her real name) is a supply teacher working in England