Behaviour tsar calls for 'more muscular' school inclusion units

Tom Bennett's DfE-commissioned report also calls on the government to collect behaviour data to allow schools to be compared

Adi Bloom

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A leading behaviour expert is calling on the government to make changes to the way that schools tackle behaviour, including the use of 'muscular' inclusion units and the collection of more data.

In a report commissioned by the Department of Education, behaviour tsar Tom Bennett has recommended that the government introduce a range of changes, including:

  • revising the certification for all headteachers, so that it includes a requirement to demonstrate knowledge of how to create a good behaviour culture;
  • introducing the use of a national standardised method that captures data on school behaviour, which can then be used to compare schools;
  • funding schools to create internal inclusion units;
  • providing greater guidance for schools on how to manage and support the most challenging pupils.

But a headteachers' union has questioned whether these are the most effective ways to ensure that schools improve pupil behaviour. Instead, they say that it is merely a form of micromanagement, controlling what school leaders are already doing.

And other experts argue that inclusion units simply allow schools to siphon off misbehaving pupils, so that teachers can ignore them and focus on the rest.

Compare and contrast

Mr Bennett believes that there is a greater need for effective national evaluation of behaviour across schools. “At present, the way we evaluate behaviour isn’t sufficiently nuanced – it’s quite blunt,” he said. “Ofsted will say, ‘What’s the behaviour like around here?’

“So I’ve suggested that schools can ask more detailed and nuanced questions: how frequently is behaviour disrupted? How long each day do teachers spend addressing questions about behaviour?”

The data gathered would then be used to compare schools.

Geoff Barton, general secretary-elect of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “This seems bizarre to me. It sounds like a system approach for something that ought to be about how to support teachers who want good behaviour in the classroom.”

And Neil Miller, executive headteacher of Bromley Educational Trust, a chain of pupil-referral unit academies, said: “That would be really unfair, unless you’re contextually comparing schools.

“Some of those schools do a damn-sight better job with deprived young people than schools with more affluent cohorts.”

Culture of behaviour

Mr Bennett’s report – entitled Creating a Culture – how schools can optimise behaviour – also emphasises the importance of a strong culture of behaviour, initiated by the headteacher and running through the school. He calls on the government to include knowledge of the elements of this culture as part of any national certification for headteachers.

But Mr Barton said: “I’d be surprised if there are any leaders of schools or colleges who don’t already know that, as a prerequisite for learning, you need good behaviour. So this does smack of micromanagement.”

And other behaviour experts are unimpressed by Mr Bennett’s suggestion that the government fund internal inclusion units in most schools.

Many schools already have such units, although the Department for Education was unable to provide an exact number. The report states: “Cost was often cited by schools as the major obstacle to designing more muscular units of this nature.”

'Selecting out'

Paul Dix, of behaviour specialists Pivotal Education, said that internal inclusion units could often be counterproductive. “It’s like the fifth lane of the motorway,” he said. “When you build them, they get filled up.

“My experience is that, as soon as you select out those children you can’t behave, you’re creating something slightly unreal. You’re just teaching the best, and that doesn’t feel like a real comprehensive education to me.”

And Mr Miller said: “They can be quite costly. That’s the issue for schools that operate them. With finances the way they are in schools, this could be an area that suffers as a consequence.”

For a full analysis of what this could mean for schools, see the 17 March edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Adi Bloom

Adi Bloom is Tes comment editor

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