How we solve the behaviour crisis
Here’s how schools can beat bad behaviour. It can be remixed in a thousand different ways to suit the ethos of the school the demographic, the catchment, the culture, but this is the skeleton of a well-run school, where order is the default not the exception:
- A rolling programme of behaviour training where every employee is told what the school expects them to do, as defined by a clear behaviour policy.
- Communicate this to all students, on a regular basis, and all parents before they send their children to the school. Signed acquiescence should be a prerequisite of matriculation. The rules and principles should be repeated routinely, everywhere.
- Every class teacher needs to set these boundaries. The class rules should be so simple that they can be remembered by the busiest or most stressed of students or staff. More than ten is probably too many.
- A clear tariff of sanctions and rewards should reinforce these boundaries.
- The hard part. When a student crosses the line, the tariffs apply immediately, that day. Staff should be expected to remain until this process is satisfied. Support staff must be paid to make sure that the administration of this process is fluid and certain.
- Repeated misbehaviour, or failure to abide by the above should result in escalation, both in the extent of the sanction, and the seniority of the person dealing with it OR result in school support mechanisms designed to detect and accommodate any special needs.
- Parents informed and involved as early as possible.
- Sanctions invoked as often as behaviour presents; sanctions accrue incrementally. Every week should be, in theory, a rollover week.
- Pupils whose behaviour presents impossible barriers to the learning of the class must be removed. Challenging pupils are often impossible to help, reach or amend in a mainstream classroom. Whether they are simply choosing to be rude or unkind, or they are at the mercy of their circumstances and barely able to see the wrong in their behaviour, they need to be removed from the classroom for two reasons: a) so that their behaviour can’t affect the others and b) so that they can receive support they need.
- Exclusion is good for everyone; it shows that classrooms and corridors are governed by law, with the certainty and security that provides. But schools need to do something meaningful with pupils when they are out of class. Internal units should be aimed at amending and teaching: children should receive one-to-one provision with an emphasis on habituating them into socially acceptable behaviour. It’s also an opportunity for other support agencies to work with the pupils. This is impossible in mainstream classrooms.
- Senior staff should be highly visible, in public areas and in classrooms. They should be free to walk into any classroom at any time.
- Senior staff should call to account those teachers who aren’t following school policy. There should be an expectation that poorly-behaved children should receive sanctions; that it should be reported and escalated. This shouldn’t be treated as a failure on the teacher’s part, but integral to their job.
- Sincere praise should be part of the fabric of the school. Children should see manners and civility, effort rewarded and lauded at every opportunity.
- Staff should be supported by senior staff as a default. Any doubts should be investigated privately.
- All sanctions and rewards should happen as soon as humanly possible. Tomorrow is too late.
- The school needs to accommodate this into their finances, their school days, and every other aspect of their provision. It costs money to run this well. But run well, costs reduce, as the dividend of order accrues.
- Members of staff with specific responsibility for behaviour need the time to perform their duties. Teachers need time to manage their classes. Overloading either with junk workloads and bureaucracy is an act of theft from the pupils’ provision.
- Support and teaching staff need to have time to meet and discuss strategies for children presenting poor behaviour.
- In rare situations students have to go, permanently. This is not a failure. It’s an acceptance that often a school isn’t right for the student, and that we can’t win them all. It also sends a powerful message to the rest of the student body.
- Staff model the behaviour they want to see. Senior staff need to lead this, and confront those who don’t.
And that’s it. Nothing I can sell, or market as the Tom Bennett Technique. It’s as traditional as sardines, and as sexy as a bowl of custard. It takes nothing more than a pair of balls in the abstract, a fine spine, and the courage to remain on course when times are tough. But it works. I’ve seen many schools that do only some of these, or do some badly, because they’re tired, or they’re scared of confrontation, or lazy. I’ve seen schools placate children, or plead with them, or bully them, then retreat, antagonising them more, guaranteeing perpetual war.