OFSTED accepts: there is a behaviour problem. Now, what do we do?

13th December 2013 at 00:18



I was going to write about Wilshaw's annual Ofsted report anyway, but given that I was invited on to Newsnight last night to talk about the behavioural aspects of it, it went from merely probably to you-bet-your-belt. Much has already been made of the executive summary, and I leave other commentators to gnaw on the bones of big data, picking on patterns like the entrails of a druid's goose. What I'm interested in, is behaviour.


See, for as long as I've been writing- hell, as long as I've been teaching, behaviour has been the elephant in the national classroom. It is absolutely axiomatic that children should behave before they can access a decent education. Without acceptable boundaries, governed by love and consequences, children will do as they please, and I assure you that this usually doesn't aim towards their long term betterment. I'm fairly amenable to most theories in education, but on this point I can't accept any rebuttal. Anyone who doesn't think that behaviour is incredibly important in education, well, I just assume they're a bit simple, and I smile and hope someone's looking after them. 


Wilshaw's report is remarkable as not only accepting this point, but- and I can't emphasise what a sea change this is- pointing out that there's a problem. They say the first step to licking an addiction is admitting you have a problem. Well, Mossbourne, we have a problem. I was heartened to see this; Ofsted is one of the most powerful levers, after funding, that the education establishment has. We've endured a Dark Age where this lever was used to pursue the endless whims of fashionable inspectors and grand, gay theories about how children learned but didn't. 


It's been a Doomsday Weapon; a Death Star; a noose around the neck of aspiration and human endeavour; it's the Ultimate Annihilator. It's been a measuring jug for something that often defies metrification, and a bureaucrat's lasso. Recently I, and others have suggested that it may require dismantling and rebuilding, so far has it sickened. 


But credit where it's due: to even point to a problem is a long-legged step. The damnation of an inspection is that what is measured becomes the target, and anything that cannot easily be measured is treated as if it didn't exist; anything that cannot be easily evidenced in masticated spoonfuls is spurned and sacrificed.


I don't know how people make television; it makes teaching look carefree. I can stand in front of a 1000 people like it ain't even no thing, but turn a camera on a sofa and it feels like the first time in front of a year 9 class with no lesson plan or trousers, and a bullseye painted on your undercarriage. 2 o'clock saw an invite to Newsnight; hours of humming an hawing saw the deal sealed. Ten o'clock and I'm wearing make-up and it isn't even the weekend. Jeremy Paxman bowled into the Green Room and shared a story about a Coptic Bishop with me, belying his on-screen reputation for vivisection.But then, I had no secrets or shame to excavate. There wasn't a drop of indecision about the man, and his beard was as silver as Gandalf.



Somewhat strangely, Melanie Phillips was my co-guest, which struck me as odd, because the Aunt Sallie of the Guardian classes wasn't- the last time I looked- representative of any educational community, until I remembered that it's become acceptable for anyone to have a punt. I know that I risk a Twitter fatwah by saying this, but she was kind, gracious and very human in the flesh, confessing that live TV also gave her qualms.


The interview was a lot of fun, genuinely; the studios are so bare of people that it feels like a slightly stilted chat in an airport departure lounge. Paxo was in neutral, all auxiliary claws sheathed, engine idling. And unexpectedly, Philips and I found a fair few fathoms of mutual agreement. I couldn't let a comment go about 'Ofsted say schools are fine but actually they're rubbish' but apart from that there was a consensus that Ofsted had been covering a problem for far too long; that schools needed strong leadership to come out of their hiding places to create strong structures to deal with behaviour; and that there was a crisis in adult authority in Western Culture that had lost its nerve, that had elevated the rights of the child above the their needs.


Three minutes is as bad as Twitter for nuance and subtlety. I gave the impression, I think, that Teacher Training providers were the Goofys of the educational sector; all I meant was that behaviour training was often as thin as a latex prophylactic. That too, is a pillar of the behaviour crisis.


Now that behaviour is finally, finally getting the spotlight, what now? Will schools bend the knee, as they often do, to the form and ignore the content? Will we see behaviour policies stuck to walls but ignored by anything with a pulse? Or will schools accept the challenge?


I have no crystal ball. I think they'll do what they always do- some will ask, 'How can we evidence this?' But the good ones will ask, 'How can we DO this?' If anyone wants any advice on this, you know where you can reach me. 


And then I was in a  taxi home. It was a school night, it was gone 12, and I still had marking to do, because, y'know, teacher. 




Extracts from the 2012/213 Annual Ofsted report, and commentary

'We have accepted for far too long minor disruption and inattention in schools. Around 700,000 pupils attend schools where behaviour needs to improve. Unless this changes, teachers will struggle to create an environment in which all children learn well. Furthermore, if teaching becomes a daily struggle to maintain order in the classroom, not only will standards decline but good teachers will leave the profession.'

'This contrasts sharply with a minority of schools where leadership loses focus on the essential job of ensuring high standards of behaviour and improving teaching and learning. In these schools, low-level misbehaviour in the classroom often slows pupils’ progress.'

'In less effective schools, there remain weaknesses in teaching and leadership, particularly in the teaching of English and mathematics, and too much low-level misbehaviour.'

'The best teachers always challenge children to do better, minute by minute, lesson by lesson, day by day. They exude authority and accept neither mediocrity nor work that is less than good. However, teachers can only teach well, and challenge pupils to do better routinely, if behaviour in class is orderly and attentive.'

'However, good teachers can only provide the challenge that pupils need if the headteacher ensures that the culture and expectations in the school support good learning, including through ensuring that standards of behaviour are high.'