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The Conversation: Behaviour

How did a fish market in the United States come to influence education philosophy in Britain? John Bayley explains all to Trevor Averre-Beeson

Q: You have been giving advice to schools on behaviour management for at least 15 years, ever since you headed up a pupil referral unit in Newham. What are the key lessons you have learned in all that time?

A: I suppose the top three would be that children are children; that adults need to act consistently by an adult code; and that positive recognition is more powerful than any other factor in getting your needs met.

Q: You have visited more schools than the rest of us are ever likely to see, from high-achieving ones in middle-class suburbs to challenged ones as far afield as Glasgow and Southend. What connects them all?

A: The connection is students, and in my experience there are more similarities between schools than differences. Even challenged children from impoverished backgrounds respond to clear guidelines, stepped sanctions and relentlessly applied recognition and reward.

Q: Many reading this will have seen your Teachers TV show, Teaching with Bayley, and have used your advice. What is your most recent tip for the struggling classroom manager?

A: One of the most useful things I have developed recently is the Class Conference. When things get really bad with a particular class - maybe described as the worst in the school or the year group - that group of youngsters will often develop a perception of their own. Often negative, often self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating. They know they are regarded as difficult and respond accordingly. Get them together with a head of department, year leader, or member of a senior leadership team and ask them what their own perceptions are, what they would like to be, and what small steps they could take to get there. You would be surprised how perceptive they are and what negative images they have of themselves. But they will be realistic about what they can achieve. Arrange a review for a week or two later and see how far they might have moved.

Q: You have recently talked about fish philosophy. What is this, and why do you regard it as important?

A: I came across this a while ago and it sums up a lot of our approach to learning and behaviour management. It's about a group of guys working in a fish market in the US. Fish are smelly, dirty, and create a cold and depressing work environment. These guys decided they would make the best of a bad lot and in typical American style said they were going to: a) choose their attitude; b) make someone's day; c) have fun and d) be there for each other. I also know that you need to be relentless.

Q: But how does this relate to schools?

A: I saw a team of senior staff in Islington turn a school around by just these things. They adopted a relentlessly determined attitude. They were at the school gate every day intent on getting students into uniform, ready for work, and supported their teachers by doing so. They rewarded children for getting it right and tried to make a teacher's day by giving them real, sometimes financial, recognition when they made it work too. Being there for your staff and colleagues is probably the greatest support you can give and it is transformational. We should all aim for the same thing.

Q: After years as a behaviour management guru, have you found the holy grail of how to make it happen?

A: It would be arrogant to answer yes, but I have learned a lot from colleagues. It's like this:

- be positive;

- give direction and choice;

- teacher direction is not an option;

- don't invite confrontation;

- teach great lessons, think about individual needs;

- recognition is more powerful then punishment;

- small is good;

- incremental change is progress;

- treat pupils like your own kids;

- be relentless;

- set the controls;

- be there, have fun, make someone's day;

- think about your body language;

- you are the adult, they are children. You are in charge

- Trevor Averre-Beeson is project director for Edison Schools, an educational services provider based in Colchester, Essex.

John Bayley;

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