CAN YOU objectively measure behaviour across a school and use the information to help make things better?
It's not a new idea. Teachers have always given out merit and demerit marks, then added up the goods and bads for both individuals and groups.
But the more detail you put into the process - increasingly exhaustive lists and categories of incidents that include "shirt not tucked in", "homework late" and "no PE kit" - the more it risks becoming an unwieldy business of little slips of paper, report forms, summary sheets, and useful bits and pieces buried away in files.
The solution lies in using computer software that will handle any number of categories, storing and showing the information when and how you like.
The starting point is with your school's management information system (MIS). This is already used for attendance and pupil assessment data, so bringing it into play for recording and sorting out behaviour is not a giant leap.
At Lode Heath school in Solihull, West Midlands, staff use the Pars behaviour software linked to the school's Sims.net information system. A teacher beginning a lesson opens up a class register on screen and as well as checking attendance is able to enter "credits" or "debits" so that each child has a running balance that is either positive or negative.
"They'll get credit for things like attending clubs, doing extra duties, helping at open evening, uniform and punctuality," says Margaret Wheeler, the administrator who runs the system at Lode Heath.
"There are debits for ignoring instructions, failure to do homework, anti-social behaviour, not having the right equipment."
But what goes on at the sharp end ("Jack, if you do that again, I'm going to give you a debit! My finger's hovering...") is the easy bit. As with all data collection, there are two vital challenges for management: one is to decide what data to collect, the other is to do something with the information.
The two are, of course, inextricably linked, for as your knowledge of what's going on across the school becomes more refined, so you need continuously to revise what you are trying to find out.
What becomes clear is that in successful and improving schools such as Lode Heath, behaviour information isn't just used in a judgmental or punitive way. There are individual consequences for heavy debit balances - loss of privileges, the self-explanatory "assertive mentoring". But often it's a matter of setting individual targets and seeking the support of parents.
Here, the objective record of evidence and the observable link to achievement figures combine to extremely persuasive effect. There is also the requirement to support teachers who are shown to have more than their fair share of disciplinary issues.
But there is another side to the coin. "It's important that we recognise the students who have credit balances," says Mark Wilson, assistant head at Lode Heath. "There's the possibility of becoming prefects, junior sports leaders, going out of school on projects in primary schools, and the various awards at the annual presentation evening."
Down on the south coast, at Falmouth community school in Cornwall, where they too use the Sims.net information system to record behaviour, it is the plus side of the balance sheet that most interests Sue Ferris, assistant head. She feels strongly that as a society we are in danger of starting children off in life carrying a set of negative labels.
"Too often, for adults the word 'behaviour' always has the little word 'bad' in front of it," she says. "So if you look at a school's behaviour record, you can end up with a long list of misdemeanours and nothing about the students who for five years have got it right."
As a result, she wants behaviour software to work primarily as a means of spotting and praising students who are doing what's expected of them. She is a great believer in providing opportunities for children to do the right thing by giving them responsibility and duties. She wants negative incidents wrapped up quickly and not made a meal of.
"If the behaviour impacts on the quality of learning, we're looking for closure, dealing with it appropriately and swiftly and not letting it drag on," she says.
Before you invest in add-on software
Check the school management information system (MIS) you are using at present. You may find that you already have everything you need.
If you do decide to invest in an add-on package, make sure it works seamlessly with your current set-up. It's also a good idea to check with your MIS support team.
The system has to be very easy to use at classroom level and completely adaptable to your school's needs and values.
If you ask members of staff to do an extra task, make sure they see and share the benefits as they emerge.
Clarify in advance what information you want.
Achieve consistency across whatever criteria you use.
Know what you will do with the information that emerges.
Have support ready - for children, parents and teachers.
Don't think of it as just spotting bad behaviour. Positives are at least as important.
Sims.net available from Capita ES: www.capitaes.co.ukPars available from TASC software: www.tascsoftware.co.uk