Exclusive: 'How our behaviour crackdown will work'

DfE behaviour tsar Tom Bennett talks to Tes about his new role leading a £10m government initiative

Tom Bennett DfE behaviour

The government has outlined details of a £10 million initiative to tackle bad behaviour in schools. It will see more than 500 schools receive advice from other expert exemplar schools on dealing with poor pupil behaviour.

The scheme will be led by the DfE’s behaviour tsar Tom Bennet, who talked to Tes about the programme, and his role in it. 

How will you decide which schools will be the experts in the scheme?

“We are at the very early stages of this process just now, we haven’t an algorithm yet by which we’re going to be selecting and judging these schools.

“What I’ll be looking for essentially is schools with a demonstrated track record of running great behaviour, particularly in challenging circumstances, particularly in areas with difficult socio-economic circumstances and areas of high need.

“Particularly with diverse populations, with populations where needs are complex and challenging, because those are the schools we have found that are best able to advise others on what to do…rather than schools that are simply the recipients of fortunate demographics.


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“I will be looking for schools that do their best for all students rather than just some of them. I will be looking for schools that try to be as inclusive as possible and try to make sure that they help and support and scaffold even the most challenging students’ behaviours as much as they find possible. 

“We’re particularly looking for schools that have been able to turn themselves around in a short period of time, and schools that can articulate and communicate what it is they actually do in order to maximise and optimise the behaviour of students.

“I’m looking for schools that consciously and constructively know how to train and support staff in ways that enable them to support students with behaviour…that have got structure, that understand the importance of routines and positive and compassionate social norms, that understand they are communities of practice rather than individual cells, and that understand often the most vulnerable and challenging children need to be taught life skills, behaviour skills and social skills in addition to an academic curriculum.

“I’m looking for schools that understand how to teach behaviour, as well as subjects."

So you will be using data and qualitative judgements to select the schools?

“Yeah. I think what’s going to be really important here is not to rely on one data point in order to make this judgement.

“We will be looking at, for instance, Ofsted judgements as a beginning, as something that feeds into our data, but we’ll also be looking far, far beyond that.

"We’ll be looking for schools that can demonstrate improvements in students’ behaviour in difficult circumstances, we’ll be looking for recommendations, we’ll be looking for qualitative data.

“We’ll try to triangulate it rather than simply making it all the usual suspects, because there’s a lot of schools out there that do brilliant work but who don’t shout about it.

“I’m very interested in reaching out to them, whether primary, secondary, coastal, rural, urban, suburban."

Are you looking for a certain philosophy? Zero tolerance, perhaps?

“For a start I don’t think the term "zero tolerance" is particularly helpful because I think that schools need to have very low levels of tolerance for certain behaviours, they need to tolerant and understanding of other behaviours.

“And there are some behaviours that they need to be zero tolerant about, for example sexual abuse…I think it’s a lot more nuanced than the term suggests, and it's generally mis-characterised.

“What I’m looking for are schools that have very high standards and high expectations, but equally high levels of support to scaffold the behaviour that children need to present so they can flourish as people and as scholars, which means that the schools also need to put in the yards too.

“It’s not all about just expecting a lot for the kids, it’s about expecting a lot from school support mechanisms.”

How will you be selecting schools needing support?

“We’re not there yet, we don’t know yet…we don’t know if it’s going to be entirely voluntary, we don’t know if it’s going to be suggested.

“As far as I know right now this is a support mechanism for students that need support. Beyond that there have been no discussions as to how mandatory these things can be or indeed how much they need to be…it’s very hard to make schools do things they don’t want to do. It would be very hard to force a school to adopt behaviour systems and practices that it’s uncomfortable doing.

“At the moment we’d be looking for – and I’m speculating here – probably a voluntary recruitment approach at the moment.”

Is your role new?

“I was asked to lead some behaviour reviews for Nicky Morgan (former education secretary) in the first instance. One of the things that I think has often been missed is that my role has always been a) independent and b) advisory, and 3) non-commissioned. It was a non-salaried role.

“This is a new appointment, this is a new job role, because it’s to lead the behaviour hub programme in particular, and as a subsidiary responsibility of that I’ll be asked to do my current advisory work anyway, included in that.

“I need to emphasise that it’s a contracted role rather than an employment role, which means that all my advice will still be independent, it will still be my own opinions, and my views on behaviour will not necessarily be the official DfE line on behaviour.”

How do you know there are 500 schools that require that support?

“It’s a speculative figure at this point – it’s to indicate the initial level of scale of interest to be able to try and drive, which is to say we want it to be national and we want it to be reasonably substantial.

“But that figure hasn’t been arrived at by any particular equation other than an indicative of the size and scale of the project we’re trying to achieve.”

Is this linked to the Timpson review of exclusions?

“Not directly. This has been discussed speculatively for some time now as being potentially a way forward. We’ve looked at the success of other hub programmes and we’ve seen that a great number of schools have been beneficiaries of that style of programme.

“There’s been a lot of discussion for a long time about how do you improve behaviour at scale.

“It’s a huge problem, and one of the ways we can best think about doing it is by having a structured support programme in place so that schools know how to coach and train and support schools in a variety of ways.

“I think it’s got one of the best chances that we’ve had in a long, long time in actually helping to raise standards at scale, so fingers crossed.”

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