At the TeachFirst conference this week, Nick Gibb implied that it was “behaviour” that was driving teachers out of the profession. It drew an angry response from Oliver Beach, Teach Firster and formerly one of the subjects of the BBC documentary Tough Young Teachers. He said he was “outraged that @NickGibbMP just blamed pupil behaviour as the reason for teachers leaving the profession.” His tweet then drew a response including this comment from Dani Quinn: “why? teaching is a lot easier when you're not being sworn at. Some schools don't take it seriously”.
In my view, any discussion about “behaviour” should contain three key considerations:
First, the inherent attitudes, personalities and emotional states of the pupils in a particular cohort or school community, whether that be individually or collectively.
Second; the use of systems of behaviour within a school; this could be both the use of an effective praise or rewards programme and a defined procedure for a teacher to follow in the case of poor behaviour which would usually contain warnings, detentions and perhaps even exclusions.
The final factor to consider will be the way in which classroom teachers actually address poor behaviour, the strategies they use to address it, the relationships they form with pupils over time and the consistency with which they use those strategies. Key to this will be the coaching, support and training provided by colleagues within and outside of school.
Now, on the first point, the inherent behaviours of pupils, signs seem to point towards things getting worse. Let’s look at a few examples. The Department for Education’s latest statistics show there were 302,980 fixed-period exclusions in 2014-15 – an increase of 12.5 per cent on 2013-14 – and 5,800 permanent exclusions last year (the equivalent of 31 per day) compared with 4,950 in 2013-14 (a 17 per cent increase).
Exclusions are on the rise. We have seen reports stating that attention spans are on the decrease, falling from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to 8 seconds today. We have seen incidents of assaults on school staff rising. In a recent survey of teachers, 44 per cent of teachers said they had experienced verbal abuse from a pupil and 24 per cent from a parent in the last 12 months. 14 per cent have experienced threats of physical assault from a pupil and 8 per cent have been assaulted by a student over the same period. Of course, much debate about the behaviour of students across the board will be driven by perception and interpretation, but that doesn’t mean that behaviour can’t get generally better or generally worse over time.
On the second point of school systems, it is my perception that compared to 10 or 20 years ago, schools now have clear and detailed policies that teachers can use as a tool to deal with the behaviour of students. Now, there will be some who will argue that this is a direct consequence of behaviour getting worse. I would like to think that this is actually a result of professional evolution when it comes to providing systems for teachers to deal with student behaviour.
On the third point, I think things are beginning to change here, but if we were to look at the “gaps” in CPD provision for new and established teachers, managing behaviour has not been an aspect covered with a great amount of zeal or foresight over the years. The result has been a reliance on warning systems rather than assertiveness training, improving teaching rather than improving behaviour and managing progress rather than managing conflicts. In essence, teachers crying out for deep and consistent coaching on how to manage the behaviour of students in their classrooms have struggled to find it.
This is something highlighted by Tom Bennett and David Weston in their recent report on CPD provision. Tom Bennett said that teachers receive a “very varied” behaviour management training depending on their ITT provider, but he remained hopeful that his recent work would influence ITT provision. He talked of “an extraordinary need within the teaching system to be able to deal with challenging situations.”
In my view, there needs to be more focus on tone of voice, body language, managing simple student-teacher interactions with consistency, and adapting teaching methods to get the best out of students. By that last point, I don’t mean bending to a child’s every whim, I just mean by accepting different teaching methods, like instructional delivery, might lead to better student behaviour and then better student outcomes. Ultimately, a more detailed appreciation of the nuts and bolts of managing student behaviour is essential.
So, who is right in this debate about whether behaviour is a big issue in teachers leaving teaching?
In a recent survey for the NASUWT teaching union, staff were asked to rank their biggest concerns regarding the job and the results were; workload (79 per cent), followed by pay and pensions (66 per cent), changes or reforms in the curriculum (59 per cent) and school inspections (51 per cent). Behaviour did not feature as a top “challenge”.
In contrast, teachers said that the top three things they loved most about their jobs was seeing children learn and progress (91 per cent), interacting with pupils (90 per cent) and being able to make a positive difference (83 per cent). All of these imply that teachers generally enjoy interacting with students in the classroom, I see managing their behaviour as a key part of that.
This supports the notion put forward by Oliver Beach that Nick Gibb is simply wrong about why teachers are leaving the profession.
However, is behaviour a bigger issue at ITT and NQT level causing a sharp drop off at this point? In newly released figures, physics ITT numbers were shown to have reduced over the last 3 years from 745 (in 2012/13) to 652 (2013/14) to 536 in (2014/15). Of those 536, only 440 got QTS.
These high dropout rates are repeated elsewhere, particularly within the government's flagship recruitment programme, Teach First, where around 60 per cent have dropped out in the last five years across the board, despite huge government funding for the programme. The numbers of teachers dropping out starts off particularly high, showing the first two years are particularly defining. I wonder whether a lack of understanding of how to manage pupil behaviour effectively might be a bigger factor when teachers start out?
Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com and tweets at @RogersHistory
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