A good strategy will beat bad behaviour

26th March 2004 at 00:00
As ministers call time on disruptive pupils, Colin Bourhill suggests a proactive approach

ocal authorities should have strategies for managing disruptive behaviour in schools and someone should have an overview of them. Equally, cluster schools should have someone responsible for the implementation and monitoring of the local authority's behaviour strategies.

Work in dealing with disruptive behaviour should start in primary school.

It is important that "what works" in managing the pupils is recorded and passed on to future teachers. It is important that parents and pupils are made aware of the behaviour problem and that they are involved in ways to bring about change.

We generally refer to the pupils who cause problems in class as having behavioural problems. If we turn that statement around and say "we have problems with their behaviour", there is a chance we can do something about it. We can choose to manage the pupils who are causing problems.

In very simple terms disruptive pupils can be placed in one of two groups.

Group one I will call "catalyst" pupils. They make things happen and do not change. This type of pupil is very dominant and wants to compete with the teacher for the class's attention. Since they create entertainment for the class, they are more likely to succeed. These catalyst pupils are very skilled in what they do.

If a catalyst pupil is in a class, the school should have a strategy for extracting them from class. The extraction should happen as soon as they try to take over from the class teacher. The move should not be accompanied by a punishment exercise or referral. It has to be seen as support for the pupil and a benefit for the rest of the class. The pupil should be aware of the strategy before it is implemented. It is unlikely that this pupil's behaviour can be changed. In a way they cannot help what they do, but they do have to realise that their behaviour has a consequence.

Group two pupils will shift their concentration very quickly to the catalyst in the class. Often they receive punishment exercises while the clever catalyst is not caught. This creates a sense of injustice. Group two pupils can benefit from specialised group work, developing skills to allow them to recognise when they have a shift in concentration during a lesson.

Their class teachers also require training to allow them to refocus such pupils with a simple command such as "stop". The teacher may have to do this several times during a lesson and should avoid punishing them.

Some type one and type two pupils will have learning difficulties. Some can develop a range of skills that allow them to cover up their inability to cope, hence they cause disruption in class. Their problems and their exposure to the curriculum should be addressed honestly and openly both with the child and the parents long before they become a behaviour problem.

A management structure should exist to deal with these pupils. A behaviour manager should work with a cluster of schools. The behaviour managers should be seen as a resource or consultant who would work with teachers in identifying these behaviour types. Teachers require training to deal with disruptive pupils. All schools within the cluster should be adopting the same strategies in managing the pupils.

Investigations should be carried out to establish why some pupils behave the way they do. At present, many disruptive pupils' behaviour is made worse over time because they are continually punished, but they must be made to realise that their actions will result in consequences. They should no longer be allowed to progress through school causing mayhem and being punished to try to make them behave.

Parents of children who have challenging behaviour also require support and counselling. They may unknowingly be reinforcing a child's demanding behaviour at home. Family GPs may have to become involved with referrals to psychiatric services. Childcare services are already doing this successfully with pupils who have learning difficulties and physical disabilities.

Extremely disruptive pupils should be allocated support staff to work with them, and a record of needs should be considered. There will be some pupils who cannot work in full class groups and, if they are to be maintained in mainstream school, provision for very small teaching groups will have to be made. Alternative provision out of mainstream schools should be planned for in advance and not come about after years of exclusion. This could involve a shorter working day, fewer subjects, weekly work experience and going to college.

Most important of all, the classroom teacher and the rest of the class should no longer have to suffer because a pupil has a problem that they may not be fully able to change without lots of help and understanding from others.

Colin Bourhill is principal guidance teacher at Gleniffer High in Renfrewshire.

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