Capital's captain of good conduct

23rd March 2007 at 00:00
After a career leading inner-London schools, Trevor Averre-Beeson has learnt a thing or two about behaviour management

Last autumn, after 11 years as head in London schools, I put myself at the mercy of fellow school leaders and became a consultant head, working with Edison schools. On my first day in the job, running a seminar on positive discipline, I was interviewed by Channel 5. "Gosh, you have those in schools?" asked the reporter. "Like hospital consultants?"

After almost five years leading Islington Green school, north London, I realised I might have something to offer as I was often asked to visit conferences and schools to talk about our work.

The school has a chequered past. Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector, took the infamous decision to put the school into special measures. In the 1980s, pupils from Islington comprehensive, as it was then known, sang "We don't need no education" on the chart-topping Pink Floyd track. It was also the school to which Tony Blair declined to send his son Euan at a time when the future Prime Minister lived just a few doors from the school.

Recently, Mr Blair's former speech-writer Peter Hyman, whom I employed at the school as a trainee teacher and adviser, wrote his book, One out of 10, which compared school life with his days at Downing Street.

During my five-year watch, the school passed its inspection and was described as "good", doubled its exam success, reduced exclusions from a high of 350 to single figures, and became fully staffed, popular and oversubscribed. I was flattered when the inspectors called me a "visionary leader". Certainly, things had improved.

In the year I left the school, my main deputy, Angela Gartland, retired, another deputy went travelling and an assistant head left to take a promotion. We decided to form an occasional group called the Hit Squad that would visit other schools on request to help improve behaviour management.

We have found that there are common mistakes shared by many schools. The main problem is often lack of consistency: humans are not by nature consistent or relentless. At one school, teachers had each devised their own rules and sanctions. Some rules contradicted those of other staff. For example, one teacher insisted on "raised hands" but another made a great play of not wanting them. One insisted on silence in class while another encouraged pupils to talk. The pupils we spoke to ranked six out of 10 of their teachers as "not consistent". Our approach is to agree with staff and pupils a set of rules, rigorously monitor them and agree to abide by them.

In some cases, new ideas have made things worse. A school in Kent had such a complex "currency" system in which students earned "behaviour dollars"

and had to hand them in to a "bank manager" that teachers rejected it.

Students bullied each other for the "dollars" and neither teachers nor students had openly told the senior team that the system was unworkable.

The solution was to have a simple, systematic scheme that would reward pupils each time they behaved in a lesson. If good behaviour isn't recognised, many pupils just won't be good.

One east London school had a stepped series of "time outs": one warning meant five minutes outside class, a second meant 10 minutes, and so on, up to 30 minutes. I saw eight students outside the class within five minutes.

I soon realised that the same pupils were being thrown out and arranging to meet students from other classes in the corridors at set times.

My philosophy towards improving behaviour management is simple. First, be positive. Teachers have to choose their attitude: you get back what you give out. Second, set the controls: teachers can forget that they are the adults and that they have the right to set the standard. Third, be relentless: failure in this is what really lets down teachers, pupils and schools. Challenging schools are full of great ideas that are so often not seen through. Successful teachers must believe in themselves, their schools and their students.

Being there is also vital: absence, poor time-keeping and simply not listening loses students' respect. Staff who show respect for students earn it back. Finally, be prepared to lie a little - the kind of white lie that makes your students feel 10 feet tall. It raises their aspirations and makes them believe in you.

From my years in inner-London schools. I am sure of one thing: it is possible to get even the most difficult children to behave. We can all learn how to do it, but we have to want to and we have to be determined to see it through.



Stay positive and be consistent.

Recognise good behaviour.

Keep your rules simple.

Enforce them systematically and relentlessly.

Respect your students.

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