Of death threats and frog wrestling
"It's behaviour, Stupid," to misquote a politician. Some heads and teachers might be wishing that another politician had made his government's sub-priorities "behaviour, behaviour and behaviour". Certainly the recent incident of the two boys removed from school in Epsom, Surrey, after making death threats against one of the teachers has brought into sharp focus the need for a national debate about the issues of behaviour in school, in society and in the individual.
When I saw that John Robertson had contributed to this collection of essays, I knew I would enjoy at least some of it. In the early Nineties he was a regular visitor to the initial teacher education courses at Keele University. He was the sort of lecturer who drew a full house from students and tutors alike; they listened, transfixed by his compelling reflections on approaches that worked in classrooms with the most unlikely characters.
With another of my heroes, Chris Kyriacou, also writing a chapter, and Bill Rogers, the Australian behaviour management expert, topping and tailing the volume, this will be well thumbed by staff who are interested in evaluating and improving their personal and collective practice.
There are chapters on involving parents - so often the key to creating a climate that heads off many behaviour problems at the pass - and on attention deficit hyperactive disorder. Inevitably, the chapter on parents fails to deal with that intractable group whose behaviour both at home and when storming into school lies at the heart of their children's problems.
The chapter on ADHD, while helpfully focusing on interactions with health professionals and reflecting on classroom implications, raises the more problematic implications of those youngsters, also increasing in number, on the autistic Asperger's spectrum.
Elsewhere, there are chapters on the day-to-day challenges of educating youngsters with EBD ("like wrestling with a bagful of frogs") and another on the impact of ICT on behaviour - this raising more questions than it answers, which is sometimes a sign of a good book.
There is also a fascinating and vivid account by Lynne Parsons, who leaves the relative comfort zone of advisory work to try out her theory in setting up a "star zone" (an in-school withdrawal unit) in Bicester community school. This chapter is recommended reading for anyone in a similar position; and given the government funding that could be quite a few.
It was reading this chapter and Bill Rogers's concluding one that made me realise why I was feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Both begin to touch on the wider whole-school issues that so affect the climate of behaviour for the school community. I realised what was missing: a chapter on the impact of leadership behaviour by the head and other school leaders on the chances of there being a school climate conducive to good behaviour.
Bill Rogers could collaborate with someone like Michael Fullan - equally compelling in the school improvement field - to fill this gap. Why not revisit the Elton Inquiry of 1989 or, better still, commission the National College for School Leadership to produce examples of leadership that diminish the likelihood of behaviour getting in the way of all in school enjoying their learning? Why not do both? But in the meantime, buy the book.
Tim Brighouse is former chief education officer for Birmingham