Do the right thing

26th January 1996 at 00:00
CHALLENGING BEHAVIOUR IN SCHOOLS, Edited by Peter Gray, Andy Miller and Jim Noakes Routledge Pounds 37.50, Pounds 14.99.

Teachers, Pupils and Behaviour, by John McGuiness, Cassell Pounds 35, Pounds 12.99.

Improving Schools, By David Thompson and Sonia Sharp, David Fulton Pounds 12.99.

Coping with Bullying in Schools, By Brendan Byrne, Cassell Pounds 12.99. School Bullying, Edited by Peter K Smith and Sonia Sharp, Routledge Pounds 40, Pounds 14.99.

The Truth about Truancy, by Ben Whitney, Kogan Page, Pounds 14.95. Here Today, Here Tomorrow, By Susan Hallam and Caroline Roaf, Gulbenkian Foundation Pounds 4.95.

Combating Truancy in Schools, By Edith Le Riche, David Fulton Pounds 11. 99. On The Margins, Edited by Mel Lloyd Smith and John Dwyfor Davies Trentham Pounds 13.95.

Effective Classroom Management, By Colin J. Smith and Robert Laslett Routledge Pounds 9.99.

Breaktime and the School, Edited by Peter Blatchford and Sonia Sharp Routledge Pounds 13.99

Gerald Haigh surveys books that aim to help instil the basis of good behaviour. Which of my own disruptive pupils do I remember best? Was it the teenage girl who, in about 1963, spotted my Morris Minor van in the street and ran alongside it, thumping boomingly on the roof? Or was it the boy who, when I was a senior comprehensive school teacher in the Seventies, used to escape from other lessons so he could stand outside my classroom window in the rain gibbering and making faces? In those days, by and large, you had to solve such problems on your own - you could either hack discipline or you could not, and the best you could expect from some colleagues was bags of schadenfreude ("Well, 4B never give me any trouble").

Now, though, the emphasis is on whole-school policies which assert that no teacher has to cope alone with disruption.

Or, as Penny Holland and Phil Hamerton put it in Challenging Behaviour in Schools, edited by Peter Gray, Andy Miller and Jim Noakes, "By a 'whole-school approach' we mean an approach to matters to do with behaviour and discipline that maximises involvement and consistency and minimises confusion and isolation . . . preventive rather than reactive, forming part of the normal, planned provision of the school."

The strength of this book is its recognition that disruptive behaviour is seen as, "a direct and personal threat to the teacher's authority". As a result, "teachers become defensive of their own position," and they blame everyone else - the child, his parents, even support agencies such as the school psychological service. The editors go on to present a range of contributions on practical approaches to disruption.

A whole-school behaviour policy is much more than just an agreed set of rules. Traditional approaches, runs the argument, take good behaviour for granted and only spring into life when something goes wrong. An effective whole-school policy sets up a structure - and a set of attitudes - which is ticking away all the time, continually recognising and rewarding good behaviour, on the grounds that pupils respond better to praise than they do to being nagged and punished.

This is emphasised by John McGuiness in Teachers, Pupils and Behaviour. He points out that when pupils behave badly it is because there is something in it for them - the approval of peers, perhaps, or the discomfiture of an unpopular teacher. "We need to ask what reward is sustaining the undesirable behaviour. "

Nevertheless, it can be difficult to introduce a positive behaviour policy. There is a puritanical streak in teachers that makes them reluctant to praise "normal" good behaviour, and in any school there can be successful teachers who do not wish to attend meetings on a topic that never troubles them.

Improving Schools, by David Thompson and Sonia Sharp, recognises this while pointing out that the most obvious exception is bullying, which is universally seen as damaging and unacceptable, "All the school community . . . can readily accept and approve involvement in a whole-school policy to minimise it. " This, presumably, is why so many schools have high-profile anti-bullying policies.

A list of books on bullying would be endless, but among recent ones are Coping with Bullying in Schools by Brendan Byrne. Dr Byrne's short book is founded in more than 20 years of school experience, and his case studies are recognisable and useful.

There is a good deal of genteel disagreement among those who study bullying - about "bully courts", for example, advocated by some and anathema to others. The teacher has to find a way through all of this, and here School Bullying, edited by Peter K Smith and Sonia Sharp, is helpful because it looks at most of the well-established approaches and makes a very successful stab at being an overview.

What is true is that whole-school policies on behaviour only work if the children are in school. The trouble with any discussion of truancy is that so many adults think only of the odd occasions when they themselves saw the sun shining and decided to go fishing.

Much more worrying than this, though, is the 14-year-old who has, to all intents and purposes, given up on school and who is impervious to all threats and cajolings from parents, teacher or social workers. Ben Whitney, in The Truth about Truancy, explains the dimensions of the problem and discusses approaches to it within school and by outside agencies. He rightly lays emphasis on the need for schools and the various agencies to stop blaming each other, and to start working in partnership.

A recent short publication by the Gulbenkian Foundation - Here Today, Here Tomorrow by Susan Hallam and Caroline Roaf - is also helpful, and offers, concisely, plenty of practical advice, illustrated by brief case histories.

There is no doubt that straightforward dislike of school plays an important part in truancy. Edith Le Riche, in Combating Truancy in Schools, uses her own research to argue that schools should listen more carefully to their pupils. Similarly, On The Margins, edited by Mel Lloyd Smith and John Dwyfor Davies, looks at the careers of "problem" pupils through their own eyes, and examines their reported experience of school.

However, all of this, you might say, is at the macro level of the whole school or, indeed, of society. The immediate concern of the individual teacher is to keep order, today, in the classroom, and there certainly are recognisable techniques which will help. These are founded in good, well organised teaching and humane, consistent personal responses. Colin J Smith and Robert Laslett's Effective Classroom Management is an admirable exposition of the practicalities, starting with "the four rules of classroom management: get them in, get them out, get on with it, get on with them."

Often, even in schools which are calm throughout the rest of the day, the last outpost of unacceptable behaviour is the playground - windswept, inadequately supervised, dominated by big boys kicking footballs. Part of the trouble is that teachers often know little about what goes on at break, and only become involved when things explode. Schools which have tackled playground behaviour have usually involved the pupils themselves in rule-making and in redesigning the grounds. All of this is well covered in Breaktime and the School, edited by Peter Blatchford and Sonia Sharp, who, incidentally and sensibly, point out that most children do actually enjoy playtime. "Worries about the problems experienced by some children should not detract from the fact that most pupils like it."

Which, when you think about it, might well stand equally well for life inside the building too.

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