Don't call me tsar

19th June 2015 at 01:00

I'm going to take a punt and suggest that most parents would like their children to learn in a safe space, free from disruption. I'll make it an accumulator and say that most teachers would like to be trained in how to provide this. And to really throw the ball on the wheel, I'll assume that most pupils would like to be in a place governed by compassionate boundaries, established for their benefit and flourishing.

So it's astonishing that for many UK schoolchildren this isn't the case. I've been coaching teachers in behaviour management, running forums and writing obsessively about the subject for almost a decade, and it's distressing that this is an issue we still haven't licked.

Knowing how to build an environment that promotes thought, collaboration and focus should be one of the uppermost aims of any educator. Some absurdists claim that a noisy classroom filled with spontaneity is the perfect crucible for learning. It isn't. For every outlier who enjoys spending time in a centrifuge, there are 29 kids who can't concentrate. That's not to demand monastic silence instead. But a class does need to run on rules that promote the benefit of all.

Strangely, we appear to have lost this art in places. Some teachers, fearful of wearing the tyrant's ermine, hesitate to lay boundaries, or are loath to direct pupils too overtly. There are patches of extraordinary ability in many schools, of course, guided by great teacher-training providers. But a situation that is so variable isn't good enough. It's not good enough for new teachers who lack training or ongoing support, and it certainly isn't good enough for children.

One of the most common problems that comes up in online behaviour forums revolves around a lack of support for teachers. This shows how, even at a senior level, staff need to be helped to design and run behaviour systems that work across the whole school, not just in a single classroom.

There are expert teachers in every school who possess the craft and experience to work sensitively and confidently with children; they must be allowed to share their collective wisdom for the benefit of everyone in the profession. This issue has been ignored for too long. When the only community not asked for its opinion is the very one that deals with children in the classroom, it's no surprise that poor behaviour has been under-reported for decades.

It's time to put this issue at the front of our minds. I'm delighted to have been asked to form a working party by education secretary Nicky Morgan to look at behaviour and how teachers can be better prepared to deal with the realities of the classroom, not the fantasy. Crucially, I plan to work with people who have substantial experience of handling poor behaviour in schools: teachers. Now there's a novelty.

Together, we hope to come up with recommendations that can offer new and old teachers the tools they need to do what they were trained to do. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't utterly thrilled to be doing this. Just don't call me tsar, for God's sake.

Tom Bennett is a secondary teacher in East London and director of the ResearchED conference

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