Five positive tips to keep control

2nd November 2012 at 00:00
Paul Dix introduces a quintet of simple strategies to improve behaviour that can be implemented instantly

Detention, duties and instant exclusion are all so last century. Transform behaviour by tweaking your practice with five thoroughly modern, practical and simple ideas.

1. Train pupils to take over duties

It is madness to pay teachers to stand in the corridor at break times repeating "You can't take food out of the canteen" in a robotic tone when pupils can police themselves. In many schools the prefects seem to have a great deal of privilege but little responsibility. In others the word "prefect" is met with a hazy "Oh yes, we used to have some but they lost interest" response.

Properly trained, badged and supported, they can deal with minor behaviour infringements so that breaks and lunchtimes run smoothly. They can be on the door at the beginning and end of the day, help with getting children to lessons on time and supervise the loading and unloading of buses. In many primary schools there are well-developed and successful peer behaviour management programmes. If your older pupils have all the rights but none of the responsibilities how does that fit with your ethos lower down the school? What kind of role models are we expecting them to be?

2. Use positive notes properly

Personal notes are the simplest, quickest and most effective way of communicating a good message well. When all staff use positive notes the impact on the children, community and conversations around behaviour is significant. They are for sustained effort, over and above what is expected, not to reward Kelvin for spending 10 minutes without issuing threats of violence.

Encourage pupils to collect these notes and put them in their record of achievement so that they have value beyond the fridge door. Use the private presentation of the note as an opportunity to peg good behaviour. Reward those who go above and beyond without being noticed. Relentlessly value the 90 per cent of your pupils who behave impeccably.

3. Insist on reparation meetings

At age 9 or 14 detention is a minor inconvenience. Children do not place the same value on their time as adults. The best schools realise that detention without reparation does nothing to improve behaviour. It may satisfy the adult momentarily but does nothing to break the cycle, address the causes of the behaviour or repair broken trust. Detention without reparation is the definition of madness: doing the same thing over and over with no improvement. Ofsted is also keen on this and is likely to mark down overuse of detention with no positive impact on behaviour. Detention devotees will tell you that pure punishment is the answer. They are stuck in an old groove that is being left behind by more intelligent and creative practice.

4. Develop policy through research projects

Most policy is drawn up by a single member of the senior leadership team in a late-night coffee-and-gin-fuelled panic. Without reference to best practice or any evidence, the strangest conclusions are drawn. Recent examples include teachers being told to give six (yes, six) warnings before action is taken, sanctions systems dependent on ridiculous overuse of pure punishment (256 children in detention on Wednesday) and procedures that advertise children's notoriety by putting names on the board.

Develop policy from what works in the classroom. Refine what works through a series of mini action research projects over 30 days, which focus on testing, developing and embedding strategies. Allow the behaviour conversation to flourish between staff and create outstanding policy from practice that actually works.

5. Widen the range of strategies available

For those who reach high-level sanctions, heaping on additional responsibilities can be more effective than dangling them off the exclusion cliff.

Try tribunals: intensively restorative and run by staff, a representative from the governing body andor trained pupils, they address more than just punishment and payback.

Isolation and segregation (all very last year) are thankfully morphing into "quiet rooms" staffed by adults experienced in dealing with angry young people. A good quiet room can be used to modify behaviour, not just manage it. It is here that the pupils can be prepared for the reparation meeting and supported in their reflections.

Many schools use strategies to involve pupils rather than push them away: coaching with PE staff on Saturday mornings, helping with reading recovery classes at the feeder primary or mentoring younger pupils who are going through similar troubles. "Convincing them that they belong" is fast becoming the new "chucking them out".

Paul Dix is the author of Taking Care of Behaviour. His behaviour training, Inset and online courses can be found at

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