Improving behaviour in our schools

3rd September 2012 at 14:24

Since Michael Gove appointed me as his expert adviser on children's behaviour 14 months ago, my aim has been to restore discipline to our classrooms so that teachers can teach free from disruption in the classroom.

As a young teacher in inner city London I experienced first-hand how soul destroying it can be to try to teach in a school where there is no structure and where the children are not given boundaries. This is still too often the reality for many teachers today, although things have certainly improved since I started teaching. It has been a real privilege in my adviser role to see how brilliant teachers in outstanding schools are able to succeed with some very troublesome children, helping them to achieve the academic success they need to go on successfully to the next stage in their lives. These teachers and schools do not hide behind the old excuses that "these children" aren't capable of achieving or behaving well.

We have to ensure that these standards of behaviour are found in all our schools. Good behaviour is non negotiable; it is not a take it or leave it part of education. Without it teachers are unable to do their job properly and children spend what should be a happy and exciting time being bored and frightened.

After last summer's riots I gathered together a group of outstanding head teachers from some of the most deprived areas of the country to meet with Michael Gove. I asked them about the four or five main principles that they had followed in order to achieve good behaviour in their schools. There was remarkable similarity in what they had done. They were absolutely clear with children, parents and staff about the standard of behaviour they expected and they stuck to their guns. They all recognised that consistency across the school was essential in getting good behaviour. From their suggestions I produced my Behaviour Checklist in October last year. In doing a difficult and complicated job like teaching I had noticed that often schools or teachers forget to get the simple things right. Schools can use the checklist to remind them to be consistent when managing behaviour and ensure that they get the simple things right.

Checklists are useful for improving systems in school and ensuring there is a consistent approach from all staff to managing behaviour. But there is a group of children who require much more. They come from chaotic home backgrounds where there is no discipline and where parents are unable or unwilling to care sufficiently for their children. This group of children - although a tiny percentage - can cause enormous disruption in their schools and communities. Michael Gove asked me to conduct a review into the education of these children and how it could be improved. Often they are excluded from mainstream school and end up in Alternative Education where only very few achieve meaningful qualifications, so I recommended that Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) for excluded children should be able to grow their own expert teachers. The first cohort of teachers will be trained in PRUs this year. And now PRUs are able to enjoy the same academy freedoms enjoyed by mainstream schools - they will be able to operate outside local authority control and can work closely with schools to develop programmes that are designed to give these troubled and difficult children the support they need.

The greatest fear trainees have before they become teachers is that they won't be able to control their classes, yet some of the training they receive at colleges is not good enough. I have worked with the best providers to set clear standards of good behaviour management and to ensure this is at the heart of teacher training. When new teachers go into the classroom they must have the understanding and know-how to deal with badly behaved children.

The Government has acted to give teachers more authority - eliminating poor behaviour will allow them to get on with their job of teaching pupils and helping pupils to learn. For example, the Government has clarified teachers' power to use reasonable force and made it clear that schools should not have a "no contact" policy.Schools now have stronger powers to search pupils: they can be searched for any items that are banned by school rules such as mobile phones. And teachers can now issue an after school detention without having to give parents a day's notice which means they can deal with poor behaviour immediately.

Though attendance has improved nationally, there are still too many children missing too much school. More than 430,000 pupils miss 15 per cent of lessons a year - the equivalent of missing a whole month of school in a year. Very quickly these children fall behind their friends and often fail to catch up or fill the gaps in their skills or knowledge, including in the basics of reading or writing. Children who miss school are unlikely to get the exam results they need to go on to college or to get onto apprenticeships. These children are at risk of being drawn into anti-social behaviour and crime.

Previously, children who missed 20 per cent or more of their lessons were considered persistent truants. But last year, we lowered the threshold to 15 per cent or more. This change enables schools to step in sooner before bad habits really take a strong hold.

It is essential that all primary schools address poor attendance early on in a child's education before this pattern becomes engrained. The best schools send an unwavering message to parents and pupils that turning up to school is paramount and that absence - whether authorised by heads or not - must be driven down. So from now on, school performance tables will show overall and persistent absence within the attendance data. Unauthorised data will no longer feature.

We are also calling on heads to take a tougher stance on term-time holidays and, from September, fines for parents prosecuted for not getting their kids to school will increase from pound;50 and pound;100, to pound;60 and pound;120.

I will not be there to oversee this change - from September 3 I will be undertaking an exciting new challenge as the new Chief Executive of the Teaching Agency. As part of my new role, I will be responsible for ensuring the supply and training of high-quality teachers. I will also help to ensure there is excellent training for those working in Early Years, for special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs), for educational psychologists and examinations officers.

Good behaviour in schools is vital, but ensuring we continue to have the very best professionals in our classrooms, and that they are motivated to do a great job, is just as important. I am pleased to see that as a result of our reforms, teachers across many schools in England can feel confident that they will be supported in managing challenging behaviour.

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