The Issue

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
Misrule in the classroom, teachers under the cosh of verbal and physical abuse, death threats from disaffected pupils, police officers in schools, exclusions on the rise once more - headline writers have been having a field day and behaviour is firmly back on the Government's agenda. Charles Clarke, the new Education Secretary, says behaviour management is one of his priorities. Horror stories of pupils running riot are as old as schools, but the indications are that more than ever teachers feel in need of support. As a starter, the Government announced this year that it would throw pound;66 million at the problem with its behaviour improvement programme - woefully inadequate, according to some such as Bill Rogers, the behaviour management consultant. Others believe it is enough to have a significant impact in schools in the 34 target education authorities, selected for being within the 10 top police areas of high street crime.

Is behaviour getting worse?

Most heads and teachers will say yes - pupils seem more ready to answer back, more ready to challenge, more ready to be uncooperative. Last year, for the first time in recent years, the chief inspector of schools, in his annual report, recorded an increase in poor behaviour, with one secondary school in 12 and one primary school in 50 experiencing unsatisfactory behaviour, and a small minority of pupils displaying behaviour and attitudes which challenged "even the best teachers".

In 1999-2000 and 2000-01, 270 serious injuries to teachers in Great Britain caused by violence were reported to the Health and Safety Executive. And this is largely regarded as the tip of the problem. In three weeks in February last year in the south-west alone, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers recorded 21 cases of physical abuse against teachers by pupils in primary schools, and 77 in secondaries. According to the latest major survey on pupil behaviour by the National Union of Teachers, more than 80 per cent of teachers in schools of all types - rural and inner-city - say that pupil behaviour has deteriorated during their time in teaching. However, some teachers and heads dispute this general picture. They point to the use of corporal punishment in the past and say that, although children are more confident and ready to challenge today, the atmosphere in schools in the past was also aggressive and that much can be achieved with a good behaviour policy.

What kind of behaviour do schools say they are dealing with?

Increasing numbers of children on a short fuse, more quarrelsome with each other and ready to challenge the authority of teachers. Heads report more gratuitous violence among children. In the past, they say, poor behaviour was largely about skylarking and causing distractions, whereas now students are ready to be confrontational, ready to resort to verbal abuse and determined to have the last word. More children seem ready to play up to an audience and their peers seem more ready to entertain this exhibitionism. However, although schools report that cases of extreme behaviour involving physical assault are still relatively rare, teachers say (and research studies back this up) that it is constant low-level disruption - pupils shouting out in class, getting out of their seats and disrupting other children - which is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. There is also a growing sense of awareness that significant numbers of children are exhibiting emotional and mental health problems.

Why is this happening?

There is a huge amount of debate and soul-searching about, not to say large dollops of blame assigned to, the disintegration of families (one head says that in a recent Year 6 class, only two children had parents who were still together), lax parenting, lack of parental support for schools and the influence of the media - with children exposed to more violence and bad language on the street, in cinema and on the television.

Paul Cooper, professor of education at Leicester University, points to the fact that while society has changed a great deal, with traditional sources of socialisation - church, family, neighbourhoods - increasingly fragmented, school is practically the last surviving social institution that everyone goes through and which has changed relatively little since the 19th century. Good order in schools, he says, becomes much more difficult to maintain when there is a "pluralism of values" in society. He also believes that constant testing and league tables make teachers feel they have less flexibility in dealing with pupils, and less time to talk to them about the nature of their lives.

The prescriptive nature of the national curriculum is also blamed for leaving many pupils (20 per cent, according to research) with a sense of frustration and failure, and its introduction in the 1990s is blamed by some for the phenomenal rise in permanent exclusions - from 2,910 in 1990-91 to 12,700 in 1997. Teacher unions and heads' associations also believe attempts by the former education secretary David Blunkett to cut exclusions contributed significantly to the rise in school violence. Lack of stability caused by teacher shortages and the rise in the use of supply cover is acknowledged as another factor. Figures released this May show that expulsions rose by 11 per cent in 2000-01, the first increase since Labour took power.

How does it affect pupils and teachers?

Poor pupil behaviour ranks second to workload as the key reason for teachers leaving the profession. Managing the in-your-face disruption common in today's classrooms means that teachers have to be on the ball all the time. They also feel isolated and stressed if they are not supported within their schools and have to cope with the problems alone. Heads certainly see poor pupil behaviour as a major factor in the current recruitment and retention crisis. Pupils in turn feel frustrated and "unsafe" in the face of others' misbehaviour. "The evidence is there that more than anything young people want justice and safety at school," says John Bangs, head of education at the NUT.

What part do parents play?

They are pivotal. Researchers have found that lack of parental supervision, ineffective parental discipline, parental use of physical punishment and parent rejection are among nine variables most closely associated with the development of delinquency and anti-social behaviour in boys. It is widely recognised that parents who are not coping with their children at home are more ready to have a go at teachers and shift the blame. Stories of parents storming into school and threatening staff are legion. On the other hand, when parental support is harnessed, schools say they can chart the improvement in pupil behaviour. Sheila Audsley took over at Clifton Green primary school in York at a time when parental unrest about behaviour was high. "When I first started here the phone rang non-stop after 3.50pm until gone five. I could set my watch by it. But I took their complaints seriously and would always give feedback after investigation. We have taken the view here that parents have a right to look closely at how we are managing their children. What we do has to be acceptable; there has to be agreement."

How did schools tackle bad behaviour in the past?

They've come a long way since the days of corporal punishment. The principles of behavioural psychology, which stress the importance of rewards rather than punishment, have had a major impact. In the 1990s, assertive discipline, established by school system consultants Lee and Marlene Canter, was in vogue. This was based on assertiveness training and a teacher-in-charge approach with a few clearly stated classroom rules and firm, clear, concise directions to students in need of outside control.

By law, all schools now have to have policies for positive behaviour management. Currently, there is a strong emphasis on improving pupils'

emotional literacy and social competence as preventive measures. The idea behind this is that much anti-social and deviant behaviour is the product of a lack of basic social and self-management skills.

What is considered good practice?

An authoritative account remains the 1989 report by the Committee of Enquiry into Discipline in Schools, chaired by Lord Elton, which showed that while some schools were preoccupied with bad behaviour, others employed positive policies for creating an orderly and purposeful atmosphere: leadership that communicates appropriate values; ethos and aspirations for the school as a whole; the core of staff working co-operatively and reflectively with one another and pupils; a common, consistent and well-monitored behaviour policy; a key teacher who understands the nature of emotional and behavioural difficulties; a curriculum suitably challenging for all students and marked by opportunities for students to learn from their own actions.

Mike Kent, a Friday magazine columnist and head of Comber Grove, a tough primary in Camberwell, south London, says that a hands-on approach, with head and teachers knowing their pupils well and providing interesting and stimulating lessons, is essential to keeping behaviour manageable. "There is a huge accent here on the quality of work. I have a very stable staff, I am rarely out of the building and we try to make the classroom a place children feel is their own," he says.

Peter Hall Jones, head of Little London primary in an area of extreme social deprivation in Leeds, prides himself on rising standards and never having permanently excluded a child. Some of the children who come to his school are very fragile and lead volatile lives. "We give the children strict routines and reward them for doing them well," he says. "We also have a chart where they can plot their own behaviour like a profit and loss line. By drawing the behaviour, we are making the issue about the behaviour, not the child."

Brian McNulty, headteacher of St Matthew's high school in Manchester, where there have been no permanent exclusions in the past six years, says pupils are consulted on what rules they feel the school needs to work as a civilised community. When pupils misbehave they are reminded that they are in breach of what they themselves have formulated. "This depersonalises the misbehaviour and helps to keep the atmosphere calm but firm," he says.

Starting early It is increasingly recognised that behaviour problems need to be taken in hand as early as possible. The growth of nurture groups in primary schools (there are now more than 1,000) is evidence that this strategy is gaining ground. Based on the theory that children who display emotional and behavioural difficulties have often been deprived of early family attachments and support, the groups bring together troubled - and troublesome - children for between two and four terms to be taught by two adults who model supportive relationships. The emphasis is on intensive social learning, respect for and listening to the children and making them feel valued. Research backed by the Department for Education and Skills has shown the strategy to be effective. "Once teachers start to see the child in development terms, once they understand what the world looks like to that child, and stop seeing the child and themselves as failures, they can give appropriate help," says Marion Bennathan, director of the Nurture Groups Network.

The primarysecondary transition The move into a bigger school, with pupils moving from class to class, teacher to teacher, can spark a deterioration in behaviour. Some schools have taken steps to make Year 7 more like primary, with pupils having one class teacher for the most part, and only going out for specialist tuition. Peter Hall Jones at Little London has taken back into his school Year 7 pupils who have been excluded, or are in danger of being excluded, from their new secondary schools. "I think we should realise that some children are not ready to move on and make provision for that," he says.

What is the head's role in whole-school discipline?

Crucial. Research repeatedly shows that good, strong leaders who set the values for the whole school to follow, and who support teachers and pupils, are an essential ingredient in the effective, improving school. Heads need to be seen to be modelling the relationships with students that they want all staff to adopt. Staff must also feel that they can call on the head's support and that he or she will ultimately take the lead in dealing with major behaviour incidents so that pupils never believe they can get away with it.

Which local education authorities have effective behaviour support?

Birmingham has been running a framework for intervention since 1997 with Standards Fund money. This framework, which has attracted interest from the Scottish Executive for use in Scottish schools, is based on two key elements: a behaviour environment checklist (small things such as not having access to fresh air in a classroom can severely affect pupil behaviour) which also includes wider issues such as whether staff feel supported by senior management; and an insistence that no concern is too small to raise, and that the person who raises concerns be made the "lead teacher" to oversee any interventions. This has led to improvements in parentschool relationships because parents feel that schools are willing to reflect on their own practice and environment, and not just focus on the failings of the child.

The Government's behaviour improvement programme will involve LEAs using the funds for such things as multi-agency approaches to dealing with children "at risk" of exclusion or truancy; provision of key workers to support pupils who may be subject to numerous interventions; improved behaviour training and monitoring in schools through audits and a dedicated member of senior management; truancy sweeps; parenting classes; and expansion of provision for pupils on fixed-term and permanent exclusions.

The Department for Education and Skills points to several LEA schemes which it deems to be effective, such as the break and lunchtime projects taking place in Sheffield to improve the quality of pupil activity during free time, when a significant number of behavioural issues arise. Midday supervisors liaise with members of behaviour and education support teams, receive training on the teaching of traditional games and carry out audits of the play environment.

Greenwich LEA in south London has an extended "On the Ball" programme for secondary schools, in partnership with Charlton Athletic Race Equality. The aim of the project is to reduce community tensions and promote social cohesion. It focuses on a six to eight-week block of free football, basketball or netball coaching alongside personal development lessons. Teachers and pupils agree targets for attendance and behaviour every week, and these have to be met before pupils can progress to the coaching programme.

Resources for The Issue: Behaviour will appear in the last of this three-part series on December 6


* Poor pupil behaviour ranks second to workload as the key reason for teachers leaving the profession

* More than 80 per cent of teachers in schools of all types - rural and inner-city - say that pupil behaviour has deteriorated during their time in teaching

* It is constant low-level disruption - pupils shouting out in class, getting out of their seats and disrupting other children - which is becoming increasingly difficult to manage

* In 1999-2000 and 2000-01, 270 serious injuries to teachers in Great Britain caused by violence were reported to the Health and Safety Executive

* Permanent exclusions rose from 2,910 in 1990-91 to 12,700 in 1997

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