Literacy: the golden key

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Early support and better attainment could do so much to avoid poor behaviour and its effects

Early support and better attainment could do so much to avoid poor behaviour and its effects

Earlier this month, an independent review into behaviour and attendance in schools in Wales was published. It was my privilege to chair the steering group and to write the report, which made 19 core recommendations, with 71 supporting proposals.

Before considering some of the recommendations, I would first like to express my thanks to teaching staff and other professionals who gave up their time so willingly to help us. We congratulate you all on your hard work in maintaining order and discipline in your schools and classrooms - never an easy task.

The overall position on behaviour and attendance is not helped by the significant number of pupils at primary or secondary school whose literacy and numeracy levels are well below the average attainment targets for their chronological age.

All the evidence suggests that pupils with low levels of literacy or numeracy have a greater tendency towards behaviour andor attendance problems. Much earlier identification and support for such pupils might help to prevent some of them from developing more serious problems and reaching the persistent stages. It would also help to raise standards.

Some of the strongest evidence received from the teaching profession, local education authority staff, voluntary bodies and parents' groups was that many have received little or no training for their roles in managing behaviour or attendance. Clearly, a priority must be more funding for training programmes.

While we were extremely pleased with the good work being achieved by most schools and teachers, it was clear also that some staff lacked confidence in managing pupils' behaviour. For example, a number do not understand, or are sceptical of, children's rights issues. Similarly, many stated that they did not understand how and when they were justified in using physical intervention or the use of restraint.

There are significant differences in the ways in which schools manage exclusion policy and practice. It became obvious that a number of unofficial exclusions and other unofficial arrangements are taking place. Managed moves vary considerably in practice. We believe the Assembly government should tighten existing guidance and introduce new legislation.

Although some excellent alternative curriculum and out-of-school provision exists, this tends to vary among different authorities. In some parts of Wales there are too few, if any, places available.

I believe every secondary school in Wales should have a named senior manager designated as lead professional to manage behaviour, attendance and participation with children, parents, carers and the local authority. This professional should be given sufficient dedicated time to fulfil this arduous role. Equally, every local authority should have a behavioural support section and an inclusions manager who is appointed at a senior level or, if they are too small, collaborate with a neighbouring authority on this work.

We are concerned about the link between bad pupil behaviour and non- attendance due to bullying. We are particularly concerned at the rise in the number of disaffected girls and the link with bullying and cyber bullying which, in extreme cases, is distinctly unhealthy. We wonder, too, why a slight majority of truants are now girls when, in the 1970s, the ratio of truants was 20:1 in favour of boys. We are also worried about the perceived rise in the number of pupils with social and emotional needs and additional learning needs.

Some of the proposed curriculum changes about to be implemented by the Assembly government will be helpful in tackling the causes of bad behaviour and non-attendance. These include the introduction of the foundation phase, the 14-19 learning pathways and the learning coaches concept. Many more pupils will benefit from taking vocational courses. I believe behaviour and attendance should become core issues in the new School Effectiveness Framework and in Local Safeguarding Children's Boards agendas.

I also think the Assembly government should introduce a zero-tolerance policy towards physical attacks upon teachers both in and out of school, and protect teachers' rights whenever possible. Physical attacks by pupils on other pupils should also be banned. At the same time, children's and young pupils' voices could be listened to more as their ideas could help to direct policy in individual schools.

I believe this report will be broadly welcomed. I think our recommendations should achieve cross-party support within the Senedd. I hope they will start to be implemented in full by the department for children, education, lifelong learning and skills working with the Assembly government. This will require DCELLS to establish an action plan on an immediate short-term and long-term basis.

Some of our recommendations will be easy to apply. For example, it should be possible to start specialist training programmes in behaviour management without too much difficulty. All that's needed is a budget.

Some of our other ideas will require a more strategic analysis. We need to brainstorm how we can make our early intervention strategy work.

The review group believes that its report has given the government a clear blueprint for policy direction for managing behaviour and attendance in schools in Wales. It has put us ahead of the game.

I hope it will avail itself of the opportunity to support schools and the teaching profession and, in so doing, give Wales a world lead in this field. The recommendations are readily achievable. But, as with so many things, there has to be sufficient will.

Professor Ken Reid is deputy vice-chancellor of Swansea Metropolitan University and chair of the National Behaviour and Attendance Review.

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