Politicians are often accused of creating policy on the hoof. The recent furore over MPs' expenses and the rights of Gurkhas are prime examples. But how do you create effective, meaningful policies? A school's behaviour policy is probably one of its most important documents.
A behaviour policy begins with the governing body that has a legal duty to draw up a statement of the general principles of behaviour and discipline for the school. The headteacher, in turn, has a legal duty to create policies that promote good behaviour and respect; prevent bullying; ensure that pupils complete assigned work and regulate their conduct.
Over the years, schools have created, adapted, adopted and updated countless policies. Policies in themselves do nothing; it's how they are put into practice that matters. The first step in creating an effective behaviour policy is to gather any existing policies and look at existing behaviour management practices.
Analysing these will provide an overview of what works and where there is a mismatch that could lead to pupil, staff or parent confusion.
The policy you decide on must be for the whole school and all areas or departments and all teachers and staff must put it into practice. In general, the policies should aim to establish a positive ethos and promote effective learning by establishing the following: clear expectations of what is acceptable behaviour; effective behaviour management strategies; processes that recognise, teach, reward and celebrate positive behaviour; and processes, rules and sanctions to deal with poor conduct.
While the staff will have their own ways of managing behaviour in the classroom, don't assume that the policy you produce will be implemented without staff training and staff development. Teachers and non-teaching staff should share good behaviour strategies and stop using sanctions or procedures that conflict with the policy. It is also vital that parents and carers are told of the policy and that the key elements, such as rewards and sanctions, are made explicit.
Teachers often disagree about rewarding good behaviour. Some say that pupils should not be rewarded for doing what they are supposed to do anyway. This, it is claimed, can create a culture of pupils only doing something for a tangible reward. The policy should make clear the difference between recognising good behaviour, with staff saying please and thank you to pupils who are helpful or hold a door open, and the giving of points, or stickers or even prizes for good normal behaviour that should be expected from all pupils.
Although the policy begins with governors, the head and the senior management of the school, it will be the middle managers and day-to-day teachers and non-teaching staff that have to put it into practice, so the policy must be constructed and agreed by all staff.
Crucial to the success of any policy is the support that the senior managers give staff when they implement it and pupils still cause problems. There must be a way of escalating the problem through the various levels of management in the school, and staff must have confidence that the senior management team will also stick with the policy and implement it.
James Williams is a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex.
- Have a consistent approach to behaviour management.
- Develop a system of rewards and sanctions.
- Share good behaviour strategies with staff.
- Have pupil support systems in place.
- Provide opportunities for staff development and support.
- Make sure that you have effective discussions with parents and other agencies.