Moving to big school can be start of problems
Behaviour tsar identifies transition plus first-class teaching as the keys to tackling unruly conduct
Improving the transition between primary and secondary schools is one of the keys to tackling unruly behaviour, according to the Government's pupil behaviour tsar.
More work is needed to make the move between schools and different key stages more consistent to support high standards of behaviour, Sir Alan Steer said this week.
Sir Alan, the outgoing head of Seven Kings High School in Ilford, Essex, also recommended that teachers be given tough new powers to search pupils for drugs, alcohol and stolen property.
His report comes in the same week that the Government published its Youth Crime Action Plan and follows a spate of knife attacks between young people.
Speaking to The TES, Sir Alan said: "You cannot talk about behaviour in an abstract way, removed from the experience children have in the classroom.
"We know there are problems in attainment when pupils move from primary to secondary school. Children can get lost at that stage and that has a big impact on their behaviour. The same happens between different key stages. Teaching approaches need to be more consistent so that pupils know what is expected of them."
Assessment for learning is now having a "significant impact" in improving children's education, with the knock-on effect of improved behaviour, his report says.
Sir Alan, who retires as a headteacher next week, will carry out further research, with more recommendations expected by autumn.
Teachers already have legal powers to search pupils for weapons. But those powers need to be extended to give them better legal protection as many already carry out searches for drugs and alcohol, Sir Alan said. Pupils would have to give their consent.
He also said that teachers should be better trained to spot and deal with alcohol and substance abuse.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said drugs and alcohol were growing problems in some schools and that new powers would help staff stamp them out "sharply and swiftly".
He also backed Sir Alan's conclusion that parents need to be more involved in schools. "The Government's strategy will need to make clear parents' responsibilities to work with schools to resolve issues quickly," he said.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the extension of search powers would create safer and better disciplined schools.
But Patrick Nash, the chief executive of the Teacher Support Network, said the move could put teachers at risk of attack and damage their relationship with pupils.
Sir Alan ruled out the use of random searches and the introduction of drugs tests, which he said were unreliable and ineffective at identifying cannabis, the most commonly used illegal drug among pupils.
Ed Balls gave his immediate backing to extending search powers. The Schools Secretary said the review had "got it right".
"Low level behavioural problems can sometimes be a forerunner to more serious issues. I want to help schools step in early to prevent problems further down the line," said Mr Balls.
Officials will also look into another recommendation to establish independent local panels to deal with complaints from parents.
Alcohol is causing more problems than drugs, according to Sir Alan, who criticised parents for buying it for under-age children.
Overall, he praised improving levels of discipline, pointing to an Ofsted report putting serious behaviour problems at their lowest recorded levels and falling numbers of permanent exclusions revealed earlier this month.
"I remain extremely optimistic about the current situation in schools. There will always be problems in bringing up the young but these should not be exaggerated," he said. "I believe that the vast majority of young people are as idealistic, committed and enthusiastic as they ever were and that standards of behaviour are generally good."
Sir Alan added that he was "horrified" by the idea of scrapping appeals for pupils permanently excluded from school, a policy advocated by the Conservatives.
His previous report, in March, called for all schools to accept their fair share of excluded pupils by joining local behaviour partnerships. Mr Balls also backed that finding and said he would change the law at the earliest opportunity.
Ministers have previously said they did not expect many schools to use the right to search for weapons, which was introduced last year, because they were generally safe places, although it was an important power for some schools.
Leading article, page 28
WHAT SIR ALAN RECOMMENDS
- Teachers to be given new legal powers to search pupils for alcohol, drugs and stolen property.
- Better education on the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.
- Schools to expand online reporting schemes and text alerts to give parents better access to information on their children, including their attendance and punctuality.
- More lesson content and homework online so that parents can be more readily involved in their children's education.
- More parent support advisers to work with the most disengaged pupils and parents so that they get better access to services.
- A new system for parental complaints. Unresolved cases should be heard locally, rather than by the Secretary of State.
- More schools to work with police to create Safer School Partnerships.
- Schools to be more consistent in their approach to teaching and high standards of behaviour.