Positive discipline can set the bar for behaviour standards

1st May 2009 at 01:00

I welcome the final part of the Steer report ("Steer tells alarmists to behave themselves", April 24). I agree with Sir Alan's findings that most children in school in the UK behave well. That has been my experience as head of three London schools over the past 14 years. Two of them had been in special measures. Even in such schools - one was deemed the second-worst in London in 2007 - most pupils, 900 out of 1,000, never put a foot wrong.

The ritual hand-wringing at the Easter teacher conferences focuses on the 10 per cent, not the 90 per cent of pupils who do as they are asked. In Richard Thaler's recent book, Nudge, he makes a plausible argument explaining how humans value "the negative" twice as much as we value "gain". The glass never seems half-full when we read press reports of the conferences.

Steer is also right to say special needs should not be identified as a cause of a breakdown in classroom management. I know this from my dyspraxic daughter's experience in state schooling. She would sigh as she went to school - in her words, to be shouted at by some of her teachers for her lack of understanding. "Just another day of ritual humiliation," she once said.

Sir Alan ran one of the most successful schools in London and knows as well as anyone what works in modern schooling. The only point I would have given greater emphasis to is this: adults, and no one else, bring up children in this world. Teachers have that responsibility in school. Only teachers can make it better. And children only behave the way we let them.

Teachers need to be trained in the art of positive discipline and good relationships for learning. Lee Cantor, the US educational psychologist, identified in the 1980s and 1990s that there is an assertive and positive technique that teachers can learn. He called it the "master technique". His work led to a variety of approaches, but all at their core involve: a calm, assertive approach for teachers; understanding their own body language; consistent use of consequences; and a relentless and unconditional recognition of good behaviour.

In my experience, even the most challenged young person responds to the constant use of these techniques. Couple that with warm, confident, welcoming, well-planned, ability-led learning from all teachers, and there would be no need for reports like Sir Alan's.

Trevor Averre-Beeson, Director of education, Lilac Sky Schools, London.

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