Task-force chief dismisses idea of 'zero tolerance' and says every teacher must guide pupils. Adi Bloom reports
Children need to be taught to behave, in the same way that they are taught to read or write, according to the chair of the government's behaviour task force.
Alan Steer, whose task-force report was published this autumn, said that he had little time for zero-tolerance approaches. "If a toddler has a tantrum, you don't say, 'out the door'," he said. "You work with them. Children need to be taught to behave. Do we support them by modelling the behaviour we want? If we fail in that, then the fault is ours."
Sir Alan was speaking at a one-day conference at London university's institute of education, which examined how best to put his taskforce's recommendations into practice. Its report, published in October, outlined ways to improve behaviour in school, including enshrining in law teachers'
right to discipline pupils.
Sue Hackman, director of the secondary strategy, said that every subject teacher had a role to play in teaching pupils to behave. "Behaviour shouldn't be left to the year tutor or the pastoral head. All teachers need to be mindful of it. Behaviour is a rather different matter for a PE teacher, say, than for a science teacher."
Over the coming year, all subjects in the secondary strategy will focus on ways in which teachers can improve behaviour in ways relevant to their specific syllabuses.
Jean Gross, former senior director of the national primary strategy, said:
"If a child can't read, you teach them to read. But if a child can't behave, you punish them. We should be teaching them to behave."
Sir Alan told delegates that the most important method for classroom control is consistency of standards across the school.
If pupils have been sitting in a poorly taught, poorly prepared class, he said, they will not be receptive to the next teacher's lesson, no matter how well planned it is. "We need to provide that level of consistency," he said. "We've got to turn consistency from a boring word into a sexy word."
Teachers, he said, would benefit from observing and taking ideas from other teachers' lessons, not only in neighbouring schools, but also in their own.
Such small measures, he said, are often overlooked, but can make an important difference in day-to-day classroom behaviour. For example, he recommended enforcing a seating plan at primary and secondary schools.
If teachers allow pupils to mess around for the first 20 minutes of the lesson, while they sort out textbooks and inquire after absent pupils, they will struggle to gain their attention afterwards, he said.
And he suggested that classrooms furthest from the staffroom should be given to the most experienced teachers. He also urged schools to reconsider handing out fixed-term exclusions of more than one week. In many cases, this made it hard for a teacher to reintegrate the pupil after they returned from suspension.
"Behaviour is a complex issue," he said. "There's no bottle saying, 'drink me' or piece of cake saying, 'eat me'. But please do the obvious, and do it regularly."