Winning the class war

25th November 1994 at 00:00
For schools setting up a behaviour policy there is a range of materials to help. Gerald Haigh looks at the different approaches on the market.

There was a time when discipline was a personal business, and a teacher was rated first and foremost by his or her ability to keep order. Other qualifications were subordinate, because learning can only take place in an orderly classroom. In recognition of this were coined the shorthand descriptors "Miss Green is a strong teacher, but Mr Brown is a weak teacher", that anyone in the profession still recognises. Thus, if you were a pupil, you would adapt quite naturally to working hard in Miss Green's lessons and not talking out of turn. Mr Brown, however, provided you with 40 minutes of light relief. The boy who was seen by Miss Green as polite, thoughtful and quietly spoken, would become for Mr Brown a loud and oafish lout, slouched back on his chair's hind legs and liable at any moment to crash to the ground amid admiring cheers and laughter.

The astonishing thing was that there seemed no sharing of experiences. Mr Brown, deeply ashamed of his difficulties, kept quiet about them or acted out a pathetic staffroom charade, and Miss Green, delighted in her skills, guarded them jealously.

In some schools, classroom discipline is still a private matter. But in general, teachers are much more likely now to be using a team approach to pupil behaviour and to have a "whole-school discipline policy". Many of these are derived from policy documents which are increasingly available commercially from local authorities and freelance consultants.

Leeds, for example, has published a document called Developing a Behaviour Policy and Putting it into Practice, by Peter Galvin and Peter Costa. The impetus came from seeing what was happening in the States. "They had discipline policies there. We didn't like them, though," says Peter Galvin, "because they tended to be put together by the state or the school district there was no feeling of ownership by the teachers. They were very negative too if you commit this crime, then this is what will happen".

The Leeds materials encourage a light touch and the least restrictive structure: "We were interested in turning out self-motivated, thinking human beings. If you put too many rules and explicit consequences before them, then you're moving them away from that."

The point of the Leeds system, is that everyone is treated differently: "To get equal outcomes, you need unequal inputs". A section on "Differentiation", for example, discusses how and why the policy may need to be differently applied between age groups, activities, departments and even pupils.

Other published policies depend quite heavily on the principle that "Crime x always gets punishment y" Lee Canter's Assertive Discipline, imported from the States and popular in some schools here, is arguably one of these. So too are the materials from Teaching and Learning Associates, Discipline for Learning, which say that "Constructive teachers . . . have a plan for classroom management and use it consistently for all students, not just the troublemakers". The rationale for this approach, of course, is that discipline must not be capricious, or subject to bargaining a child has to be able to predict the teacher's response. On the face of it, this looks like a difference of philosophies. All these published policies, though, are invariably handled by training sessions during which the content is picked over and discussed by teachers before being absorbed into each school's way of working. Discipline for Learning, like Assertive Discipline, is a whole training package.

What is certainly common to all current approaches to behaviour, though, is an emphasis on praising positive behaviour. Tameside authority's concise and clear behaviour policy document, WRAP (What is a policy? Reasons for having a policy. Action that needs to be taken. Policy into Practice) includes in its "Sanctions" section a practical tip which should ensure that punishment is outweighed by praise: "a guiding principle when issuing a warning is that it is only done when two pupils have been praised ... thus ensuring a positive atmosphere not a negative one".

The assumption is that a school will construct a hierarchy of rewards for well-behaved pupils, ranging from a simple word of approval all the way up to ornate certificates presented by the head. John Hart, head of Egerton Park Community High in Manchester, and a user of the Tameside policy, felt at the outset that "we were pretty good at punishing, but our rewards system was just tokenism". Now the school has "a whole gamut of rewards certificates, points, exclusive pencil cases with the school name on, a visit to the mayor's parlour".

Traditionally, some teachers have resisted rewarding well-behaved pupils on what they saw as the moral ground that "we ought not to reward them for doing what they should do all the time". The Leeds materials are based on the principle that if you want kids to learn new behaviours, you have to give them feedback, and if you're happy to give feedback for academic performance, why not for behaviour?

This feedback, though, has to be precise. TLA recommends saying "I like it when you do that", on the grounds that if a teacher simply stops telling a child off, the child may think the teacher has just gone quiet, not that the teacher approves of him.

Each published policy has fervent disciples and my suspicion is that this is not usually the result of having tried several others and discarded them. A number of schools claim to have been transformed by Assertive Discipline. The Tameside training is praised by John Hart at Egerton High: "that external boost was crucial". Discipline for Learning now has enthusiasts around the country Marie Watt, deputy head at Dumbryden Primary in Edinburgh, says that "staff find it very positive. It's certainly cut down the time we spend on discipline". And the Leeds approach has been used extensively by Kathy Thompson, head of Seven Hills Primary. The real key, she believes, was to convince children that they were valued and that they would be listened to. The improvement, she claims, is dramatic fights between pupils, once two or three per lunchtime, are now very rare.

The lessons to be drawn from all of this are fairly clear. For one thing, there is a strong feeling that a school trying to transform behaviour patterns needs outside support, whether from an authority or a consultancy. There are a number of resources around, and local authorities are often able and keen to market their success in other areas. So shop around, look carefully at what's on offer, talk to lots of people, ask providers for the names of user schools, and visit them. Don't rush the decision.

Developing a Behaviour Policy and Putting it into Practice by Peter Galvin and Peter Costa, is available from the Positive Behaviour Unit, West Park Curriculum Development Centre, Leeds LS 16 5BE. Pounds 14.95 incl postage. The unit produces a range of other relevant publications. Details on request.

Wrap, Tameside's behaviour policy document, is available from Room 2D, Resources Centre, Waterloo Road, Stalybridge, Tameside SK 15 2AU. Pounds 25 plus Pounds 3.25 postage.

Discipline for Learning is a six-hour course led by a presenter supplied by TLA. A range of costs are involved: a manual for participants is up to Pounds 27 each, depending on the total number; the master pack, one per school, which includes a video, is Pounds 150 plus VAT; the consultancy fee is Pounds 150 plus VAT. The total cost to a 50-teacher secondary school, for example, would be Pounds 1,600 plus expenses. Teaching and Learning Associates, 22 Apex Court, Woodlands, Almondsbury, Bristol BS12 4JT.

Assertive Discipline works by training leaders (teachers, advisers, educational psychologists) at Pounds 99 a time. A video which they then use to train teachers is Pounds 450. Each teacher participant must buy a book at Pounds 24. Behaviour Management, The Old Rectory, High Street, Iron Acton, Bristol BS17 1UQ.

Other useful materials: Lame Duck Publications. Barbara Maines and George Robinson have a national reputation for their "child-friendly" approach to bullying and behaviour. Their publications include a number of relevant titles, including Bernard Allen's If it makes my life easier to write a policy on behaviour, a guide to developing individual school policies. Lame Duck Publishing, 10 South Terrace, Redland, Bristol BS6 6TG. Pounds 8.

Practice to Share 1, a pack with video and photocopied booklets, from the National Primary Centre, Westminster College, Oxford OX2 9AT. Primary targeted. Emphasises positive behaviour, with advice on lunchtime problems and working with lunchtime supervisors.Pounds 15. Building a Better Behaved School, based on work in Leeds. Published by Longman, Burnt Mill, Harlow, Essex CM20 2JE. Pounds 52.50.

Positive Teaching, a training package with a video, based on the long-term work of Birmingham academics, is another approach which emphasises the importance of praise. Positive Products, PO Box 45, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL52 3BX. Pounds 100.

Positive Strategies for Behaviour Management. Pounds 105, plus a training fee of Pounds 85 per person. The pack contains a leader's handbook and six participants' units. Again, positive responses are emphasised, together with the need to establish a minimum number of agreed rules. NFER Nelson, Darville House, 2 Oxford Road East, Windsor, Berks SL4 1 DF.

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