We all think we know how good or bad behaviour is in our schools. You only have to walk round during lessons, at changeovers and at breaks and lunchtimes to see with your own eyes.
But do we know if behaviour is improving over time across the whole school or not? Can we really tell if our latest strategy is working longer-term?
Our memories are fallible and prone to bias. We may want to pounce on the merest hint that things are disastrous and exclaim that they have never been worse – or be desperate to find a scrap of evidence to show that things are improving.
All schools hold information of some sort on the behaviour of their children. Some schools collect information in great detail, others formally record only the most extreme things, like when a child is excluded for a fixed period of time. How much of this whole-school information, though, is available to you as a class teacher in a usable format? Would it help you as a form tutor to know how your tutees are getting on? Would it help you to know how behaviour in your school is changing over time?
When we were working to improve behaviour in the school where I was first a headteacher, there were many times when we were unsure if we were on the right track. Lasting behaviour change takes time. It is an emotional process punctuated by setbacks and led by people – if they’re anything like me – wracked with self-doubt.
Proof of progress
During this time, we were under heavy scrutiny from our local authority and had to regularly provide them and our governors with detailed behaviour information – it was one of their ways to help them decide whether or not to sack me, frankly.
It struck me that I was missing a trick by not sharing this with the staff. It would help them to understand that behaviour was improving across the school, that their efforts were bearing fruit and they should keep going.
While the indicators were going in the right direction, it suited me to share behaviour information with everyone – but it also helped me to stay on top of things early if it started to slide.
Nothing substitutes leaders getting around their school as often as possible and seeing things for themselves, but judgements about improvements or deterioration over time need to be backed up by strong evidence.
All behaviour information systems are partial and are only as good as the information put into them, but they are an essential tool in
the drive to improve behaviour. Once set up, I couldn’t ignore the evidence – and neither could my colleagues.
Jarlath O’Brien is director for schools at The Eden Academy. Better Behaviour – a guide for teachers will be published by Sage in May