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Three secrets to a successful FE behaviour policy

A code of conduct can easily buckle under the weight of its own complexity. It’s time to choose a simple life, writes behaviour expert Paul Dix

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A code of conduct can easily buckle under the weight of its own complexity. It’s time to choose a simple life, writes behaviour expert Paul Dix

Exceptional learner conduct is underpinned by intelligent policy. But what are the key elements of successful conduct and behaviour systems? And what small changes can you make today to build consistency for staff and learners?

Short and sweet

Start with something simple. Ask a range of different learners what they think the rules of the college are. Ask some staff too. They will doubtless look into the distance and mutter, “Oh, yes, I did see some once.” Or they’ll laugh heartily as if you are being deliberately facetious.

They don’t know them. Nobody knows them. Because the list is so ridiculously long.

More often than not, there will be a code of conduct that extends to 20 or 30 rules, with separate procedures hidden deep in college policy around everything from guns, knives and drugs to badgers and atomic weapons.

The chaos of too many rules means that leadership teams have designed inconsistency into their policy at the very foundations. If learners and staff can’t remember the rules, you have too many.

Remove barriers

Alongside the “conduct policy” there is always a separate “disciplinary policy”, which is operated by senior leaders whose specialism is managing bureaucracy – not managing learners.

Rigid disciplinary systems with “levels”, “written warnings” and “formal meetings” fuel a detachment on the part of learners that does not meet anyone’s needs. At its worst, this is an unempathetic travelator out of college rather than an attempt to genuinely re-engage.

When learners are struggling, give them support, not just red lines and stern faces. They don’t need the dark suits of doom but a learning coach, detached from any process, to support, mentor and guide. A problem-solver, not a process monkey. A skilled, empathetic specialist who can work with the learner to meet their needs and stem the flow of poor conduct. Someone who understands that learners with additional needs are not “behaviour problems”.

Cause for concern?

At the heart of bad policy lies the “cause for concern” system, a relic of the old school that simply refuses to die. When staff pass a slip to a more senior colleague, the learner understands one simple message: “You can’t deal with me.”

Nothing says “I give up” more than “cause for concern” slips. In many colleges, the system is overloaded with minor referrals. Senior staff don’t have time to deal with the most urgent cases, communication breaks down and messages go unanswered. Mistrust between staff and senior leaders begins to breed.

Get rid of the “cause for concern” system. Throw it away. Without bits of paper or emails to defer responsibility, people start working together, communicating more clearly and managing poor behaviour in teams, at source.

This is an edited version of an article in the 27 November edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full version of this story here. Read the full version in this week's TES magazine, available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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