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Tom Bennett: Don't call me 'tsar'

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I’m going to take a long punt and suggest that most parents would like their children in a classroom where they could learn in a safe space, free from disruption. I’ll make it an accumulator and say that most teachers would like to be trained how to do this. And if we want to really throw the ball on the wheel, I’ll assume that most pupils would prefer to be in a place governed by compassionate boundaries for their benefit and flourishing. 

The astonishing surprise then, is that for many children in UK schools, this isn’t the case. I’ve been coaching teachers in behaviour management, and running forums and writing obsessively about the subject for almost a decade, and it’s distressing to see that this is an issue that we still haven’t licked yet. Knowing how to run a room, to design an environment that promotes thought, collaboration and focus, should be one of the uppermost aims of any educator. Some absurdists claim that a noisy classroom that rocks with spontaneity is the perfect crucible for learning. It isn’t. For every outlier who enjoys spending time in a centrifuge, there are twenty nine kids who can’t concentrate. That’s not to demand monastic silence instead. But it is an axiom of the classroom that it needs to run on rules that aim for the benefit of all.

Strangely, we appear to have lost this art in places. Some teachers, fearful of wearing the tyrant’s ermine, hesitate to lay boundaries, or are loathe to direct pupils too overtly. There are patches of extraordinary ability in many schools, of course, guided by many great teacher training providers. But the fact that the state of the nation is so variable, isn’t good enough. It’s not good enough for new teachers who are asked to do a job but lack the training, or the ongoing support, and it certainly isn’t good enough for children who, perhaps unsurprisingly, expect adults to nourish and support them. 

One of the most common problems I have to address in online behaviour forums revolves around lack of support for teachers in schools, and this shows how even at a senior level, many staff could use better training and support to design and run behaviour systems that work across the whole school, not just in the classroom. 

There are expert teachers in every school, who possess the craft and experience to work sensitively and confidently with children; these teachers must be allowed to share their collective wisdom for the mutual benefit of everyone in the profession. For too long this has been an issue that has been easy to ignore. After all, when the only community not having its opinion canvassed on a regular basis is the very one that deals with children in the classroom, then it’s no surprise that poor behaviour has been massively unreported for decades. 

It’s time to put it at the front of our minds. I’m delighted to have been asked to form a working party by the secretary of state Nicky Morgan to look at the specific issue of behaviour, and how teachers can be better prepared to deal with the realities of the classroom, not the fantasy. I’m putting together the members of that group right now, and it will represent as many ages and stages of children as necessary. Crucially, I’ll work and talk with people who possess substantial experience of handling poor behaviour in the classroom, eg teachers. Now there’s a novelty. 

Together, we hope to come up with recommendations that can offer new and old teachers the tools they need to do what they were trained to do. I’d be lying if I said I wasn't utterly thrilled to be doing this. Just don’t call me "tsar", for God’s sake.

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