The First Law of Behaviour ManagementJune 3, 2007
As you may have noticed my biggest concern about British secondary schools is behaviour. It’s probably about time I started talking what can be done. I’m going to state general principles about how behaviour works and then suggest what it means for improving behaviour at every level.
The First Law of Behaviour Management is Whatever is Normal is Acceptable. It is the case that any deed, no matter how unacceptable it might seem outside of the world of teaching, will be incorporated into the routines of very many students once they see others do it. Disruption of lessons; bullying; verbal abuse of staff; even violence; can become normal in a school. All it takes is for it to happen enough times and it will enter the students psyche as “something that just happens” they may even become angry at any member of staff that attempts to stop it. It becomes so normal that you can even spot patterns to it. Much of what I have written on this blog contains examples of these patterns, types of behaviour that I have seen tens, or hundreds, or thousands of times. Poor behaviour is a contagion and behaviour policies at every level of education should be about stopping its spread, not about seeking to find a mythical underlying cause.
Once the First Law is accepted then we can look at how it can be used at different levels of the education system:
It is not acceptable for the teacher to seek to merely contain the worst offender. Others will copy the behaviour. Every rule that it is physically possible to enforce should be enforced. No allowances can be made for “characters”. There can be no appeasement of the trouble makers. Teachers should not lavish attention on the worst offender. The highest standard must be set for all pupils, for all classes, for all times of the day. Even if it is only one pupil that disrupts your lesson, they must be stopped, not worked around. Of course in our current system this can be the most difficult course of action to take, which is why it is vital teachers demand the right to do this, and get support with doing this.
A school needs to be run in a way that makes unacceptable behaviour abnormal. Some of this is just talk, making expectations clear at every opportunity, in letters to parents, in assemblies, in the school prospectus. Rules should be clear and no room should be left for argument. However, what will make the difference is what happens when rules are broken. The key idea is that at every opportunity the offender must be removed from “normal” children. Separation from peers should be a key part of every punishment. Detentions should be in a secure room staffed by Senior Management. A day’s isolation should include breaktime and lunchtime. There must be a system of removing disruptive children from a classroom that is available to all teachers. In some schools a room where disruptive children are sent is enough, in others it needs staff to come and collect any disruptive child. Every removal must be followed up otherwise being removed just becomes normal.
Beyond that the main priority is the battle against “inclusion”. Exclusions both temporary and permanent should be considered without reference to targets. Verbal abuse of staff should lead to an automatic fixed term exclusion. Repeat offenders and violent students should, also automatically, be permanently excluded. If the LEA structure is unable to cope with the consequences of a school enforcing decent standards of behaviour then it is up to the school to take on the responsibilities of the LEA, setting up their own “school within a school” for the most disturbed offenders. Many schools already have provision for students that choose not to behave (ludicrously described as having Emotional or Behavioural Disorders, despite usually never having been diagnosed with any recognised medical or psychiatric condition). However this provision should not be focused on keeping those students in the mainstream classroom, it should be focused on getting them out, putting them in a specialised classroom, preferably behind a very high wall, where they will spend their entire school day, if possible operating on a different timetable to the rest of the school.
LEAs and Government:
This is an easy one to cover. Once you accept Whatever is Normal is Acceptable as a key principle for behaviour then there must be an end to Inclusion for students with behaviour problems. Instead of running down Pupil Referral Units (and special education generally) they should be expanded. There must be an end to all targets to reduce exclusions, and all financial penalties that result from exclusions. The law needs to be changed to make exclusions easier and the grounds for exclusion clear and indisputable. The focus of inspections should not be teaching and learning, two minutes looking at exam results tell you all you need to know about this. Inspections should be about behaviour, respect, safety and general order in a school. Interviewing staff and students about whether they’ve been subjected to verbal abuse and violence, and what was done about it, is a hundred times more worthwhile than trying to find out if lesson objectives are put on the board in every lesson. This type of inspection can then be used to get rid of the layer of school management who are entirely preoccupied with covering up behaviour problems.
This outlines the most immediate practical steps that can be taken to deal with poor behaviour. Obviously there is much more still to be covered, but the first priority must be to stop the contagion by making sure that poor behaviour is never normal.