Spot The Difference: The ATL and Behaviour.

October 1, 2014

You may be aware that OFSTED recently produced a report that should actually be welcomed by teachers. “Below the Radar” raised the issue of poor behaviour in schools, and argued that schools leaders should take more responsibility for dealing with it and identified a lack of effective training as a problem. I’m happy to praise OFSTED for siding with the interests of teachers, and am even willing to believe that (finally) Sir Michael Wilshaw is succeeding in getting the organisation to respect his priorities. But I was a little surprised at the response from the unions. As ever, the unions were torn between representing the interests of classroom teachers (who suffer where discipline is weak) and simultaneously representing their bosses in school management (who are often the cause of poor discipline). The union I noticed (but this may just be a fluke) get into the biggest mess over this was the ATL.

At the start of the month, their leader Mary Bousted was on TV claiming that schools must do more about behaviour:

This followed on from what the ATL were saying at their 2013 conference (this is from a press release):

Nearly 90% of support staff, teachers, lecturers, school heads and college leaders said they have dealt with a challenging or disruptive student during this school year. The main targets of challenging behaviour were other students (cited by 72%), followed by teaching staff (46%), and then support staff (43%). Between students the most prevalent challenging behaviour was verbal aggression (cited by 77%), followed by physical aggression (57%), bullying in person (41%), and breaking or ruining other students’ belongings (23%).

Thankfully, most of the disruptive and challenging behaviour facing education staff was fairly low level with 79% of staff complaining that students talked in class, did not pay attention and mucked around. Sixty-eight per cent said students were disrespectful and ignored their instructions, 55% said they had had to deal with verbally aggressive students, and a fifth (21%) had had to deal with a physically aggressive student…

…Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “Regrettably teachers and support staff are suffering the backlash from deteriorating standards of behaviour. They are frequently on the receiving end of children’s frustration and unhappiness, and have to deal with the fall-out from parents failing to set boundaries and family breakdowns. And the huge funding cuts to local services mean that schools often have to deal with children’s problems without any help.

“Schools with firm, clear and consistently enforced behaviour policies create safe learning environments for children and staff, but problems occur when schools fail to enforce good discipline policies and when children know there are weak or non-existent sanctions.

”Schools need to give their staff good and regular training so that they know how to work with students with behavioural or mental health problems and have confidence in handling pupils with challenging behaviour. Behaviour training also needs to be an integral part of teacher training.”

Now let us see what happens when OFSTED agree with the ATL about behaviour, and how graciously they accept inspectors agreeing with them about its importance, the importance of effective discipline policy, and good training. Here is the ATL’s response to the OFSTED report:

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “Once again Ofsted has revealed its deeply narrow-minded nature, attacking schools and leaders regarding pupil behaviour. Its failure to identify systemic issues weakens a system which is already creaking under huge cuts to local support services for schools, particularly for the most vulnerable and often challenging students.

“Instead, Sir Michael Wilshaw, in his Clint Eastwood mode, fires indiscriminately at teachers and leaders, wounding further the morale of staff. At a time when recruitment and retention in education are approaching crisis levels, this is a particularly short-sighted and destructive approach. Indeed, Ofsted’s report mentions that high staff turnover and insufficiencies in training have an impact on schools’ ability to consistently tackle challenging behaviour yet they have chosen to ignore the implications for Government policy around teacher training, supply and professional development.

“We know that consistency of approach and support is key to achieving high-quality pupil learning and behaviour in schools, but Ofsted’s rhetoric rings hollow based on the inconsistency of its own practices. Calling for zero tolerance and stricter approaches doesn’t reflect the evidence of what actually works in excellent classrooms.

“Yes, schools need clear behaviour policies, applied consistently by all staff. Yes, staff need to be supported by leaders when using those agreed policies. But no, Sir Michael, neither teachers or pupils do particularly well when constantly belittled nor when they have decreasing access to much-needed resources. Ofsted needs to review its behaviour policies and this needs to start from the top.”

I’m the last person to start defending OFSTED, but how can teachers ever hope to hold inspectors to account if this is how a teacher union reacts like this to OFSTED agreeing with them and arguing for something that is the interests of their members?


  1. Interesting points. I have to say that this is just another example of the same old confrontational reactionary consequences of an adversarial political approach. Side A says yes side B says no. B says yes A says no. Whether it is arguing about the economy, synthetic phonics or traditional vs progressive teaching you are always going to get people who have nailed their colours to a particular mast arguing black is white because they simply hate/fear the opposition. It’s a bit like that old chestnut “national interest” as if being a selfish bastard is some sort of virtue as long as it is on a big enough scale :-)

  2. With the possible exception of “Voice” teaching unions have never been about doing anything for teachers ; they exist to push Labour politics and view.s.

    • That’s not how it seemed when Labour were in government.

      • The unions tend to push what they perceive to be their members interest but are often out-flanked by politicians. Probably why professional politicians are politicians really. Often the members’ long term interests are sacrificed on short term expediency. Like the 1265 hours debacle that gave the public the impression that teacher only worked a 32 hour week when the reality was many were doing double that and more. If the unions had said 40 hours but everything has to be done in that time all but the laziest of teachers would have benefited and public opinion would have gone with the teachers not the government.

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