Developing an effective whole-school approach to behaviour

Written by: Carol Jones | Published:
Photo: iStock

Tackling the behaviour challenge is a team effort. Behaviour specialist Carol Jones looks at developing and implementing an effective whole-school and whole-team approach to behaviour

Pupil behaviour is constantly under the spotlight. In the past couple of months alone it has been cited in a survey as one of the reasons that teachers are put off the profession and an inquiry has been launched into whether to ban mobile phones in schools.

In the summer, the government appointed behaviour expert Tom Bennett to help schools after a report by Ofsted last year described the impact of low-level disruption on the education of pupils as “deeply worrying”.

Schools already work very hard on managing behaviour, and many heads and teachers will feel the intense focus on this subject creates an unfair perception that is at odds with the reality of their well-ordered classrooms.

Nevertheless, behaviour management is, and has always been, a challenging area and the purpose of this article is to share some thoughts on this important issue.

It is generally accepted that in order to plan for effective learning we also need to plan for effective classroom behaviour management.

It is also essential, however, to recognise that effective learning is in itself a key element in managing behaviour. The ability of our pupils to learn and to feel safe in doing so is dependent on us, as teachers, valuing the relationship between learning and behaviour. It is also essential to positive teacher-pupil relationships.

Therefore, it is worth each school taking time to develop an effective behaviour policy with clear procedures and to involve all stakeholders in its construction and delivery. It is also worth investing in differentiated training to help give staff support in developing techniques that will equip them to feel confident in their relationship with pupils at school.

No matter which theoretical model underpins any school’s behaviour management policy and procedures – whether it is based on principles of assertive discipline, Bill Rogers’ series of training programmes or others – most schools are well aware that having clear procedures in place which are known and understood by students and staff is key to being effective.

Taking time to consult, plan and train for effective behaviour management is worth doing. Positive behaviour needs to be taught and, as teachers well know, some of our pupils are not given these lessons at home. Pupils need the safety and security that a clear behaviour system gives them; a system that has a four-point formula:

  1. Rules (few in number and positively phrased).
  2. Rewards (including verbal praise) for following the rules.
  3. A hierarchy of consequences for pupils who choose (key word) not to follow the rules.
  4. Commitment from all stakeholders that the agreed policy and its application will be consistently applied.

This may seem simple, but like all simple applications which have the greatest impact it is worth planning strategically.

This includes allocating time, at the beginning, to announce the start of a behaviour review with the creation of a stakeholders’ task group. Pupils usually take ownership and “buy-in” by coming up with similar rules, because, like staff, they want to work and learn in a safe and calm environment too and know what that looks like.

The rules, positive rewards for following the rules, and consequences need to be displayed and used as a visual aid for teachers when they teach the behaviour plan to pupils. Underpinning this, each school needs to have a clear definition of what constitutes “low-level” disruption and a set of strategies for dealing with it.

Training all staff, teaching and associate staff, to be assertive and build a non-confrontational approach to behaviour management needs to be part of a CPD and learning programme.

Strategies like peer-coaching and modelling effective classroom techniques are possible when we create a trusting culture where we accept that all staff face behaviour challenges at some point in their careers and that it can take time to develop confidence and “gravitas”.

Techniques include eye contact, use of praise (catching pupils “being good”), proximity, and challenging low-level disruption, as well as the “hard stuff” of addressing direct aggression, which is usually more straightforward to deal with.

Schools will want to reflect on different behaviour responses and strategies according to their own in-take and ethos. For example, girls usually have a different reaction to praise and consequences than boys, being more emotionally aware at a younger age and being sensitive to anything that feels patronising or disdainful. Most of us know that boys and girls often need different approaches.

Schools that omit parents from the process miss a trick in establishing good back-up in reinforcing the behaviour plan. By this I mean not only involving parents in the process itself but also running a couple of training sessions specifically for them on developing their child’s positive behaviour which complement what is being taught at school. Parents usually value these sessions.

For those who cannot attend it is worth producing a flyer or materials for the school website which parents can access. Parents need to understand what the school expects of their child – the rules, rewards and consequences – in order to build a healthy partnership between families and the school.
In sharing ideas and resources for behaviour management as well as for learning, we contribute to the development of a healthy school system which both recruits and retains teachers while also providing high expectations for our pupils, not only in school but for post-school life.

Many schools will already have excellent and successful behaviour plans. Other schools will be at different stages of tackling behaviour, and, it has to be recognised, the level of challenge will vary according to their circumstances.

Whatever the setting or situation, however, it is very difficult to make progress without behaviour management being a team effort. The whole school community has to be involved with everybody pulling in the same direction.

  • Carol Jones is a specialist for leadership and teacher professionalism with the Association of School and College Leaders. She was an assertive discipline trainer and head of a pupil referral unit before being headteacher of Fulham Cross School and Hornsey School for Girls.

Further information

ASCL is running the course Cracking the Behaviour Challenge: A strategic approach to success on November 24 in Birmingham and again on April 28 in London. It is aimed at existing and aspiring school leaders. Meanwhile, Tom Bennett, the Department for Education’s behaviour expert, will be the keynote speaker at the ASCL Pastoral Leaders conference on January 19. For further information, go to
www.ascl.org.uk/events


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