I attended a conference last month on student behaviour. It is striking to me how little this issue has been discussed in the run up to the General Election.
Make no mistake, behaviour is a big issue that is having serious repercussions on staff retention and health. Last year, our survey of more than 2,000 education staff found that over a quarter of mental health conditions arising from workplace experiences were caused by student behaviour. In our 2010 behaviour survey, 70 per cent said they had considered quitting teaching because of poor behaviour. Hundreds of people call our helpline every year for help with behaviour, classroom management, conflicts with pupils and attitude issues.
One teacher told us: “Books being thrown across the classroom and totally unruly, uncontrollable behaviour like that is commonplace. I wanted to be a teacher but I ended up teaching unruly yobs.”
In the end, this teacher left the profession. I think there’s something very wrong when someone who aspires to be a teacher ends up never wanting to step in a classroom again.
Every teacher will experience problems with behaviour but teachers must remember they are not solely responsible for a pupil’s actions. In many cases, even the most incredible teaching practice cannot prevent misbehaviour. So what are the solutions? At a policy level there are two key improvements to make: better training and better organisational support.
In our YouGov poll last year, a quarter said that their initial teacher training (ITT) did not prepare them to discipline or manage disruptive pupils. The recent review of ITT agreed and the Department for Education has taken on its proposal to establish an independent group to suggest a framework for ITT to include elements on managing pupil behaviour.
This will help NQTs in the future – but what about existing staff? Our YouGov poll also found that two in five teachers have not been able to take all additional training that they needed. We call on the next government to improve access to training so staff can receive on-going support on behaviour and other things.
As organisations such as Barnardo’s have said, the most “out of control’ students may also be the most vulnerable, facing horrendous problems at home. A holistic approach with professional support from social services will also be required to address the root causes of poor behaviour.
While policy change will help, there will always be steps teachers can take. In the next few months, we are launching an online tool called BeWellTeachWell, sponsored by the NASUWT, which will offer detailed advice on how to cope with common challenges to your health and effectiveness.
It includes a Managing Pupil Behaviour Guide which you can already download from our website. It suggests a whole-school approach to improve behaviour across the student body. This can be implemented through robust behaviour guidelines and clear consequences for poor behaviour.
The guide asks teachers to reflect on their teaching style to understand how they currently respond to misbehaviour, on a scale from submissive through to dominant.
In a study, Robert Marzano, an educational researcher from the US, found that pupils prefer when the teacher has a strong sense of leadership and control, is prepared to discipline unapologetically, but still maintains a friendly concern for pupils’ needs and, crucially, their opinions. None of this is always easy to put into practice so make sure you speak to colleagues or managers if you have a particularly challenging student, especially when family support is absent. Alternatively, call our helpline for support.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).