A simple, whole-school behaviour system

Written by: Matthew Stevenson | Published:
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This is a great system when used correctly by staff. My sons school has recently started ready to ...

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After touring schools across the country, school leader Matthew Stevenson and his colleagues developed Ready to Learn – an approach to behaviour management that supports all teachers. He explains how

Behaviour is often the elephant in the room, but at Henbury School in Bristol we have introduced a clear, simple system called Ready to Learn which has eliminated disruptive behaviour in lessons. It sounds an impossible claim. It isn’t.

A year ago, most students’ behaviour at Henbury was already good (and Ofsted agreed with us). It would have been easy to be complacent. But with 55 per cent of our students eligible for Pupil Premium it was vital we did better. Disadvantaged students are more likely to experience poor behaviour in their lessons, but are often the students for whom a high-quality, undisrupted education is most vital. Staff told us that behaviour, alongside workload, was their number one concern.

I was lucky enough, through the Future Leaders programme, to hear about other schools that had taken bold moves to improve behaviour. We arranged for a group of 15 senior and middle leaders, as well as students, to visit schools across the country renowned for their excellent behaviour and ethos.

Learning from the best

All of these schools had very clear and consistent behaviour systems. What was more striking, however, was what they were not doing.

None of them expected teachers to deal with behaviour themselves: they all had centralised systems which dealt with behaviour in a consistent way, so that all teachers, even NQTs and supply teachers, experienced good behaviour. And none of them hoped to improve behaviour through better teaching – good behaviour was a basic expectation of all students, and a prerequisite for good teaching.

Such a large group of middle and senior leaders had seen these systems work first-hand that there was a huge, collective commitment to make sure that the policy we developed, Ready to Learn, reflected these insights.

Ready to Learn

At its heart, Ready to Learn is an extremely simple, binary system for behaviour management: students are either ready to learn, or they are not.

If students aren’t focused in lessons, they receive a warning, with their name written on the board. Students automatically receive a warning for talking over the teacher or another student, or for being off task.

Students who receive a second warning in a single lesson are sent to our isolation room for a full school day (that is, five full lessons including an hour’s detention after-school). This is a massive deterrent, and despite high numbers initially, we have relatively few students in isolation now.

Underlying everything we did was a huge increase in student responsibility. Students are expected to make their own way to the isolation room and are responsible for their behaviour once there (three warnings in the isolation room results in a day’s exclusion). This reflected our belief that the vast, vast majority of students can behave well, if they choose to.

The impact

The change has been phenomenal. Immediately, corridors became quiet and lessons calm and disruption free. Relationships between staff and students have improved and staff are more relaxed because they know they can be confident in delivering an hour’s lesson without interruption or negative interaction.

The number of behaviour incidents has fallen dramatically. It is also having some remarkable side-effects: we now have less bullying and fewer child protection issues.

Students have benefited hugely. The vast majority are very supportive of Ready to Learn, including some of our previously most disruptive students, because the system is simple and clear. Some of our most vulnerable students now have a confidence they lacked before.

One of our NQTs has described how the boys in her middle set year 8 class have gone from competing to disrupt the lesson to competing to answer maths questions. She said of one boy: “Ready to Learn will genuinely change his life.”

Staff love the new system. No longer are one or two students able to slow the pace of learning. No longer do teachers have to make phone calls home every night about behaviour. It has been lovely to hear so many teachers talk enthusiastically about the time they now have to plan new and better lessons, meet in teams to plan curriculum changes, or simply to go to the gym!

This goes to the heart of why Ready to Learn has been so successful: it is an enabler of excellent teaching: teachers plan to get through more and take far more risks in their teaching.

The senior team supports this; we are no longer on call during lessons, but a member goes into every lesson briefly every day to reinforce and celebrate students’ learning.

One of our experienced middle leaders has said that, in his entire teaching career, no intervention he has ever witnessed, for any purpose, has had as profound an impact in such a short space of time.

In our most recent staff survey, 87 per cent said that the school was managing behaviour well, up from
50 per cent the previous year. It is also not surprising that the number of staff that are happy with workload has increased from 50 to 79 per cent over the same period. Given the issues teachers face with workload across the country, that is significant.

The challenges

Ready to Learn has given us plenty of challenges. Like most schools, we have a number of very vulnerable students, and we needed to ensure that we had the right structures in place to help them adjust to the new system.

One way we have done this is through the Thrive programme, which helps students with significant social and emotional needs. Interestingly, it is often our most vulnerable students who are the first to sing the new system’s praises, as they now have absolute clarity and consistency about expectations.

It was also vital to take parents with us. We communicated the launch of the system very clearly through email, letter and text, and we also ran two information sessions for parents to attend.

Parents are very supportive: even in cases where a parent’s child has taken time to adjust to the new system, parents can see the change it has made to the school.

Another concern was that we didn’t want Ready to Learn to undermine the culture of warmth and positive relationships that are a trademark of our school. Our school visits showed us that this shouldn’t happen.

However, what has been so amazing is that the warmth and positive relationships in the school have been hugely enhanced by Ready to Learn, as both staff and students have more time and energy for each other.

The bigger picture

We are now inundated with requests from schools wanting to see what we have done. Many of these are schools in challenging circumstances who know that behaviour can be the biggest barrier to improved life chances for children. But other schools are also taking note, keenly aware that a few disruptive students can hinder any child’s education and can be a huge drain on staff morale.

I believe behaviour is a social justice issue. It hits disadvantaged students twice, not only because they’re more likely to be in a classroom with poor behaviour, but because they’re more likely to be in a school which is struggling to recruit and retain the best teachers.

Many teachers enter the profession because they want to change the life chances of our most disadvantaged children, but often teachers choose not to work in challenging schools because they do not want, understandably, to have to deal with poor behaviour every lesson.

What has happened at Henbury shows that we can and should expect excellent behaviour from all students, regardless of their background. What a difference it would make if every school were disruption free.

Future Leaders

Matthew is a participant on the Future Leaders leadership development programme. In November, the Future Leaders Trust is joining forces with Teaching Leaders to form one organisation tackling educational disadvantage through high-quality school leadership. Read more at www.future-leaders.org.uk/about-us/our-future/

Zack, I understand exactly what you're saying. I'm so sorry to hear about this. Do you have someone in the school you can confide in?
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i personally don't think this system is working @holyroodacedmy have now excluded over 20 students this week alone and most of them have been excluded for silly things for example not understanding the work that is provided and looking around when finished work further moe the work that is provided is not work from there teachers its a little sheet that is not for there age that's why they struggle i don't not think this system is working at all the time out room was so much better and there is more people going timeout and getting excluded now that before which isn't ok as holyrood "academy" says there an outstanding school and want the best grades for there kids in holyrood however they are stopping them from learning valuable information as there taking them out there lesson .
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This is a great system when used correctly by staff. My sons school has recently started ready to learn and teachers are abusing they power they now have! My son was sent to ready to learn for not understanding the work set, he was refused appeal and eventually excluded for asking to speak to his pastoral leader. The work set in ready to learn is not the classwork they have missed, so students are falling behind. Vulnerable children are suffering because of the miss use of this system. Children are being punished for normal teenage behaviour. This is wrong!!!!
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i am wiring to tell you that practically this has not worked in our school @holyroodacademy.com and frankly just made kids more angry and stressed at the school which is natural because of the change but it should not make kids feel like that! i also think that it is making teachers think less of students then ever before. while i was in the ready to learn i noticed the teachers lying to other teachers to make students get in more trouble. my brother didn't have a tie today because it was stolen from pe and so he was extremely worried and upset he would get sent to the base. leading me onto the pointless reasons why children get sent and i know most kids wouldn't take responsibility for the actions but it is still pathetic why people get sent, personally i got my first warning for just smiling at the teacher and then my sending was because i said to my friend to tuck his shirt in. in conclusion i can see how stuck up teachers would think this works for them and it may have but it is also bad for the students who get sent because we get treated with less respect and we also do not learn in here as they just print of us bits of crappy work that they think is suitable. THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT THING TO DO!!!!!
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Binary has hit the disrupters hard at my school and the changes are incredible. It needs consistency and rigour from everyone and the message will get through. It’s now being extended to corridor behaviour, equipment and uniform. Zack- all that sounds like gobbledygook. Too many double negatives and I think it needs rephrasing to make your message clearer.
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This is actually really queer and I don't not agree with this because my school has now started to do this and if you do not come in with the requirements like school shoes, tie or blazer. You would get a detention and I don't believe this should be right.
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