I was very keen to read Tom Bennett’s report on behaviour in schools, which was published yesterday. The issue of poor behaviour has been on my mind for quite some time, as anyone who reads my blogs may know. This is because I work in a school where the behaviour is getting progressively worse, to the point where it feels like we the teachers have totally lost control.
Every day, the talk in the LSA staff room (we have separate compartmentalised staff rooms for each department) is about behaviour, in one form or another. Whether it’s a moan about a particular pupil or a general “I can’t take this abuse anymore”, the morale of staff is at an all-time low. I try not to let it affect me but inevitably, seeing pupils upend tables and chairs in class, kicking down our doors, cursing and shouting can be mentally draining. I feel desperately sorry for these kids who obviously have trouble dealing with their emotions and whose internal angst manifests itself as angry behaviour.
Last Thursday, I witnessed a pupil punch another on the arm. I immediately told him: “that’s a gross misconduct” and this unleashed a torrent of verbal abuse at me. I had to escort him to “The Bridge”, with him cursing me all the while. Half an hour later, once he had had a chance to cool his temper down, he came back to the class room to collect his things and dropped a note on my desk.
Reading it gave me a rather poignant insight into this boy’s plight. I was already familiar with his poor behaviour but I had never realised just how much of a struggle it was for him to write a short note of apology. It’s the chicken and egg thing all over again: poor behaviour means that he has missed out on vital parts of his education; the gaps in his education mean he finds it hard to follow the lessons and makes it more likely he will misbehave in class. He often reacts angrily at perceived slurs from the other pupils; he hates the idea that other pupils may think of him as stupid. On Friday morning, when I next saw him, he looked at me sheepishly and apologised once again. I accepted his apology and told him we’d wipe the slate clean, but all the while knowing that it won’t be long before he explodes once again.
There are several such boys in my school, and I say boys because this is predominantly a masculine problem. There are plenty of badly behaved girls too, but this manifests itself more in rudeness and disrespectfulness rather than outright anger and violence. These boys have had the whole gamut of school sanctions thrown at them, both internal and external exclusions, and mentors who counsel them – all to no avail. I don’t know what’s to be done with them and neither, it seems, does the school. And so we continue with this rigmarole, excluding them then re-integrating them, only for them to disrupt the class and be sent out again.
Quite apart from the disruption to lessons, there is another effect which accumulates over time. The other pupils in class witness this outrageous behaviour and notice that the perpetrators are, effectively, getting away with it. Slowly, over time, this erodes their own self control. The psychology of “well, if he can do it, then I can too” starts to seep through. My year 7 tutor group were reasonably well behaved at the start of the school year. Now, they are an unruly mob, disrupting lessons in varying degrees depending on the experience of the teacher. At the lower end of the spectrum, I estimate that we only get about 20 minutes of teaching time in a 50 minute lesson. At the higher end, it’s still not great, with at least 10 to 15 minutes of teaching time lost.
Given this context, you will understand my anticipation at reading Tom Bennett’s report. On the whole, my reaction to it is positive. I agree that:
- It is the responsibility of school leaders to set the culture and be highly visible within the school (our school principal is remote, spending his time hob knobbing with big cheeses at meetings outside school or in his inner sanctum).
- There should be better accountability for behaviour in Ofsted inspections and school leaders should get more training on best practice in behaviour management.
- Activities that are done routinely should be part of a well-understood behaviour system (e.g. walking on the left in corridors, how to enter lessons etc).
- There should be attention to detail, whole-school buy-in into expected behaviour and follow through with these expectations.
- Inductions for pupils such as Michaela’s boot camp can be a useful way of explicitly teaching pupils in the behaviour expected of them in school.
- There should be better quality CPD for teachers helping them to improve their ability to manage behaviour in their classrooms.
- Schools in particularly disadvantaged areas should receive extra support to help them deal with behaviour.
My only problem with the report is that it does not go far enough. I wanted to get answers to our seemingly insuperable problems and I didn’t find them. My school is in a very disadvantaged area of London – it’s not too much of an exaggeration to call it a ghetto. We are dealing with pupils whose home life is chaotic and often abusive in one way or another. I suppose I wanted to hear more and get ideas about how to deal with particularly angry and disruptive pupils. Would the above measures be enough to turn things around at my school? I’m not entirely convinced.