The Report of the Practitioners Group on School Behaviour and Discipline was commissioned to provide the government with information on how good practice could be implanted in schools in the UK. The report stressed the impact that a lack of discipline and poor behaviour had on the effectiveness of education. It stated, ‘Poor behaviour in schools cannot be tolerated. To do so is to harm the interests of pupils, staff and the perpetrators of the bad behaviour. Children have a right to attend school in safety and to learn without disruption from others’ (Steer, 2009, p16). The report suggested that the greatest issue inside the classroom is the effect that consistent low level disruption and talking has on learning. This is supported by Ofsted who claimed “The most common forms of misbehaviour are incessant chatter, calling out, inattention and other forms of nuisance that irritate staff and interrupt learning.” (Ofsted 2005). According to the Steer Report the best way to deal with a lack of discipline and poor behaviour inside the classroom is through a clear and constant whole school policy.
The whole school policy should focus on promoting positive behaviour and preventing misbehaviour rather than reacting to poor behaviour when it occurs. The preventative behaviour measures should be achieved through setting clear boundaries and having a balance between rewards and sanctions. It is not the value of the rewards or the extent of the sanctions that is important, rather the fact that they are applied consistently. It is through the adoption of these procedures and practices that children are given the opportunity to learn appropriate behaviour. The points made in the Steer Report are supported in the British Psychological Society, “Well-disciplined schools create a whole school environment that is conducive to good discipline rather than reacting to particular incidents…There is collaboration and co-operation at the whole school level, the school is student oriented and focuses on the causes of indiscipline rather than the symptoms. Prevention rather than punishment is central.” (X School 2012).
The behaviour policy of school x mirrors the views that are held in the Steer Report. The school has a whole school behaviour management policy that is called ‘Behaviour for learning’. The school claim that this system has been set up with the intention ‘1)To create a climate where learning can flourish 2) To protect basic rights of safety, learning and respect 3)To set boundaries in which children can feel successful and achieve 4)To teach children about socially appropriate and acceptable choices’ (X School 2012). What is stressed heavily is that ‘behaviour for learning’ is implemented consistently within the classroom and the school in general. There is a belief that ‘Discipline is the responsibility of all staff and it is important that school rules are enforced uniformly and that every effort is made to encourage pupils to follow the pupil Code of Conduct’ (X School 2012).There have been a number of sessions in which all members of staff have been brought up to speed about how the system works in practice. In every classroom there are posters up detailing the rights and responsibilities of everyone in the classroom as well as the step by step procedure that teachers shall follow if these rights and responsibilities are infringed. In this way the school is ensuring that all pupils are fully aware of their expectations and the consequences of the choices that they make.
The school believe that they have set up a behaviour policy that has created a set of clear boundaries that allow pupils to be accountable for their actions and encourages them to make successful behaviour choices (Gaul, 2012). The school policy has categorised managing behaviour into three phases; 1) Giving children choices about their behaviour within fair rules 2) Influencing them to make appropriate choices 3) Applying the consequences of their choices (rewards and sanctions) . Inside the classroom there are four sanctions increasing in severity and at any time pupils are aware of the level of sanction that they can expect. These sanctions are communicated orally and visually through a verbal warning, then their name being written on the board, then moving seats and finally them being sent to the referral unit.
When a pupil is sent to the referral unit it is logged on Simms allowing the head of year and members of the SLT to monitor the pupil’s behaviour over the term. I have noticed a marked improvement in the behaviour of pupils in the following lessons after they have been sent to the referral unit. However there are some pupils who are often disruptive, move through the first three sanctions but then make good behaviour choices for the rest of the lesson. They know the limits of the system and push it to the limit on a regular basis. There is little accountability for the poor choices that they continually choose to make. From observing other teachers I have found that it is difficult having total consistency across the school in implementing sanctions. Whether or not a pupil has infringed on the rights and responsibilities of the classroom is down to the interpretation of the teacher. What may be a warning in one classroom may only be a quiet word in another. I have found it difficult finding the correct level in my own classroom due to this level of ambiguity.
The school encourages staff to use praise as often as possible and have set up a system in which teachers are to send home positive postcards. In this way the school ‘communicates with parents and provides regular feedback on the progress being made’ (Steer, 2009, p16). I also use praise to positively reinforce behaviours that are key to a successful learning environment. This theory of positive reinforcement is supported by Skinner who suggests that ‘a person who exhibits a desired behaviour should instantly receive a reward for that behaviour to induce a repetition’ (Grove, 2009, p151). I ensure that I verbally praise pupils when I see positive behaviour particularly at difficult times in the lesson e.g. the first three minutes and times of transition. I feel this has had a profound impact on the entrance into my classroom. I have praised pupils who enter, sit down in silence and are ready to work. Not only does the praise appear to motivate those who received the praise but it also is a way ‘to encourage the whole class’ (Cowley, 2003, p13). There are a number of pupils in my classes that have low self-esteem and this lack of belief that they are able to complete the task leads to off task behaviour. With these pupils it is essential to give them lots of personalised praise to build their self-esteem and make them feel that they can work independently with success (Powell, 2004, p16).
Before the pupils enter my classroom there are number factors that may affect their behaviour that are entirely outside my control. The elements that I cannot control include the high sugar energy drinks that they may have just consumed, the lack of sleep that they had the previous night, any emotional difficulties that are the result of a difficult home life and even a lack of breakfast. I have found that the time of day and the day of the week have an effect on children’s behaviour. The number of behaviour issues in first period on a Monday differs greatly with the same class last period on a Friday. Although there are a number of factors that are outside my control there are elements that I have a direct control and indirect influence over.
When I first started teaching I placed pupils in a seating plan of alphabetical order, boy next to girl. I ensured that I had a seating plan as ‘educational research shows that when pupils are allowed to determine where they sit, their social interactions can inhibit teaching and create behaviour problems’ (Steer, 2009, p19). However with classes 9.4 and 8.1 the seating plans didn’t work and I felt that they layout encouraged the spread of low level disruption. I spoke to my subject mentor and together we came up with new seating plans. I believe that in changing the seating plans it added to the sense that disruption wasn’t going to be tolerated. As well as my seating plans there are a number of other routines that I have direct control over that create the same impression e.g. enter in silence, no chewing gum, hand up, one voice at a time, have to ask to take blazers off etc.
The Steer report claims that the link between quality teaching and good behaviour are ‘inseparable issues’ (Steer, 2009, p2). Research has shown that the most common cause for misbehaviour in lessons was a lack of engagement (Cowell, 2004, p78). I have found that the level of planning and preparation that I put into a lesson has an impact on the level of disruption. It is the lessons that have had the greatest level of differentiation, that were easily accessible, varied and fun that had the most success. There have been lessons in which after setting the task I found that pupils were almost immediately off task.
Those pupils who were off task started causing low level disruption and I ended up having to put out bush fires all over the classroom as I was circulating. Whilst doing this I realised that these pupils were having difficulty understanding what was being asked of them or were unable to do the task. The Elton report states that 80% of disruption in schools is ‘directly attributable to poor classroom organisation, planning and teaching’ (Elton, 1989). From then on I ensured that I made the work I set accessible to all and told pupils what was expected of them step by step. I differentiated and scaffolded the work so that all pupils were able to gain an understanding of what they were doing before pushing on independently. I have noticed an evident change in behaviour from earlier weeks, pupil now being more engaged in the content since I have started planning in this way.
I feel that building strong relationships with pupils is an effective behaviour management strategy. I have done this through ensuring that I knew all the pupils as soon as possible and by learning something personal about them all. On entrance into the classroom I say hello to them all and try to ask about things that are going on in their lives. I treat them with the respect that I expect to receive from them and always assume that they are going to show me their best. When a pupil has infringed one of the classrooms rights and responsibilities I do not shout, telling them that they have made a choice to behave in that way and hence they have chosen a warning, always drawing the sanctions back to the behaviour for learning policy. I remain calm when I say this, ensuring that I show no anger or emotion as I believe that this may give heat to a potential confrontation. I feel this is important and I don’t want to seem that I am judging the student. I believe that in behaving in this way I create a positive atmosphere in the classroom that is conducive to learning.
Cowley, S. 2008. Getting the Buggers to Behave. London, Continuum.
COWLEY, S. (2003) Getting the Buggers to Behave. 2nd ed. London: Continuum.
OFSTED (2005), Managing Challenging Behaviour, Document reference number: HMI 2363
X- School, 2012. Behaviour Policy (Unpublished document 2012)
Kolb, D. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Prentice– Hall, N.J.
ELTON, Lord. (Chair) and the Committee of Enquiry. (1989) Discipline in Schools. Section 2.
POWELL, S. and TOD, J. (2004) “A systematic review of how theories explainlearning behaviour in school contexts” Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education.
GROVES, E. (2009) The Everything Classroom Management Book: A Teacher’s Guide to an organised, productive and calm classroom. Avon: F & W Media
Gaul, P. (2011) Conversations had during mentor sessions, October 2012.
STEER, A. (2009) Learning Behaviour: Lessons Learned, A review of behaviour standards and practices in our schools. Available at www.education.gov.uk/publications/ [Accessed 26th October 2012]
SKINNER, B. F. (1953) Science and human behaviour, New York: Macmillan.