28, July, 2015

Put the “right to learn” at the heart of good behaviour in schools.

The teacher, director of researchEd and author, Tom Bennett has been appointed by the government to set up a working group to recommend ways of training teachers to manage good behaviour in classes. As he sets about forming his team, the Education Media Centre asked Terry Haydn, Professor of Education at the University of East Anglia to set out some of his research findings on effective behaviour management. As Professor Haydn points out, it is a complex and sophisticated skill amounting to much more than “handy tips” such “Don’t smile before Christmas.”

The problem of poor pupil behaviour in English schools

My research suggests that recent official statistics and reports on the issue of pupil behaviour – Department for Education claims that behaviour is good or outstanding in 92% of schools, for example – seriously underestimate the extent to which behaviour is a problem in English schools.

The research also suggests it is simplistic to think of the problem simply in terms of ‘minutes lost’ to low level disruption. In many classrooms, a poor classroom climate limits pupil learning throughout the lesson.

It is also misleading to think the that problem is just one of low level disruption. There are many young people of school age who have not been well parented or ‘socialised’ who pose a real challenge for schools and teachers. Schools often have to make difficult decisions about how to manage these pupils without simply excluding them, passing them on to other schools or avoiding admitting such pupils.

‘Zero tolerance’ of poor behaviour sounds a very seductive policy but all the heads I interviewed had reservations about this approach. Advocates of this policy need to explain what will happen to excluded pupils. Usually, it means some other school has to take them. At present, outcomes for permanently excluded pupils are dismal and very expensive.

It is unhelpful to suggest it is simple and straightforward to create and sustain a classroom climate where all pupils behave and are keen to learn, with any group of pupils. The management of pupil behaviour requires the development of complex and sophisticated skills: there is ‘more to it’ than offering tips such as ‘Be consistent’, or ‘Don’t smile before Christmas’. Even accomplished and experienced teachers have to work with considerable resourcefulness to create and sustain a perfect classroom climate in their classrooms.

Behaviour cannot be interpreted as satisfactory if some pupils are impeding the learning of others and if teachers are not able to teach the class in a way that focuses primarily on optimising pupil learning rather than on control. The rights of ‘pupils with problems’ should not supersede the rights of pupils who want to learn.

The overwhelming majority of pupils, parents, teachers, governors and policymakers want a calm and positive working atmosphere in classrooms. There is a need for strong support for schools and teachers in making this possible, based around the idea of ‘the right to learn’. A key message is to establish the principle that no pupil has the right to spoil the learning of others. This will not be easy.

Further experimentation and support for ways of taking pupils out of the classroom where they are spoiling the learning of others, but not excluding them from school, in the form of independent learning areas, workplace learning, alternative curriculum, use of new technology for self-directed learning, withdrawal rooms, parental supervision etc. would be a ‘lesser evil’ than having a situation where some pupils are spoiling the learning of others. (I am aware that many schools are already making adroit and imaginative use of these strategies).

Early intervention, in the form of universal, free and high quality nursery education (ideally, the Finnish model of nursery educators with a Masters Degree in child development) would be the single most effective investment which could be made in this area.

The 10 point scale, which was the main instrument used in the research, can be accessed at https://www.uea.ac.uk/~m242/historypgce/class_management/10pointscale.htm.

A summary of the research can be accessed at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/rev3.3025/full.

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