School improvement: the link with behaviour and safety
"Behaviour is one of the single most important factors affecting teaching and learning in schools today."
Professional Association of Teachers, submission to the Practitioners’ Group, 2005
Ask any group of teachers, as I often do in the course of my training and development work, to identify the essential prerequisites for them when learning a new skill. The following three always feature high on the list:
- absolute trust in the person teaching them
- the teacher’s knowledge of the skill area
- their ability to protect the learner’s safety and well-being.
These considerations are no different for children. They want to know the same things and to be protected against injustice, bullying, ‘and harassment that may include cyber-bullying and prejudice-based bullying related to special educational need, sexual orientation, sex, race, religion and belief, gender reassignment or disability’ (The framework for school inspection, Ofsted Jan 2012 Ref. 090019).
Behaviour is one of the single most important factors affecting teaching and learning in schools today
The issue of behaviour in schools is high on the school improvement agenda due to continuing concerns about the detrimental impact of poor behaviour on pupil achievement: concerns responded to in recent changes to the Ofsted inspection framework.
What are Ofsted inspectors looking for?
In the preamble to the descriptors on the behaviour and safety of pupils, a range of issues is identified. These are areas for inspectors to reflect on, informing their decisions regarding a school’s designation in this area. Amongst these is the following.
Inspectors will evaluate:
- How well the school ensures the systematic and consistent management of behaviour.
The guidance continues by saying, ‘Judgement on behaviour and safety must not be made solely on the basis of what is seen during the inspection. Inspectors must take into account a range of evidence to judge behaviour and safety over an extended period’.
Note the focus on the systematic, consistent quality of the management of behaviour and the requirement to review evidence reflecting standards over time. This means that, when inspectors arrive, they will expect to see current and historic evidence from a range of sources. This will be interrogated as part of the inspection process and form part of the narrative inspectors undertake with school personnel, pupils and parents.
An extensive range of evidence that inspection should consider is then identified, including
- punctuality over time
- pupils’ attitudes to learning and to staff, including support and administrative staff, new and inexperienced teachers, and supply teachers
- rewards and sanctions, incident logs, complaints and the use of exclusions
- the impact of the school’s strategies to improve attendance and behaviour
- views of parents and students.
Teachers who have not previously collected or reviewed this kind of evidence for themselves might well now consider doing so. I am not suggesting that we all go into a flat spin, collecting every piece of data in relation to behaviour we can lay our hands on; what I am suggesting is that if you can either relate the data you collect to your existing teacher appraisal objectives, or can plan to do so with the new objectives you will be agreeing in the autumn term, you can provide valuable evidence of progress for yourself, your team and ultimately for the whole school. Talking these issues over with your performance management line manager is a worthwhile activity and shows that you are thinking about one of the major challenges we face professionally.
Using the DfE guidance
Government advisor on behaviour Charlie Taylor recently produced a simple checklist of key principles for both headteachers and teachers on how to improve school behaviour.
The beauty of this guidance lies in its simplicity and in the fact that it makes explicit the role of headteachers in both creating the behaviour climate they wish to see and in modelling those behaviours they want all staff to follow. It is the type of checklist each of us could have at the start of our teacher planners and, with little modification, could support the dialogue with which the pupil council could begin the review of a school’s existing behaviour policy, rolling it out for further discussion with particular groups of students, parents and teachers alike. It is a blueprint from which each school could develop its own pupil charter. The suggested actions make equality of opportunity and access to a learning environment that recognises and supports the needs of all learners both implicit and explicit.
The guidance requires teachers to be proactive rather than reactive, identifying approaches that support teaching professionals in being measured, staying calm and managing things in a professional, adult manner.
The ‘Teaching’ suggestions within the ’Key principles for headteachers to help improve school behaviour’ includes the following suggestions.
- Monitor the amount of praise, rewards and punishments given by individual staff.
- Ensure that staff praise good behaviour and work.
- Ensure that staff understand special needs pupils.
Under the same heading for teachers it suggests the following.
- Ensure that all resources are prepared in advance.
- Praise the behaviour you want to see more of.
- Praise children doing the right thing more than criticising those who are doing the wrong thing (parallel praise).
- Stay calm.
- Have clear routines for transitions and for stopping the class.
- Teach children the class routines.
In this work we can see two important principles arising: first, that leadership has a shared responsibility for setting and modelling standards, and second, that there is a need to develop consistency of practice across organisations, no matter how big or how small.
Whilst acknowledging the variables that exist within all schools, developing a degree of consistency across them is important in ensuring that expectations in relation to behaviour are consistently reinforced. This of course is where an effective, regularly reviewed school behaviour policy comes into its own.
School behaviour policies
Any policy is only as good as the guidance it contains, and as teams of teachers we are only as strong as our weakest link. In other words, the colleague down the corridor who turns a blind eye to the standards that you have agreed are the school’s or team’s benchmark of ‘how we do things around here’ is letting all of their colleagues down and creating confusion for pupils.
Confusion leads to misunderstanding, which can lead indirectly to poor and off-task behaviour. If we can ensure that there is no confusion because all staff and students are aware of expectations, we can work towards minimising problems.
This is where having the behaviour policy on the wall of all classrooms and in the books of all students comes into its own, as long as they have understood what it means. Do not, for instance, assume that every child instinctively knows what it means when the policy says the following.
- Pupils and teachers will come to lessons prepared to learn.
- Pupils will respect the ideas of others, not interrupting when others are speaking.
Take time with your pupils to review and clarify any vagaries that might cause inconsistencies in understanding. Remember that you share responsibility for good outcomes in lessons; helping pupils to understand this is one of the fundamental first steps towards improvement.