Managing pupil behaviour

This month GRAHAM COOPER, head of education at Capita SIMS and regular Education Today contributor, looks at the various ways in which schools can manage pupil behaviour.

Managing pupil behaviour and promoting good conduct is, hardly surprisingly, a major focus in many schools, academies and trusts. However, the subject seems to have become more of an issue in recent times, with headlines regularly referring to the behaviour of pupils and the ways in which schools operate their discipline policies. In the last weeks, we have had an announcement that the government behaviour tsar, Tom Bennett, will lead a £10 million project to support schools with challenges relating to behaviour management. One story which recently caught my eye was the news that one academy

trust was planning to punish pupils behaving poorly by preventing them from graduating at Year 8. This instantly sounds like a very American concept, the idea being that this reinforces positive behaviour by threatening them with the stigma associated with being held back and losing touch with their friends and peers. Last year, there was a rise in school exclusions, with a number of reasons

being put forward as the main factor. Perhaps the most-cited of these was the rise of zero-tolerance behaviour policies in schools, with pupils being given less and less ground for excuses and exceptions. While adopting a zero-tolerance policy may have proved positive for some

schools with a resulting improvement in behaviour statistics, they may also be viewed as inflexible and sometimes even inhumane, potentially stifling children’s natural process of pushing their boundaries and learning what is acceptable. By effectively lowering the bar of acceptable behaviour, schools have the

potential to reduce disruption by clamping down on a wide variety of misdemeanours but the upshot may be that more pupils are now being side- lined or excluded from lessons as a result, which could itself result in a spiral of bad behaviour and poor performance. As such, there could be an argument made for effectively reversing this

view; rather than punishing bad behaviour so readily and imposing a culture where pupils are in fear of any minor infraction, are there ways in which schools can instead promote an environment where positive behaviours and attitudes are actively reinforced and rewarded? Many schools operate behaviour policies which outline the offences and

potential punishments, but how many manage and actively promote the opposite – a positive behaviour policy? In addition to making pupils aware of what is unacceptable and how they might expect to be handled if they break those rules, are there ways in which schools can balance the negatives with positives and reward behaviour which supports an inclusive, stimulating learning environment? A robust code of conduct in any environment relies on all involved being

equally invested in the agreement and seeing it as a give-and-take pact rather than a dictation of laws. There will always be individuals who test out this relationship and may even try to skew it slightly in their favour, but looking to dish out vast amounts of stick without any carrot in return makes it extremely difficult for even the best behaved pupils to continually agree to toe the line.


Emotional inclusivity in the classroom

Regular Education Today contributor and STEM ambassador KIRSTY BERTENSHAWthis month highlights the importance of emotional inclusivity in the classroom.

Emotional issues can be detrimental to a child’s education, be it anxiety in the classroom, a struggle to socialise or extreme shyness. A classroom environment can feel stressful, judgemental and unwelcoming- certainly not an environment to stimulate learning. Inclusive classrooms make all people feel comfortable, staff and students alike. But how can that be achieved? Comfort and emotional safety can be connected to objects and

behaviour in young children - from comfort blankets to sucking their thumb. Yet we expect older children to have developed the emotions to cope on their own. Emotional growth is individual and can take longer than physical growth. Cuddly toys for example, can provide great comfort to a child who is struggling emotionally or has low self- esteem. Often, it is hard for them to challenge themselves, so having something to hold or stroke can comfort them. To avoid singling a child out like this, encourage all students to bring in something they like to have on their desk, this could be cuddly toys, ornaments, a hat or a notebook. Teachers used to have training that said their personal life should not

show, and they should represent the same happy mood and show no negative emotions. To a point I agree. If a teacher has had an argument at home, they cannot shout at children because of it. But showing no negative emotions at all distances the teacher from the children. A teacher can say to the children that they are feeling a bit sad that day or feeling unwell. Detail is not important, and a class is not a counselling session, but it is vital to demonstrate that it is OK to feel emotions and that the emotion doesn’t have to rule over the rest of the day. Show joy, illustrate how a headache doesn’t mean you have to go home, tell bad jokes, be the person you are rather than a mass- produced standard of education. If students can see you make mistakes, mix up words, forget how to spell a word, drop the board pen, then they can recognise that their own mistakes are fine too. The classroom environment is also important. A more relaxed and

less formal environment can help build a relationship with reluctant students. Rearranging desks to a horseshoe so everyone can interact can encourage socialisation between children. Try and sit with children while they are working rather than at the front or behind a desk as this is a closed approach, and physically and emotionally distances the children. Go down to their level when talking to them. If a student is distressed or stressed, try kneeling low on the floor next to them to look up to their faces. Lean on crossed arms on the table next to a distressed student and speak gently and quietly to them. Interact with the toys or special items. If preferred, introduce your own comfort cuddly toys to the classroom, making it clear they must remain in the classroom – charity shops are a cheap source! Any sensible suggestion, using professional judgement, that makes

the students feel more welcome in the classroom can only be a positive thing for all!

Further reading: u schools-dc9864f852a0


Kirsty is the founder of STEMtastic, an education consultancy with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

June 2019

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