Behaviour crisis?

I used the words “behaviour crisis” in a recent tweet and I was rightly called up on it. The evidence out there suggests behaviour isn’t getting worse. The Daily Mail et al love to catastrophise and teaching can be a moaning profession. Do I have grounds to worry beyond the confines of my school gate?

I have a few reasons for generalising.

Firstly, I speak to a lot of other Teach Firsters who have similar stories. I do hear many, many stories like mine. When I asked my tutor how normal the behaviour in my school was amongst all the Teach First schools he’s in, he said it is exceptional for a TF school not to have entrenched bad behaviour.

Obviously Teach First is deliberately focussed on schools in deprived areas. More significant, I think, is that the offer will be taken up mostly in schools which have problems with recruitment and retainment. It takes a particular steeliness of balls to stay at my school. I know for a fact that I, and the other Teach Firsters at my school, was appointed to fill the gaps where they couldn’t hire anyone else able to pass the interview. So the stories I’m hearing probably are some of the worst in the country. I really am not qualified to comment beyond the deprived inner/outer city school.

The second reason I worry more generally is our Ofsted inspection. We got good for behaviour and outstanding for leadership. For the love of Christ! Good for a school where fire alarms go off multiple times a week, teachers are verbally abused on a daily basis and corridor fights are so common most teachers just walk past. Outstanding for leadership in a school where we are repeatedly told in briefings that our behaviour concerns are unfounded and where the Principal rules by threats and intimidation.

What am I meant to do with this information, as someone who has only ever worked in this one school? Well I my conclusions were either

  1. Ofsted has shockingly low standards and our standard of behaviour is normal, or
  2. Ofsted is way, way too easy to game, so why even pay attention to it?

Either way it means I personally have no faith in Ofsted as a barometer of behaviour and general standards of schools.

Third, even in my school, children will behave in the “right” circumstances. That generally means an experienced teacher and not too taxing work. So some people presumably thinks this means behaviour in general is fine and we can blame individual teachers where there are problems. To me, this is not good enough. I believe that children should be respectful and follow basic, politely-given instructions (please put that lucozade away etc.) in any circumstances.

Of course I practice positive behaviour management, have quiet words rather than creating a stand off and so on. I wouldn’t have survived this long if I hadn’t. You can blame the bad behaviour on me for not being like the small minority of teachers in my school who do generally have a handle on behaviour if you like. All I can say is I try my damn hardest.

In a school with big retention problems, children will be taught by struggling and/or new teachers. In these circumstances, relying on individual teachers’ behaviour management is lethal. If you don’t have an ethos of basic respect and focus on learning for throughout, embedded in the kids bones, it’s the children’s education that suffers.

Please do comment below with your own thoughts and experiences: as I said I’m an incredibly new teacher with the experience of only one school.

12 thoughts on “Behaviour crisis?

  1. Seeking Sir

    It is important that you contextualise – you are a new, completely inexperienced teacher in a school with a tough catchment. I’m afraid you are treading an extremely well-trodden path – perhaps some explanation as to why teaching can be a ‘moaning profession’; simply put, there is often a lot to moan about!

    As regards Ofsted, the accuracy of their judgements tends to depend upon the honesty of staff – you are quite within your rights to contact them anonymously with your concerns and, in my experience, they will investigate them. However, it often takes some fairly pronounced insubordination to reveal the truth beneath the tragi-comic smoke and mirrors of SMT…

    Providing that you’re willing to learn though, and have a sufficient amount of natural aptitude, you will master your trade. Your colleague who said that teaching is like learning to drive has struck upon an apt comparison.

    In the meantime, laughter is often the best option for the preservation of sanity:

    Welcome to the asylum.

    1. RedGreen Post author

      Argh! You’re right, laughter is the best medicine, and “asylum” is a term that’s far too fitting, far too often (sometimes along with “lunatics running the…”)
      Let’s wait and see what term 2 will bring eh?

  2. krisboulton

    “The evidence out there suggests behaviour isn’t getting worse. The Daily Mail et al love to catastrophise and teaching can be a moaning profession. Do I have grounds to worry beyond the confines of my school gate?”

    There are quotes I’ve read that indeed suggest people have been making the same claims about ‘degenerate youth of today’ for millennia. So, I was fascinated by a bit of digging into those quotes done by Daisy Christodoulou:

    Combined with some other bits of reading, and my own experience with Teach First, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not so much that kids are per se worse as people than they’ve been historically (experience often to the contrary), but we as adults seem to increasingly abdicate our responsibility for them. In other words, increasingly afraid to set boundaries and enforce them, increasingly afraid to establish and reinforce adult authority. Without those boundaries, without our guidance and without that authority holding them to account, how could we expect better?

    I said ‘increasingly’, which implies an historical trend. I’m only just dipping into the reading on the subject, so not yet certain, but I wonder…

    1. RedGreen Post author

      I see a lot of truth in what you’re saying Kris. There is a definite reluctance at my school to set and enforce clear boundaries. I can’t fathom why. Maybe the powers that be are afraid that it would highlight quite how many misdemeanours there are at the moment. But that would be a short term thing and then the vast majority would conform, in my (admittedly novice) opinion.

      I guess it might also be a chronic lack of coordination and organisation on SLT’s part; they’ve failed to follow up on some really high level, dangerous incidents in my classroom that I’ve referred. I know most (all?) mean well and work hard, but I’m sure other schools manage to keep on top of it better than this…

  3. j0ekirby

    You’re right that there is a behaviour crisis in English schools, and no one should be telling you otherwise.

    Research for Teach First shows that 78 per cent of Policy First sample of Teach First participants and ambassadors agreed that bad behaviour in classes is a barrier to pupils realising
    their aspirations. See page 11 of this report:

    Andrew Old is brilliant on the behaviour crisis:
    “If children are going to learn then it is absolutely vital that they do what they are told in lessons. If schools are going to be safe and orderly then it is essential that they also do what they are told outside of lessons. If teachers are going to be effective then they cannot be constantly faced with the stress of confrontation, defiance and chaos. The minimum standard required for effective teaching is that all teachers (not just SMT or teachers who have been around for years) can expect students to comply with all of their instructions first time. The minimum standard for teaching to be a desirable profession is that teachers have freedom from fear when it comes to giving instructions and enforcing rules. Too many schools simply do not have those standards, and as a result teaching is very often stressful and unpleasant”.

    Other posts here:

    No new teacher should be blamed for disruptive behaviour in their classroom, as Matthew Hunter points out:

    I wrote a policy recommendation on this last year: ‘Scrap the gap between behaviour policy and reality (page 35)’

    “The best Senior Leadership Teams hold themselves accountable for tackling any misbehaviour that disrupts learning. In many schools that we teach in, accountability actually lies with teachers for managing disruption of lessons. But it is a rare teacher who can ensure discipline in the classroom without a consistently implemented policy at school level. Accountability should ultimately lie with those who have most power to enforce whole-school consistency: senior leadership. Unless this happens, most teachers, but especially new and supply teachers, experience extreme difficulty in implementing a calm learning environment. National accountability must now ensure that all senior managers take responsibility for eliminating the disruption that stops pupils achieving their aspirations”.

    Incidentally, the school I teach at has a consistently enforced behaviour system, and because of it has narrowed the gap between pupils on FSM and those not on FSM to 1%. Strong school discipline systems get results; weak school behaviour management systems, as you rightly point out, and as you rightly feel strongly about, inhibit learning.

    1. RedGreen Post author

      What an amazing comment! Once again Old Andrew describes my school to a tee. Will be sure to check out all the links tomorrow (a wee break from WA2 perhaps…)

  4. Seeking Sir

    J0e Kirkby is spot on. Problem is, it doesn’t really help you in your current situation save for to identify the problem. The best that you can do is to try to create the ‘right circumstances’ for good behaviour that you note do exist in some areas of your school. To get to a brighter future you’ve got to get through the short-term shit. Beg, borrow, steal – whatever it takes to get there. Being an insanely determined maniac helps too.

    Also, be careful with perceiving a link between ‘not too taxing work’ and good behaviour – oddly, despite appearances to the contrary, kids want to be taken seriously and intellectually challenged. Nothing worse than them feeling patronised (see teachers who trot out endless ‘wordsearches’ as starter activities but which end up taking the whole lesson as nobody is taking it seriously). Part of enforcing high expectations is ensuring that work is, whilst accessible, sufficiently challenging – firstly, this a given anyway given that we want the kids to actually learn, but it’s also vital in terms of them developing genuine respect for you as someone with, as I tell my kids, with a ‘giant teacher brain’ which they want to engage with and learn from.

    My general rule of thumb is to push kids as far as possible but to get them to the end point with incredibly well structured teaching so that learning progresses very clearly and logically; too many teachers seem to think that ‘challenging’ kids means trying to get them to jump on a ladder at the fifth rung without having taught rungs 1-4. First of all work out what you want the end product to be, then work out the differentiated means by which to get there; set 1 and set 4 can often write the same essay, but they will need different build-up strategies to access it. Its a patronising cop-out to give them different material to work with (in most cases) and they know it –

    Not that all my ideas were good mind –

    All easier said than done of course. I’ll try and get myself into gear with a post on all of this stuff at some point.

  5. Dani Q

    One thing that’s been interesting for me in my school (I was in the 2010 Yorks cohort and chose to stay in my school) has been the change in behaviour over the past 3 years. In my first year, behaviour in my classroom, and many of my colleagues’ classrooms, was a significant barrier to learning, achievement or enjoyment. In my second year I noticed improvements in both my own classroom and in colleagues’ (i.e. an overall improvement in the school, and significant strides in my own case as I got a better idea of how to respond, etc). Now in my third year, there’s been a lot more leadership and action from MLT and SLT on behaviour, there has been better retention of staff across the school, and there’s been a really noticeable change in behaviour. It’s still not perfect; in my own case, I still have one shocker of a class (but am getting lots of support from the members of MLT/SLT who recognise the importance of solving these problems) and have to put real effort in to maintain good behaviour, effort and work in another, but the rest are all….great. There are still tough nuts in the school, but it’s not seen any more as the sole responsibility of one teacher that there’s a pupil who is ruining lessons and continually making bad choices.
    The lessons I’ve taken from it so far are:

    – Catchment and background doesn’t determine behaviour. The catchment hasn’t improved; on paper, we have MORE pupils who are likely to be challenging (e.g. higher numbers of excluded pupils from other schools, etc). I don’t think you’ve fallen into the trap of having low expectations, and I hope I don’t either, but it’s underlined how wrong it is to expect worse behaviour from pupils and groups who are less advantaged.

    – There is no correlation between ethnicity, SEN, gender, or age and behaviour that I’ve seen. I’ve been interested that colleagues in more affluent schools in my city have felt little embarrassment pointing to a particular ethnic group as “a massive problem” in their school, and the source of underachievement, poor behaviour, feckless parents, etc; the same ethnic group is one of the most successful in our school in terms of progress, grades, behaviour, participation, integration, etc. Again, I in no way think you believe that, but I’ve heard many ‘professionals’ talk about the ‘problem of black girls’ or ‘the challenge of Asian boys’ or state that ‘Roma don’t care about school, they don’t value learning’ (the last makes me want to scream with frustration).

    – Improvements in your own techniques and strategies, and longer tenure, will reap rewards over the medium-term, as does finding allies in school (or out of school) who actually are effective with behaviour and who can mentor you on that specifically.

    – Leadership on behaviour is essential. It’s appalling to have islands of relative calm in seas of chaos; it fosters the idea that it’s the sole responsibility of one teacher if a class’s behaviour limits its learning, when really it’s a whole-school issue (especially as there are a lot of knockon effects). Over the Halloween break I had the unexpectedly upsetting experience of helping with revision classes at a Barnsley school that’s notorious for truly terrible behaviour (all my TF friends who worked there were sworn at least once a day, were often threatened physically, etc). All colleagues I knew working there attributed it to the head’s and SLT’s refusal to acknowledge the problem. What was upsetting was that, when I was there, we had about ~60 Y10s who were there for intensive (and therefore utterly un-fun) revision sessions, and every one of them was brilliant. A couple tried to challenge boundaries, but all accepted them when they were reinforced, and all were clearly keen to achieve. Of course the most difficult pupils weren’t present, but it reinforced how many pupils ARE there who really want a good education and a positive relationship with adults.

    Sorry this is so long! Stay resilient, give new strategies or approaches enough time to be properly evaluated, and maintain your energy and subtle approach to attempts at conflict; you’ll see improvements over time (but not quickly…sorry). Good luck 🙂

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