Executive Principal's Blog

School Culture and Student Behaviour

27 March 2017

School Culture and Student Behaviour

Last week, the Government's behaviour 'guru' Tom Bennett published his review of students' behaviour in schools.  The review highlighted areas where, in the author's opinion, many schools are still struggling to achieve consistently high standards of behaviour amongst their students.  The review suggests that, in many classrooms, disruption to learning is common and that as a result learning is frequently being impeded.

Some of the causes of misbehaviour identified by Bennett are significant issues for society and impossible for schools to solve in isolation.  The proliferation of serious mental health issues amongst young people would be an example of this, as would the level of support available for young people with special learning needs.  It is however the apparent frequency of 'low level' disruption to learning which seems to most exercise the Government and which has been highlighted in both Bennett's review and previous similar reports on behaviour in schools.

What does 'low level' disruption mean?  It is the kind of poor behaviour which can interrupt the flow of lessons, taking up teacher time and distracting students from their learning.  Yet ‘low level’ disruption is rarely shocking in itself (as its title would suggest) and therefore it can be difficult for teachers to pin down.  It involves chatting, nudging, giggling - the kind of things which warrant immediate challenge but are rarely going to result in students being removed from lessons (unless for repeated offences).  The effects of ‘low level’ disruption are gradual, rather like water wearing away a rock.  Over time, the tolerance of ‘low level’ disruption can seep into the culture of a school and, as a result, learning for all is gradually undermined as lessons regularly fall below an acceptable standard.

Too often, the responses from Government to ‘low level’ disruption appear in the headlines as heavy handed (though what appears in the headlines is not always the Government's fault of course).  It is good to see ministers periodically advocating more powers over exclusions for headteachers but exclusion is rarely the right response to the effects of ‘low level’ disruption.  Likewise, Bennett recommends that schools should make more use of internal exclusion facilities.  These have their place and we make good use of such a space here at Wren.  Only more serious behaviours however can be addressed within an inclusion room.  Most ‘low level’ disruption will not fit the description of 'serious' on any given day and, in many schools, trying to accommodate all those guilty of minor disruption within a single room at any given time would create quite a challenge.

The path to effectively addressing ‘low level’ disruption lies in a school's culture and in the daily routines which spring from this culture.  All schools, Wren Academy included, have some ‘low level’ disruption from students.  We however have very little of it and this is not through chance.  High expectations of students and a consistent focus on the value and importance of learning help to create a positive classroom atmosphere.  Students are educated to take their own learning seriously and therefore their expectations of their own and others' behaviour are high.  When incidents do occur they are dealt with rapidly, most usually by the class teacher but with quick support from other colleagues where necessary.  Above all, teachers are regularly reminded that the best way of ensuring engaged and enthusiastic students is not the enforcement of sanctions, it is the delivery of well planned, interesting and accessible lessons.

This approach helps students understand that we take misbehaviour seriously and it helps ensure that lessons run as smoothly as possible.  It is also part of our philosophy to recognise that lessons form only part of the school day.  Students' mood at break and lunch and the way they move around the school have a significant impact upon the way they feel in their lessons.  Maintaining a calm, safe and courteous environment is key to children arriving at their classrooms ready to learn.

Creating such a school atmosphere takes time and application.  It also takes hard work and the commitment of all staff.  The key to success is ultimately consistency.  It is very difficult to get all staff doing the right things all of the time.  The closer schools can come however to their expectations being consistently upheld by all members of the staff community, the better behaviour and therefore learning will be.

Posted at 12:15 on 27 Mar 2017