Education Select Committee Inquiry into behaviour and discipline in schools (2010)
In July 2010, the House of Commons Education Select Committee announced an inquiry into behaviour and discipline in schools and invited written submissions
Voice’s Official Response (September 2010):
Memorandum submitted by Voice: the union for education professionals
Positive management of pupil behaviour is essential if quality learning is to take place in schools. Effective systems need to be in place to support and reinforce positive behaviour. Such systems will include a clearly defined behaviour management policy which has the support of parents, pupils and staff. Sanctions and rewards need to be applied in a consistent way and supported by regular staff training. While extremely volatile behaviour is rare, many staff are put under inordinate and unacceptable stress by low-level indiscipline. Challenging behaviour can be addressed most effectively through a multi-faceted approach, incorporating a ladder of sanctions, positive engagement with parents and assistance from external agencies.
Decisions about disciplinary penalties should always be made on the basis of fair and transparent principles, unhindered by political interference. Discipline is not just the responsibility of the school; parents also play a key role, both in promoting good behaviour and in being held to account for their children’s misbehaviour.
Alternative arrangements need to be made when poor behaviour is linked with special educational needs. In such cases, appropriate assessment and early intervention should lead to an effective plan being developed, alongside the resources required for its implementation. Alternative provision for pupils excluded from school often lacks efficacy and represents poor value for money, while schemes based on internal seclusion are generally both more effective and less expensive. Exclusion is very ineffective as a means of improving behaviour and attainment, not least because it disenfranchises pupils from their right to be educated. Improvements in attainment, attendance and behaviour are inter-related, so it is important that pupils who are excluded are given alternative access to a high quality education and the opportunity to address the issues underlying their behaviour, whilst also safeguarding the right of other pupils to complete their education without disruption.
The Government’s proposals for strengthening teachers’ disciplinary and search powers are generally welcomed, but it is important that clear guidance is given on how these powers should be enforced to ensure consistency across the country and to avoid malicious allegations or threats of litigation being made against teachers. The proposal to grant teachers anonymity whilst accusations against them by pupils are being investigated is especially welcomed as staff, as well as children, are entitled to protection, especially as careers can easily be blighted by false allegations.
Voice: the union for education professionals is pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the Committee’s inquiry into behaviour and discipline. Voice is an independent trade union, founded in 1970 by two Essex teachers, Colin Leicester and Ray Bryant, who fathered together a group of like-minded professional teachers who were prepared to commit themselves to the principle of not striking. The union now has 35,000 members across all sectors of education (early years, primary, secondary and tertiary), including teachers, lecturers, school and college leaders, teaching assistants and other school support staff, nannies, nursery nurses, childcare and early years professionals, centrally employed staff working for Local Authorities in education or children’s services, students on teacher training or childcare courses, and self-employed tutors and consultants.
Formerly known as The Professional Association of Teachers, the union re-branded in February 2008 as Voice: the union for education professionals. Independent of the Trades Union Congress and not affiliated to any political party, Voice prefers to use the force of argument rather than the argument of force and, as such, relies on the power of effective negotiation rather than resorting to strikes or any other form of industrial action.
There are many ways of supporting and reinforcing positive behaviour in schools. Each school should have a clear and robust behaviour management policy, which is regularly reviewed with input and agreement from parents, pupils and staff. This policy should be publicised, eg through home/school agreements, on school noticeboards, with regular reminders during registration, tutorial and assembly sessions, and should be implemented consistently. The policy should specify sanctions and rewards, which should be applied in the same way by all staff. Staff should receive regular training in behaviour management and there should be a supportive culture within schools which allows staff to raise concerns with senior management without fear of being stigmatised. Managing behaviour should form a key part of teacher training programmes. Good behaviour can be promoted by thoughtful planning, appropriate lesson content and interest level, use of a variety of teaching techniques, opportunities for enjoyment, "hands-on" activities and curriculum differentiation which promote a sense of achievement for both pupils and staff. Good standards of teaching, clear expectations of pupils and effective inter-personal relationships create an infrastructure for good behaviour. In order to gain the respect of the pupils and maintain control, staff should be respectful, good humoured, fair, consistent and hard working. In doing this they provide pupils with role models for good behaviour. Respect is a two way affair and in giving respect it is expected that adults will receive respect from pupils.
The media constantly highlight incidents of poor behaviour in schools, ranging from vandalism to sexual assault, to serious physical assault. These headline-grabbing examples are not indicative of school life in general, but there is no doubt that behaviour and discipline issues are a major source of concern for school staff. Teachers and teaching assistants are frequently confronted by "low level" behaviour issues. Low-level incidents can occur in the classroom (eg chattering, making unnecessary noise, interfering with other pupils’ equipment, being late for a lesson, eating or chewing gum in class, avoiding work, being cheeky, using mobile phones or other devices inappropriately, and general rowdiness) or outside of the classroom (eg running in the corridor, being unruly whilst waiting in a queue, loitering in "prohibited" areas, leaving the premises without permission, etc.). There is no respite when incidents occur on a seemingly relentless basis and it is hardly surprising that recent research from a variety of sources cites pupil behaviour as one of the top three causes of stress for teachers. Anecdotal reports from our members suggest that many teachers feel unsupported when they are subjected to challenging behaviour by pupils. In many cases, persistent low-level disruption wears down members of staff to the point at which they have to take sick leave because of stress, anxiety or depression, and, in some cases, such staff become subjected to absence management or capability procedures whilst they are off sick. The impact of pupils’ challenging behaviour on teachers is such that some teachers experience a loss of confidence or self esteem, become disheartened or lose their motivation to teach, feel that they may lose self-control and behave rashly in a way that they might later regret, apply for jobs in other schools, or even consider leaving the teaching profession.
Schools generally have a ladder of sanctions for challenging behaviour, beginning with warnings (some schools use a coloured card system), referral to a designated staff member, internal seclusion (eg a "time out" room or detention), liaison with parents/carers, fixed term exclusion, permanent exclusion or "managed move" (whereby pupils are transferred to another school where they can be given a fresh start). At the same time, strategies for promoting positive behaviour need to be put in place and any signs of troublesome behaviour need to be identified at an early stage so that remedial action can be taken before the disruptive behaviour escalates. Anecdotal feedback from members indicates that many schools are reluctant to follow through the higher sanctions and, in particular, in recent years use of exclusions has been restricted on the basis of political rather than educational grounds. In best practice cases, numbers of exclusions have been reduced because schools have been able to recognise trigger points which enable pupils at risk of being excluded to be identified early enough for intervention strategies to be put in place, although in other cases schools have set up networks which have enabled them to transfer troublesome pupils in "managed moves", which do not officially count as exclusions. Exclusions are relatively ineffective in acting as a deterrent, punishment or means of rehabilitation. It is important that those who are excluded, for whatever reason, have suitable places where they can continue their education, receive the support they need and then make a successful return to normal schooling. Exclusions are, however, effective in terms of making schools safer places for both staff and children, as it is both unfair and unsafe to allow the disruptive behaviour of a minority to interfere with the learning and well-being of the majority. For this reason, the sanction of exclusion must remain an option when all other attempts to bring about the necessary improvement to a child’s behaviour have failed.
It is incumbent on schools to have very good communication processes in order to engage parents/carers, including home/school agreements, newsletters, details of the school behaviour policy in the school prospectus and on the website, flexible times for parents to liaise with staff, regular parental consultation events, and use of the Education Welfare Service or internal family liaison facility. Parents have a part to play in school discipline by promoting and providing role models for good behaviour and also by being held to account for the actions of their children, especially for children below the age of criminal responsibility. Behaviour in school does not take place in a vacuum; it is influenced by what happens outside of school and, especially, by the home environment. Teachers cannot be expected to deliver a panacea for problems which are not purely educational in origin. In order to ensure effective engagement with parents, it is vital that parents/carers are provided with positive information about their children. If parents are contacted only when it is necessary to communicate negative news to them, this is not conducive to the development of a supportive and positive partnership. Sharing positive information can help to maintain standards and promote positive behaviour and attendance. Strategies might include sending home good news postcards on a regular basis and personal letters at the end of term, alongside occasional emails, text messages or phone calls to communicate positive information about their children, and constructive dialogue at parents’ evenings. Parents who feel that they are working in partnership with school, because of regular and mutual communication on positive (as well as negative) issues, are more likely to be positive in their support of staff, share information about issues that are affecting their children, and work constructively with the school over any problems that might arise. If communication with parents is predominantly concerned with negative behaviour, it is more likely that parents will be confrontational towards staff and deny that there is a problem, which leads to pressure being placed on pupils to improve in the absence of any necessary support and, ultimately, calls for more expensive and extensive intervention to be provided.
Any robust policy on special educational needs must be founded on a clear understanding of what those needs are. If would be helpful for every school were to have its own dedicated and qualified Special Educational Needs Coordinator, rather than this important role simply being tagged on to the already onerous workload of any member of the Senior Leadership Team. Parents and carers have knowledge of their children’s needs – educational, social, emotional and behavioural – and it is important that this information is shared with the school as soon as a child is referred for admission to start a process of ongoing dialogue between home and school. Behaviour policies may need to be modified to accommodate situations where pupils cannot be held to be fully responsible for their behaviour because of identified special educational needs. However, it is very important that, in such circumstances, alternative strategies are put in place to manage the behaviour of such children rather than giving them carte blanche to behave in any way they choose without recrimination. This could usefully include input from the multi-disciplinary team involved with the child’s Common Assessment Framework form. It is not always more support that is needed, but, rather, more appropriate support. Schools have risen to the challenge of becoming more inclusive, which means that most schools now admit children with complex needs which, in the past, would have prevented them from attending mainstream schools. In such situations, however, a proper assessment must be made of each child’s needs so that support can be tailored to individual circumstances. Instead, what often happens is that a generic support worker is allocated to a child without having received the necessary specialist training to deal with that particular child’s needs.
Alternative provision for pupils excluded from school often lacks efficacy and represents poor value for money. Places in Pupil Referral Units cost about four times as much as a secondary school place, but, in spite of such intensive financial support, such pupils are more likely to leave school with no qualifications, become unemployed, end up in prison and experience homelessness – all at great cost to society. Of course, the needs of pupils who show challenging behaviour must be balanced against the needs of the wider school community. In this regard, exclusion must be retained at the ultimate sanction because if a pupil is preventing others from learning by persistently interfering with the ability of teachers to teach, then action must be taken in order to safeguard the entitlement of the majority to be able to complete their education without disruption. However, there are alternatives to exclusion which are both more effective and more cost-effectiveness. Some schools have set up on-site units to house pupils who would otherwise be excluded. These units are self-contained and at a sufficient distance from the main school building to ensure that the behaviour of children who would otherwise be excluded does not deprive other pupils of their education, but also allows the needs of these children to be addressed without the need for more costly intervention. Such provision may also incorporate any alternative curriculum, often a more vocationally oriented curriculum which is more relevant and appealing to pupils who have been disaffected by a more traditional academic provision. Another way in which this can be achieved is by arranging for such pupils to take up college places early (say, at age 14) on either a part-time or full-time basis. Some schools have even introduced schemes which allow pupils to opt for a transfer to another school, sometimes starting with a trial period. The use of internal seclusion strategies, whilst more common in secondary schools, may also be found in primary schools in the form of withdrawal activities and nurture groups, which enable pupils who are at risk of being excluded to have access to an alternative curriculum and positive intervention strategies either one-to-one or in small groups, where the more appropriate staffing ratios and use of staff with specialist skills can be used to address some of the causes of poor behaviour in an attempt to rehabilitate children who demonstrate challenging behaviour.
There is a clear link between attendance and behaviour in schools. Truancy is an example of troublesome behaviour and persistent absenteeism has a negative impact on academic achievement. Absenteeism leads to a loss of learning momentum as children lose contact with the curriculum, which, in turn, fuels further disengagement and disaffection, especially considering the risk of negative teacher attention on the child’s return to school. However, whilst this is true for voluntary absenteeism, it also applies to absenteeism that is enforced by fixed term exclusions. Breaking the continuity of schooling, for whatever reason, presents a major risk to the child, with potentially lifelong consequences. Fixed-term exclusions often have the effect of giving pupils licence to truant whenever they misbehave, and by driving attendance down in this way, schools also drive their attainment down. Attendance can often be improved by ensuring that a diverse and relevant curriculum is offered with interesting lessons which engage and hold the attention of pupils, combined with regular staff training focusing on developing good relationships with pupils.
- On 7 July 2010, the Government proposed to strengthen behaviour and discipline in schools by
ending the rule requiring schools to give 24 hours’ notice for detentions,
allow staff to search pupils for personal electronic devices, pornography, cigarettes, legal highs and fireworks,
strengthen guidance and legislation surrounding the use of force in the classroom, and
- give anonymity to teachers accused by pupils and take other measures to protect against false allegations.
These proposals are generally welcomed insofar as they are intended to reduce bureaucracy, further protect staff and empower teachers in the classroom. Some of the proposals, however, may potentially create further difficulties. The ending of the 24 hour detention rule may allow teachers to deal with poor behaviour immediately, but the measure may harm staff-parent relations as parents will legitimately worry if children arrive home late without prior explanation, and some children may have difficulty getting home if they are unable to leave school on time. Regarding the power to search, many teachers will feel uncomfortable in this role. Staff must not be required to search and, ideally, any searches should be undertaken by trained security staff. In relation to the use of force for safety or restraint, there is increased potential for false accusations against staff if schools are to abandon their "no touch" policies and teachers are encouraged to use force whenever they feel the need to. If policies are to change in this area, there must be consistency across Local Authorities and all parties (staff, pupils and parents) should be clear of the correct interpretation of these powers. Anonymity for teachers is very welcome and long overdue. Voice has campaigned for this for many years as it essential to prevent malicious gossip, media scrums and the ruining of lives and careers. Again, consistent practice and interpretation are crucial. In particular, there is a concern that the use of "soft information" on CRB forms may still ruin the careers of innocent teachers unnecessarily.
- Watch the evidence session (Parliament TV, 13 October 2010)
- "Parents-blamed-for-bad-behaviour": The Guardian, 13 October 2010 (Ian Toone, from Voice, said ...)
The House of Commons Education Select Committee
The Committee published its report, Behaviour and Discipline in Schools, on 3 February 2011:
- Committee’s press release
- Behaviour and Discipline in Schools Report (html)
- Behaviour and Discipline in Schools Report (pdf)
- Oral Evidence (including Voice from p EV9) and Written Evidence (Voice from p EV126) (pdf)
Communications Officer (Press Office) Richard Fraser