How school leaders can optimise behaviour.

In March the report ‘Creating a Culture: How School Leaders can optimise behaviour’, was published by Tom Bennett, commissioned by the Department for Education. This is a really interesting document and should be read by all school leaders. The full report can be found here or here (alternative link).

The report begins by summarising the impact of improved behaviour:

  • Students achieve more academically and socially
  • Time is reclaimed for better and more learning
  • Staff Satisfaction improves, retention is higher, recruitment is less problematic.

The are a number of illustrations used throughout the report – the one below is used to illustrate the commonly found features of the most successful schools.

Features of Effective Schools

The report describes what good behaviour is: “Good behaviour is not simply the absence of ‘bad behaviour’ (swearing, fighting, or retreating from classroom tasks). Good behaviour includes aiming towards students’ flourishing as scholars and human beings. So, while good behaviour does include the absence of, for example, vandalism, rudeness and insolence (which we can describe as negative good behaviour), it also describes behaviour that is more broadly desirable. This could mean helping students to learn good habits of study, or reasoning, or interacting with adults, coping with adversity, or intellectual challenges (positive good beavhour). School leadership needs to create circumstances for both forms of good behaviour.”

The report talks about the importance of clarity of instructions from leadership and gives an example: “Don’t only say, ‘Assemblies should encourage good behaviour’. Say, ‘For example, in every assembly, I want to see merits given out to the best students for [behaviour x]’. This should be at the end of the assembly, and the pupils should be asked to go on stage to collect their certificates.”

As well as clarity of instruction the report talks about the importance of routine. “The school must have well-established and universally known and understood systems of behaviour, fo example, student removal, consequences, and sanctions, corridor and classroom expectations, behaviour on trips, arrival, transition and departure behaviour and so on. Any area of general behaviour that can be sensibly translated into a routine should be done so explicitly. This removes uncertainty about school expectations from mundane areas of school life, which reduces anxiety, creates a framework of social norms, and reduces the need for reflection and reinvention of what is and is not acceptable conduct. This, in turn, saves time and effort that would otherwise be expected in repetitive instruction. These routines should be seen as the aspirations of all members of the school community whenever possible.”

On sanctions, the report quotes Bill Rogers saying their “certainty is more important than their severity”.

This is linked to the need for students to meet expectations “All students need to meet the expectations set of them. Anyone not meeting the expected standard must expect an intervention of some form, a reaction from the staff body. Any member of staff not maintaining these boundaries and expectations must be challenged, retrained or otherwise engaged to aim more closely to the standards expected”.

The final aspect of the report that is worth repeating is the list of obstacles to developing a culture of good behaviour:

  • lack of  clarity of vision
  • poor communication of that vision to staff or students
  • demonstrating values or routines contrary to the stated ones
  • lack of perspective, considering low standards to be high
  • inadequate orientation for new staff or students
  • staff overburdened by workload, unable to plan for effective behaviour
  • unsuitably skilled staff in charge of pivotal formal roles
  • remote, unavailable, or occupied leadership
  • inconsistency between staff and departments
  • unfair consequence systems that punish industry or reward poor conduct
  • staff unable or unwilling to promote the school routines
  • lack of support for staff to promote the school routines.