Improving student behaviour

Julian Stanley says teachers cannot be solely responsible for poor student behaviour but you can make a positive difference.

I attended a Westminster Briefing conference last month on student behaviour. It’s striking to me how little this issue has been discussed in the run up to this year’s General Election. Make no mistake; behaviour is a big issue in education that is having serious repercussions on staff retention and staff health. Last year, our health survey of over 2,000 education staff found that over a quarter of mental health conditions arising from workplace experiences were caused by student behaviour. In our 2010 behaviour survey, 70% said they had considered quitting teaching because of poor behaviour. Hundreds of people call our helpline every year for help with behaviour, classroom management issues, conflicts with pupils and attitude issues.

One male teacher told us: Books being thrown across the classroom and totally unruly, uncontrollable behaviour like that is commonplace. I wanted to be a teacher but I ended up teaching unruly yobs in inner and outer city schools in the Midlands. I got to the point where I refused to educate people who are out of control. In the end, this particular teacher left the profession. I think there’s something very wrong when someone who aspires to be a teacher ends up never wanting to step in a classroom again.

Every teacher will experience problems with behaviour but teachers must remember you are not solely responsible for a pupil’s actions. In many cases, even the most incredible teaching practice cannot prevent misbehaviour, but you can often make a positive difference.

So what are the solutions? At a policy level we think there are two key improvements to make: better training and better organisational support. In our YouGov poll last year, a quarter said their initial teacher training (ITT) did not prepare them to discipline or manager disruptive pupils. Sir Andrew Carter, who recently chaired a review of ITT, agreed and the Department for Education has taken on his proposal to establish an independent group to suggest a framework for ITT which should include elements on managing pupil behaviour.

Sir Andrew’s proposal will help NQTs in the future, but what about existing staff? Our YouGov poll also found that two in five teachers have not been able to take all additional training and development that they wanted to improve their practice. In our education manifesto, we have called on the next government to improve access to externally-provided training, so staff can receive ongoing support and relevant training on behaviour, among other things, whenever they need it. 

This will help teachers in the classroom, but why should schools have to manage poor behaviour among then next generation alone? As organisations such as Barnardo’s have said, the most out of control’ students may also be the most vulnerable, facing horrendous problems at home. In 2010/11, 8% of expulsions were of SEN children with a statement. A holistic approach with professional support from social services will be required to address the root causes of poor behaviour.

While policy change will help, there will always be new things teacher can do too. In the next few months, we’re launching a new online tool called BeWellTeachWell, sponsored by NASUWT, which will offer detailed advice on how to cope with common challenges to your health and effectiveness. It includes a Managing Pupil Behaviour Guide which you can already download from our website. It suggests a whole school approach to improve behaviour across the student body. This can be implemented through robust behaviour guidelines and clear consequences for poor behaviour. The guide asks teachers to reflect on your teaching style so you can understand how you currently respond to misbehaviour on a scale from submissive through to dominant. Evidence suggests that teachers strive for a dominant-cooperative style. In a study of over 100 classroom management reports, Robert Marzano, an educational researcher from the US, found that pupils prefer this technique where the teacher has a strong sense of leadership and control, is prepared to discipline unapologetically but still maintains a friendly concern for pupils needs and, crucially, their opinions.

None of this is always easy to put into practice so make sure you speak to colleagues or managers if you have a particularly challenging student, especially when family support is absence. Alternatively, call our helpline on 08000 562 561 for support.