Behaviour and Discipline in Schools - Education Committee Contents

3  Enabling and cultivating good behaviour

The impact of teaching quality on behaviour

32. Sir Alan Steer's 2009 report concluded that "consistent good quality teaching is the most significant factor in raising standards and reducing low level disruption. Learning, teaching and behaviour are inseparable issues for schools".[54] The vast majority of witnesses to our inquiry agreed with this. However, as Mr Tom Burkard pointed out, the importance of good teaching in securing good behaviour is sometimes underestimated:

The endemic problem that we have had for far too long is that we are looking at the child and what is wrong with the child, not looking at what is wrong with the learning environment. [...] anyone who ran a business by trying to decide what was wrong with their customers rather than what was wrong with their services would soon be out of business.[55]

Indeed, this point was made most starkly in Ofsted's recent Review of Special Educational Needs and Disability which concluded that "as many as half of all pupils identified for School Action[56] would not be identified as having special educational needs if schools focused on improving teaching and learning for all, with individual goals for improvement".[57]

33. The link between teaching quality and pupil behaviour is most evident in the skill with which the teacher uses the curriculum to hold children's attention in the first place. A child who is absorbed in learning is less likely to become disengaged—and to misbehave in consequence. As one educational psychologist responding to our call for evidence, Dr Sue Roffey, concluded, "didactic or otherwise dull pedagogies do not engage students. Disengaged students muck about".[58] It is understandable, therefore, that teachers should be able to depend on a curriculum which is engaging in its own right. As the National Union of Teachers explained,

Curriculum organisation can […] have a significant impact on pupil behaviour. The NUT believes that head teachers and senior colleagues should work collaboratively and in consultation with teachers in order to design coherent curriculum models which can meet the needs of all children. Such models should be based on teachers' professional judgement and knowledge of their pupils.[59]

34. Barnardo's pointed to the need for alternative curricula for those pupils for whom the mainstream curriculum may not be effective:

The academic focus of school and traditional classroom methods alienate many young people. Our experience is that they often learn better from a youth work approach or in practical, vocational settings. Alternative and applied vocational pathways, involving work-based learning should be available as a positive 14-19 option for those young people whose potential is not unlocked by mainstream education.[60]

National Strategies have played a role in trying to guide teachers in use of the curriculum and positive approaches to teaching and learning, in order to support good behaviour—for example, through promotion of more personalised approaches to learning.[61] However, the direction of travel, evident in the Schools White Paper, is very much towards less prescription in how the curriculum should be taught.[62]

35. The National Strategies have had beneficial effects; but a new, less prescriptive approach may succeed in giving a new stimulus to teachers in preparing and applying the curriculum in ways which engage children more and which reduce the risk of poor behaviour. Ministers should bear in mind, when developing proposals for the new National Curriculum, that if the future curriculum is to have a beneficial effect on standards of behaviour in the classroom, it will need to meet the needs of all pupils and contain a mix of academic and vocational subjects, while being differentiated and enjoyable. We heard in evidence that pupils who are positively engaged in learning are less likely to have behaviour problems. Therefore we encourage the Government to revisit the issue of vocational and practical learning to ensure a balanced approach. We view this as a matter of considerable importance and plan to address it in future inquiries.

The importance of basic skills in reading, numbers, communication and comprehension

36. Our witnesses agreed without exception that a failure to grasp basic skills in reading, comprehension, oracy and numeracy makes a pupil more likely to be disruptive. Literacy is perhaps the most important of these: as former HMI David Moore explained, "if you cannot read, you cannot access the curriculum. If your vocabulary is not sufficiently developed, you cannot understand what the teachers are saying".[63] Tom Burkard added that it is "not only the reading failure per se, but the child's frustration at the continual and repeated failure to achieve their aims".[64] Both New Woodlands School and Beaumont Leys School placed a huge emphasis on improving literacy and numeracy, as many pupils with behavioural problems struggled with these basic skills. Mr Burkard pointed to a study in 1974 by the United States Department of Education which concluded that "reading failure was the only one of all the various indicators which accurately predicted the later incidence of violent antisocial behaviour".[65]

37. The impact of reading failure is most noticeable at the transition from primary to secondary school. During our visit to Beaumont Leys School in Leicester, for example, teachers commented on the high occurrence of reading failure amongst pupils entering Year 7. Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said that "there is no doubt that the biggest regression in year 6 to year 7 is children who go from primary, where the uses of literacy may be more limited, into a subject-based curriculum at secondary maybe taking eight, nine or ten subjects. The thing that bars them in those subjects is not a lack of interest or of willingness to do well, but the fact that the uses of literacy in those subjects are too hard for them, because they have not developed sufficient reading skills".[66] Where pupils moving on from primary or first school are still experiencing difficulty, adequate and appropriate support must be provided. Indeed, throughout the school years, schools need to be obsessed with ensuring that children have the reading, communication and comprehension skills they need to get the most out of their education, and providing additional support as needed.

38. While we were completing this inquiry, Graham Allen MP published interim findings from his review of early intervention, commissioned by the Government. Mr Allen identified a number of other interventions which can assist in children's early development.[67] We note also the work done in this area by the Rt Hon Frank Field MP, in his report on child poverty.[68]

39. The recent Schools White Paper commits to promoting the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics in schools and to a new reading assessment (specifically a phonics check) for six year olds. The Government believes that these measures will ensure that all children "have the chance to follow an enriching curriculum by getting them reading early" and "guarantee that children have mastered the basic skills of early reading and […] ensure we can identify those with learning difficulties".[69] Several witnesses agreed that use of the synthetic phonics approach was an important ingredient in preventing reading failure.[70] We did not assess the merits of using synthetic phonics to improve literacy; nor did we take evidence specifically on the proposed age 6 reading assessment. However, it is widely acknowledged (for example, by the Rose review of the teaching of reading[71]) that development in both word recognition and comprehension is essential for success as a fluent reader, which can in turn promote good behaviour. Therefore, we encourage the Government to promote language comprehension as well as word recognition and phonics skills throughout the infant curriculum. Appropriate support and interventions should be made available to pupils who do not do well in the six year old assessment. Clear accountability frameworks which require head teachers and senior school leaders to demonstrate how schools respond to any problems picked up in the six year old assessment should be put in place. 

40. For one group of pupils, the results of the age 6 reading assessment will not necessarily help to identify their additional learning needs. The children's communication charity I CAN told us that, in some disadvantaged areas, "upwards of 50% of children are starting school with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN). Many have poor language skills which are inadequate for the start of formal learning".[72] The evidence points to a "strong correlation between children who have emotional and behavioural difficulties and children who have SLCN".[73] It adds:

Those with unaddressed speech, language and communication needs are at risk of problems with literacy, numeracy and learning. They are less likely to leave school with qualifications or job prospects and are in danger of becoming NEET (not in employment, education or training at 16-18) […] We also know that children excluded from school are likely to have special educational needs, including a high incidence of communication difficulties. People with speech and language needs are significantly over-represented in the young offender and prison populations. In addition to this, limited language skills make it difficult for young people to access support or understand interventions.[74]

41. The Schools White Paper does not allude specifically to pupils with Speech, Language and Communication Needs who may (among other conditions) have difficulty producing speech sounds or have receptive language impairment. They may do poorly in reading tests, including phonics checks, but such assessments will not on their own identify communication impairments which can underpin behavioural difficulties. We expect that the needs of pupils with SLCN will be addressed directly in the forthcoming Green Paper on Special Educational Needs (expected in February 2011). We acknowledge the new reading assessment for 6 year olds, and we understand the concerns of witnesses representing children with speech, communication and language needs that these pupils' needs may not be identified by this assessment. We recommend therefore that the Government broadens the six year old assessment to include an assessment of speaking and listening ability.

"What works": sharing good practice

42. A robust and well-led school behaviour policy, consistently applied and underpinned by good teaching and an appropriate curriculum is critical to supporting good behaviour in schools. However, on a day-to-day basis in the classroom, there are simple techniques that can be applied to manage behaviour. In common with many witnesses, Sir Alan Steer advised "we know what works. We just don't do it".[75] This view was supported by behaviour consultant Sue Cowley who told us that "I meet newly qualified teachers all the time. I work with them, and they say to me, 'Why didn't anybody tell us that there are these really simple, straightforward things […] Why has nobody told us practical ways of actually managing behaviour?'"[76]

43. Sir Alan Steer's 2005 report highlighted some practical approaches to developing a consistent approach towards behaviour management.[77] These approaches were described in the "What Works" section of the 2005 report, Learning Behaviour, which was published separately for use in schools. Sir Alan's subsequent report, Learning Behaviour: Lessons Learned, published in 2009, recommended that the "What Works" principles be used as a basis to organise training for staff in schools.[78] Witnesses, including the Minister for Schools himself, agreed with the general principles.[79] The London Borough of Tower Hamlets noted that the recommendations of the 2009 Steer report had been "generally welcomed as well thought through and based on real school experience", and it believed that they should be implemented.[80]

44. The former Government recognised the need to disseminate best practice on managing behaviour. The Behaviour, Attendance and SEAL (social and emotional aspects of learning) strand of the National Strategies programme was put in place to provide practical materials to support schools in improving behaviour, building their capacity to make them less reliant on external support. The former Government announced its intention not to renew the National Strategies contract in 2011, and proposed instead to devolve the funding for the Primary and Secondary National Strategies to schools.[81] This decision was welcomed by the current Secretary of State. Our witnesses presented mixed views on the usefulness of National Strategies, although SEAL materials were considered to be helpful, and it seems that the material will continue to be used in schools once the National Strategies contract has ended. However, a gap remains in terms of disseminating best practice on simple tools and techniques. As Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, asserted:

there are techniques you can learn which will help you, with a good curriculum, to deal with low-level disruption. One question I thought would be asked was, have [National] Strategies helped in this? I don't think they have. […] There are certain techniques that, if applied well, can be used to keep very good order in the classroom, such as: if you have a disruptive class or a class that will be difficult, making sure that when you start the lesson there is something for them to do when they walk through the door of the classroom; making sure that the curriculum is properly differentiated and ensuring that they do not shout out over each other.[82]

45. Sir Alan Steer pointed to the fact that basic techniques are less likely to be applied in secondary schools, telling us that "in the secondary sector we do not put enough importance on basic issues of classroom management. When you visit a primary school and ask a teacher, 'Are the children allowed to sit where they like in the classroom?', they look at you as though you're being slightly rude, because of course they're not. Any primary teacher manages their classroom. In large numbers of secondary schools, that is dropped at the age of 11, and it's dropped without thinking".[83] Simple approaches to managing behaviour, such as those outlined in Sir Alan Steer's "What Works in Schools", should be incorporated in all initial teacher training and continuing professional development on behaviour, especially for secondary schools where basic issues of classroom management are sometimes overlooked.

46. National Strategies are now coming to an end, with an expectation that local authorities and twenty 'lead behaviour schools'[84]—having been trained to work with schools by National Strategies consultants—will take on the role of sharing best practice amongst themselves.[85] This will rely on schools working in effective partnerships. This new focus on self-reliance amongst schools for training and development on behaviour was generally welcomed by our witnesses. However, in discussion with behaviour teams and their partners at Leicestershire County Council, it was suggested to us that the ending of the central coordination provided by National Strategies could be a concern for those schools which are currently graded 'satisfactory' in terms of behaviour and discipline.[86] It was expected that the local authority would need to take on a much greater role in challenging and supporting schools to ensure improvement in this respect. The Schools White Paper identifies a strategic role for local authorities in championing excellence in schools, and it expects local authorities to "challenge schools which are causing concern and to focus on issues needing attention which cut across more than one school".[87]

47. In recognition of the need for best practice to be shared within the school community, the Schools White Paper proposes a new national network of 'Teaching Schools', accredited by the National College[88], and an increase in the number of Local and National Leaders of Education (excellent head teachers who provide support to other schools).[89] It also introduces 'Specialist Leaders of Education'—excellent professionals in leadership positions below the head teacher, who will support peers in other schools.[90] The White Paper also states that National Strategies will be replaced by "a new market of school improvement services with a much wider range of providers and services available for schools to choose from".[91] Local authorities will be able to choose how to define and offer school improvement support, for example by brokering support for schools from local agencies.

48. We welcome the White Paper's proposals for schools to take on greater responsibility for organising training and sharing best practice on managing behaviour. However, in areas where the majority of schools are not performing well, it may be more difficult for best practice to be shared effectively. In these circumstances, it is critical that the local authority has the capacity to challenge and support those schools which are causing concern, looking outside the local authority for expert support where necessary.

54   Sir Alan Steer, Learning Behaviour, Lessons Learned, 2009, para 4.16 Back

55   Q 1 Back

56   School Action is the term used to describe the first level of school-based intervention, beyond differentiation of the curriculum, for children with special educational needs Back

57   The Special Educational Needs and Disability Review, Ofsted, 14 September 2010, Executive Summary Back

58   Ev w20 Back

59   Ev 115 Back

60   Ev w143 Back

61   Ev 130, para 1.5 Back

62   The Importance of Teaching, para 4.1 Back

63   Q 3 Back

64   Q 4 Back

65   Q 4 Back

66   Q 53 Back

67   Early Intervention: The Next Steps, January 2011 Back

68   The Foundation Years: preventing poor children becoming poor adults, published 3 December 2010 Back

69   The Importance of Teaching, para 4.6 Back

70   e.g. see Q139 [Charlie Taylor]  Back

71   Independent review of the teaching of early reading, final report by Jim Rose, March 2006 Back

72   Ev 145 Back

73   Ev 144 Back

74   Ev 145 Back

75   Q 70 Back

76   Q 211 Back

77   Sir Alan Steer, Learning Behaviour, 2005, para 26 Back

78   Sir Alan Steer, Learning Behaviour: Lessons Learned, 2009, recommendation 10 Back

79   See Q 255 Back

80   Ev w68 Back

81   DCSF, Building a 21st century schools system, para 4.11 Back

82   Q 51 Back

83   Q 70 Back

84   Lead Behaviour Schools were identified as part of the 2009 Behaviour Challenge, to assist with the aim for all schools to have a good or outstanding Ofsted rating on behaviour, or be on track to reach one at their next inspection. Lead Behaviour Schools have proven expertise in behaviour management and were tasked with spreading good practice and support to other schools. The original target was to identify 100 Lead Behaviour Schools by September 2010. At the time of taking evidence for this inquiry, only 20 existed. Back

85   See Qq 116, 117 Back

86   See Annex 2 Back

87   The Importance of Teaching, para 5.37 Back

88   The Importance of Teaching, para 2.24 Back

89   The Importance of Teaching, para 2.43 Back

90   The Importance of Teaching, para 2.26 Back

91   The Importance of Teaching, para 7.14 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 3 February 2011