Behaviour and Discipline in Schools - Education Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by The British Psychological Society

  The British Psychological Society thanks the Education Select Committee for the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry.

  The British Psychological Society ("the Society") is the learned and professional body, incorporated by Royal Charter, for psychologists in the United Kingdom. The Society has a total membership of almost 50,000 and is a registered charity.

  Under its Royal Charter, the key objective of the Society is "to promote the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of psychology pure and applied and especially to promote the efficiency and usefulness of members by setting up a high standard of professional education and knowledge".

  The Society maintains the Register of Chartered Psychologists and has a code of conduct and investigatory and disciplinary systems in place to consider complaints of professional misconduct relating to its members. The Society is an examining body granting certificates and diplomas in specialist areas of professional applied psychology.

  This response was prepared on behalf of the Society by Professor Pam Maras (University of Greenwich), and Dr Patrick Leman (Royal Holloway, University of London), with specific expertise in the area of pupil behaviour and discipline.

Professor Judi Ellis

Chair, Research Board

  The Society represents a wide range of expertise in the field of education and behaviour, both at academic level and on the ground via the Educational Psychologists' community currently advising schools and Local Authorities. As such, we welcome the opportunity to contribute to these discussions. The response is based upon evidence from psychological and related research.


    — Educational Psychology Services work closely with other agencies at individual, organisational and policy levels.

    — The term anti-social behaviour can be unhelpful because it implies a punitive approach and does not take account of the range and complexity of causes.

    — Over-individualisation of pupils' behaviour fails to take account of the social context or pupils' individual agency and responsibility.

    — Young people can become more negative about school at a time when they are required to make important educational and personal choices

    — Schools are not independent of communities—there is evidence that clusters of schools operating together can impact on exclusion rates.

    — Engaging parents and families is crucial: this engagement needs to be carried out within the context of the communities within which schools are located.

    — Individual agency (and consequential responsibility) within a welfare context is likely to be the most conducive to positive change.

    — Research has shown that pupils with behavioural problems are not a homogenous group and that such pupils can be identified within at least eight different categories.

    — The disciplinary climate of schools, school ethos and school leadership is an important factor.

    — Psychologists have a key role in bringing scientific rigour to the design and evaluation of interventions.

    — Psychologists have documented successful interventions working at the institutional, the classroom and the individual pupil levels, with teachers and with pupils and parents.

    — Psychological interventions address both pragmatic strategies and the intense emotions that often surround serious behaviour difficulties.

    — Published accounts document psychologists' involvement in successful mediation between teachers and parents and in devising joint strategies that have produced significant improvements with KS1 & 2 pupils originally judged by their teachers as the most difficult they had encountered.

    — Pupil educational choices and opportunities at Key Stage 3 and 4 need to allow for those pupils not Able and/or inclined to follow single routes to higher and further education post 18.


  Psychological research can make a central contribution to this inquiry through both empirical research and the systematic collation of the experience of practitioners such as educational psychologists and clinical child psychologists. As a scientific discipline, psychology is well-placed to provide an evidence base for effective intervention to improve pupil behaviour and learning at both the individual and school level, and more widely to inform policy decisions. The Society has been active in linking scientific evidence in relation to different types of behaviour difficulties and guidelines for practice (eg British Psychological Society, 1998; 2000; 2008).

1.   Supporting and reinforcing positive behaviour in schools

  The Society welcomes the focus of the inquiry on supporting and reinforcing positive behaviour; well-established evidence from psychology suggests that this is most likely to be fruitful. The following points reflect psychological research in this area:

  1.1  Over-individualisation of pupils' behaviour, fails to take account of social context or pupils individual agency and responsibility (Norwich, in press*). Approaches located in restorative justice principles, which require engagement of all and focus upon restoring relationships address this deficit.

  1.2  Teachers' perceptions about the causes of pupils' behaviour are important factors in the way they subsequently respond (Maras, 1996; Maras et al., 1997, 2000; Mavropoulou & Padeliadu, 2002; Pintrich & Schunk, 2002; Weiner, 1992).

  1.3  Research on effective interventions includes: peer mediation around bullying (Smith, 1999), "Circles of Friends" interventions (Newton et al., 1995, Frederickson & Turner, 2003), social skills training (Maddern et al., 2004), peer tutoring and mentoring (Maras, 2001; Maras et al., 2000; Southwick, Morgan, Vythilingam, & Charney, 2005) and moral reasoning (Kuhn & Udell, 2003; Leman & Björnberg, 2010).

  1.4  Psychologists have found that early intervention work with teachers reduces disaffection and improves pupils' behaviour (BPS, 2009; Cooper & Whitebread, 2007; Murphy, 2005). Clarity in communicating successfully with pupils with conduct problems is essential; aggressive adolescents can attribute ambiguous teachers' intentions as hostile and personal (Wyatt and Haskett, 2001).

2.   Understanding challenging behaviour by pupils in schools and its impact

  2.1  Challenging behaviour generates intense emotions in staff, parents and pupils. Psychological interventions to help teachers manage deleterious and demoralising emotional responses have been positively evaluated (Bozic & Carter, 2002; Hanko, 1999; Stringer et al., 1992)

  2.2  There is persistence of commonly reported sex differences in the prevalence and type of behaviour difficulties; teachers' perceptions of young men's emotional difficulties are significantly lower than their estimations of young women's, compared with perceptions of behavioural difficulties (Maras & Cooper, 1999).

  2.3  The nature of difficult behaviour, and how to address it, change with age; teenagers tend to become more negative around the ages of 13 to 15 (Maras et al, 2007) and show stronger affiliation with their peers and lower affiliation with their schools or families (Maras, in press*). This is also the age when they are now required to make important decisions about their education, including GCSEs, which will affect their future educational and employment opportunities. Life events such as school change, educational stress and general life worries often co-occur at this time (Maras et al., 2006). If at this critical time pupils do not have adequate support systems then anti-social behaviour becomes more likely.

  2.4  Changes in adolescence, including neurological changes are likely to impact on emotions and behaviour (eg see Eisenberg et al., 2005; Sisk & Zehr, 2005). Pupils struggling with the transitional process may manifest their difficulties in sudden outbursts of inappropriate behaviour or detachment from their new environment (Morgan (1999). Kee Tony (2003), found positive correlations between negative attributional style and self-reported school discipline problems, such as the use of foul language, bullying, habitual lateness, substance use, property damage, cheating and truancy.

  2.5  DeWit et al. (2000) reported correlations between school culture characterised by perceptions of low teacher and classmate support, pupil conflict, unfair school rules and disciplinary practices, and low pupil autonomy and low attachment to learning and peer approval of deviance.

3.   Approaches taken by schools and local authorities to address challenging behaviour, including fixed-term and permanent exclusions

  3.1  Professionals' perceptions about young people are likely to affect young people's attitudes towards schools, subsequent behaviour and their own roles as agents in changing that behaviour in a negative way (Maras, Brosnan, Faulkner, Montgomery & Vital, 2006).

  3.2  Reid (2008) suggests that at least 10 aspects are crucial to a framework and strategies for improving school behaviour and attendance: school leadership; school transitions; the quality of pastoral support; training and professional development; internal school structures and organisation; parental involvement; pupils' voices; early intervention; multi-agency working; and finally, the role of the education social work service.

  3.3  Young offenders sentenced in court have often been excluded from school. Parsons (2009) has shown that an alternative curriculum, whether managed in school or at other sites, is a key strategy for keeping young people involved with education where they might otherwise be on the streets.

  3.4  School ethos is important. Well-disciplined schools create a whole-school environment that is conducive to good discipline rather than reacting to particular incidents. Prevention rather than punishment is central. Head teachers play a key role in developing policies and practices alongside other key members of staff, and teachers as a whole are committed to the pupils and their work. Most routine discipline problems are dealt with by teachers themselves, and there are strong links with parents and community agencies (Wayson et al., 1982).

  3.5  Schools with high levels of communal organisation show more orderly behaviour. Schools differ in their degree of community, collegial relations being central to this, coupled with a role for teachers which frequently bring them into contact with other staff and pupils outside of the classroom (Bryk & Driscoll, 1988).

  3.6  Attitudes of staff, particularly senior management and head teachers, are important in explaining the different rates of exclusions between similar schools (Maras et al., in press*[19]). There is a tendency for higher rates of exclusion in schools where staff believe that they do not have the power to address issues of poor behaviour (Maxwell, 1987).

  3.7  Secondary schools with low levels of disruptive behaviour have pastoral care systems with the aim of enhancing educational progress. Tutors are the core of pastoral care, pastoral care for teachers is in evidence and the school climate promotes discussion of disruptive behaviour without recrimination (Galloway, 1983).

  3.8  Positive outcomes have been documented from the adoption of multi-disciplinary teams within schools, and on-site learning support (Hallam & Castle, 1999a; 2001) as well as following the employment of home-school links workers (Hallam & Castle, 1999b; Castle & Hallam, 2002).

  3.9  Behaviour audits enable schools to identify particular difficulties, allowing schools to explore issues relating to school climate, policies and practices across the school, as well as identifying those pupils at risk of exclusion who may then be offered additional support.

  3.10  Benefits have been identified from the appointment of lead behaviour professionals, learning mentors, home-school links workers, Behaviour and Educational Support Teams, nurture groups, alternative curricula, parenting programmes and therapeutic activities. The most effective schemes are those where there is whole school support, and which are integrated into whole school policy.

  3.11  Classroom teachers need to establish an "activity system" which includes attention to goals, tasks, social structure, timing and pacing and resources. These activities need to be planned and managed to support good behaviour (Doyle, 1990). Where teachers are pressured to take increased responsibility for standards of attainment they tend to become more controlling and the development of learner autonomy is reduced with potentially negative effects on behaviour (Ryan et al., 1985).

  3.12  Pupils can participate in addressing behaviour issues by engaging with school councils and school leadership programmes. Pupils need to internalise the need for responsible behaviour and value it for the benefits which accrue to themselves as well as others. Strategies for fostering and developing prosocial attitudes should be explored and developed alongside those targeting antisocial behaviour.

4.   Engaging parents and carers in managing their children's challenging behaviour

  4.1  Tensions can often exist between teachers and parents around instances of difficult behaviour (Hanko, 1999, Dowling & Osborne, 1995). Psychological research has demonstrated that teachers, parents and pupils can often hold clashing beliefs about:

    — the major causes of difficult behaviour in schools (Miller et al., 2000, Miller et al., 2002; Norwich, Cooper & Maras, 2002); teachers consistently see home backgrounds as the principal cause of the misbehaviour and a large scale national study involving the parents and teachers of over 2,000 pupils found that parents and teachers differed significantly in their estimations of the extent of an individual child's difficulties;

    — the ways in which parents can most effectively support schools in managing behaviour, (Miller et al., 1998); and

    — the persons who are most able to effect positive changes (Miller & Black, 2001).

  4.2  Systematic collations of highly successful interventions involving educational psychologists, teachers and parents have revealed the nature of the consultative skills displayed by psychologists in moving potentially explosive situations towards positive outcomes valued by all parties (Miller, 2003).

  4.3  Studies highlight the value of incorporating support for parents or caregivers into interventions. A wide range of proven parenting programmes is now available including Parent Support Advisers, dedicated expert parenting practitioners and the increased availability of "Think Family" services. although the majority of parents attend these programmes voluntarily, some must to do so because they have been issued with a Parenting Contract or Order (DCFS, 2010a).

5.   How special educational needs can best be recognised in schools' policies on behaviour and discipline

  5.1  Pupils with behaviour difficulties are not a homogeneous group but can be typified under at least eight headings, including: delinquency, emotional difficulties, behavioural difficulties, emotional and behavioural difficulties, social problems, challenging behaviour associated with learning difficulties, and mental health problems (Maras, 2001). Individual pupils rarely fall under one category and they therefore require different and targeted interventions.

  5.2  The term anti-social behaviour has a generality about it that encompasses both disturbed and disturbing behaviour (Norwich, in press*). The 2009 Home Office definition of anti-social behaviour which informed a policy framework with powers to address the regeneration of disadvantaged areas, gave powers to antisocial behaviour that could be applied to 10-17 year olds (Norwich, in press*). This definition does not lend itself easily to a special needs framework within which the types of difficulties encountered by many pupils with disturbed behaviour might be best located.

  5.3  It is important to distinguish between school level processes and the exceptional needs of certain individual pupils. Today, most pupils with SENs are educated in mainstream schools; mainstream education and the nature and level of support that they receive will vary from region to region.

  5.4  Research shows that young people attending behavioural support units and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) have accurate perception of their behavioural and conduct difficulties. In the same study, young people scoring high on the hyperactivity tended to attribute significant amounts of blame to themselves for negative events, suggesting a greater tendency towards problems in these areas (Maras et al., 2006); evidence suggests that high levels of negative attributional style in childhood are linked to later depression in adulthood (Hilsman & Garber, 1995).

  5.5  Current methods of identifying young people's difficulties in school and the subsequent targeting of appropriate interventions remain very much dependent on teachers' and others' judgements rather than common agreed criteria.

  5.6  Tabassam and Grainger (2002) found that pupils with learning disabilities and/or AD/HD had an overall negative attributional style, whereas typically achieving pupils report an overall positive attributional style for academic success and failure.

  5.7  Ofsted (2003) reports that only one third of secondary schools adequately meet the needs of pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties; in fact 64% of the pupils given permanent exclusions in that same year had special educational needs (Boyle & Goodall, 2005, as sited in McIntyre-Bhatty, 2008).

6.   Alternative provision for pupils excluded from school due to their behaviour

  6.1  Improving behaviour in school depends on addressing a range of inter-related issues at the whole-school, classroom and individual pupil level (Gottredson et al., 1993).

  6.2  A distinction is commonly made between the extent to which orderly behaviour can be brought about by effective school policies and classroom management skills, and the size of that proportion of pupils who require specialist and individualised interventions.

  6.3  Research in primary schools has shown that even pupils judged by their teachers to be most extreme in their behaviour can be "brought around" by effective interventions devised between teachers and educational psychologists (Miller, 2003).

  6.4  Opportunities for pupils who are not inclined, or best suited, to follow current conventional educational routes geared toward further education are common across Europe and elsewhere; however, they are more generally only offered to pupils as a last resort as part of a portfolio of alternative education.

  6.5  Research and practice in psychology has shown that effective school level processes can positively influence some pupils judged extremely difficult to manage (Miller, 2003). Conversely, some detailed individual management strategies, with their roots in psychological research, have been shown to have wider implications for more general practice within schools (Maras, 2001).

  6.6  In terms of these interventions with individual pupils, a large and convincing evidence-base demonstrates the effectiveness of approaches based on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (Graham, 2004) and Solution Focused Brief Therapy (Rhodes & Ajmal, 1995, Young & Holdrof, 2003).

7.   Links between attendance and behaviour in schools

  Lloyd-Nesling (2006) provides evidence linking pupil disaffection in areas of socio-economic disadvantage to effective or ineffective school leadership. The evidence from research suggests that effective school leadership can be improved in terms of managing pupils' behaviour and attendance by:

    — Encouraging parents and the wider community to feel part of the school process;

    — Creating stability in the school's organisational structure;

    — Being consistent with disciplinary, behaviour and attendance policies;

    — Encouraging senior pupils to act as role models;

    — Encouraging pupil involvement in the day-to-day school life and implementing a culture of shared visions and goals, high expectations and a positive ethos; and

    — Addressing issues of bullying, including verbal and cyber bullying (as cited in Reid, 2008).

8.   The Government's proposals regarding teachers' powers to search pupils, removal of the requirement for written notice of detentions outside school hours, and the extent of teachers' disciplinary powers, as announced by the Department on 7 July[MU1].

  8.1  We recognise perennial concerns about the balance between pupil behaviour and discipline and the appropriate provision and tensions between the care/welfare and the justice/control approaches (Macleod, 2006; Norwich, in press*).

  8.2  There may be times that require urgent school action. A key factor in managing pupil behaviour relates to the disciplinary climate of schools. Longstanding but still valid research identified four types of climate: controlled (low misbehaviour, severe punishment); conflictual (high misbehaviour, severe punishment); libertarian (high misbehaviour, light punishment); autonomous (low misbehaviour, light punishment) (Cohen & Thomas, 1984).

  8.3  It is clear from work in low and zero excluding schools and Local Authorities that managed moves and/or alternatives to exclusion, that these approaches are likely to be more fruitful and less socially and financially costly.

  We hope that these initial comments are useful to you. We would be happy to provide a more in-depth submission if that would be of use to the Select Committee Inquiry.

October 2010

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19   References marked "in press*" in this response, refer to British Journal of Educational Psychology Monograph: Psychology and anti-social behaviour in schools (Maras, Demetre & Tolmie (Eds) forthcoming), see end of our submission for full reference list Back

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