Behavioural issues in schools in 2023
What are the main behavioural issues in schools in 2023 – and what steps are schools taking to improve them?
Almost as old as the ‘trads vs progs’ debate in education is the debate around approaches to behaviour management. On one side of the debate are the those that advocate rules-based systems with rewards and sanctions, and the other side being those that advocate a relationships-based or restorative practice approach. In many cases, the debates on Twitter/X and other platforms are highly polarised: ranging from those that purport to use ‘zero tolerance’ approaches and highly regimented disciplinary systems, to those who claim that all behaviour is communication, put the burden upon teachers to restore relationships, advocate ‘trauma-informed’ approaches or take the position that school exclusions are never acceptable from a social justice point of view.
There are many experts, commentators and characters in this space, often lionised or demonised depending upon your own perspective. Katharine Birbalsingh is the self-appointed ‘Britain’s Strictest Headmistress’ and is never shy in expressing a controversial view but also achieves outstanding progress for students at Michaela school. Tom Bennett is the Department for Education’s behaviour advisor and founder of ResearchEd and has written about his approach in his influential book ‘Running the Room . He is currently briefing against the growth of trauma informed practices and the approach undertaken in Glasgow by Maureen McKenna to dramatically reduce exclusions. Paul Dix has championed a relational behaviour management approach in his popular book ‘When the Adults Change, Everything Changes’. Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion has also been highly influential and combines approaches to teaching and learning based in cognitive science alongside classroom management techniques such as SLANT to secure student attention.
Whichever philosophy you subscribe to, I believe that all of the practitioners and researchers mentioned seek the same end goal: an inclusive and safe environment where learning can take place with no disruption and that all children are able to achieve their academic and social potential.
Thinking about issues facing schools in 2023, there is a concern that behaviour has taken a turn for the worse after the pandemic. The lockdowns and periods of remote schooling have deprived some children of the chance to develop social awareness, read cues and interact positively with their peers. The effect seems to be most noticeable where students have missed out on key transition and settling experiences, such as moving from infant to junior school or adapting to large secondary schools through year 6 into 7. There is a concern about poverty, the cost-of-living crisis and increased stress upon families, leaving children vulnerable and schools often having to step in to meet basic needs such as providing food and clothes. And as a recent headteacher, I can certainly say that the behaviour of some parents has become more demanding, often challenging disciplinary sanctions and reaching for the complaint/governors/local authority/Ofsted as the first rather than the last step. And who in schools isn’t aware of the scourge of vaping (the disposable variety are endemic in schools despite it being illegal to sell them to under 18s) and the recurring debate about banning mobile phones in all circumstances.
The data to support the anecdotal views is lagged – the latest national data is from 2021/22 when there was still Covid-related disruption, but it does show some growth in both suspensions and permanent exclusions, although permanent exclusions continue to be at a very low level (0.08%), suggesting that school leaders view this as a last resort.
The key to success is the classroom and being able to have safe, happy learning communities is having a clear behaviour policy. It needs to reflect the school values and be absolutely simple for children, staff and parents to understand. In reality, most schools have taken a pragmatic blend of rules and relational approaches.
A wise colleague once explained to me ‘some children follow rules, others follow people.’ Having a clear set of rules with expectations set high gives children safety and structure. It also protects staff and gives them the space to teach. There is little point in continuing to suspend a looked-after child whose behaviour is clearly impacted by their adverse childhood experiences. They probably need support from a counsellor or other trusted adult to try to repair some of the trauma experienced earlier in life. Equally, some children just like to mess the supply teacher about and need to be sanctioned in order to modify their behaviour and hold them to account with parents. There is no deep-seated cause, they are just children trying it on! Having a clear policy with detailed descriptions of which behaviour will be rewarded or sanctioned and how this escalates is crucial to having a consistent system that children and students trust and can be defended with parents. Ensure that governors give their full understanding and support to the behaviour policy, as they may be the ones required to review if there is a complaint or a disciplinary panel is convened for an exclusion.
Bromcom has a highly flexible behaviour module that should be able to model your policy, rather than your policy having to fit within system constraints. One of the most useful aspects of the system is the ‘Pathways’ concept that can create a workflow that removes much of the manual drudgery of administering the behaviour system. Actions can trigger events (e.g. 15 positive points triggers a Bronze Award) or three late marks in a week or 10 negative points in a day triggers a lunchtime detention.
The system can also be configured to trigger alerts (e.g. to a form tutor or head or year), watchlists being updated, referrals made, or being placed on report. Early communication with parents via the My Child at School app can also be enabled, and a distinction made between internal comments (that may name other children, for instance) versus a comment or reason that is shared with the parent. Dashboards and reports on behaviour can be easily configured to allow monitoring, including if there are trends in certain staff over or under using the system, if there are hotspots in locations for bullying or if any sub group are being over represented in sanctions (e.g. SEND students or particular ethnicities.)
In conclusion, have a clear policy that is aligned with your school values and is easily understood by all, and then use Bromcom to design workflows and systems to ease communication and remove manual steps from the process.