Behaviour and Discipline

Behaviour and discipline should be key factors in determining your choice of school. Poor student behaviour means a lack of boundaries, security, and access to equality of opportunity for your child. If students are poorly behaved, it is likely that the teacher will expend more time on those who are disrupting, than on those behaving well. It is tempting for a child to join in with poor behaviour rather than stay on task, when their peers do not. When I have interviewed students, the most common reason they give for misbehaviour is the fact that their friends misbehave. A child’s friendship groups usually have a greater influence on their actions than their desire to achieve. If behaviour is poor in the classroom there is no guarantee, whatever your expectations of your child, that they will behave well. A school that has cracked behaviour and discipline is most likely to give your child a fair chance at reaching their potential.

  • Good discipline is largely determined by the teacher. In the right school for your child, the majority of teachers must be good disciplinarians.
  • Good disciplinarians are not necessarily teachers who shout or are aggressive. The best disciplinarian is a teacher who can maintain control through a calm, confident manner.
  • Well behaved classes are not necessarily those which work in silence. In fact, the best classes for learning are often where there is work related talk going on, but when silence is needed, it must be easily attained and maintained.
  • Every school, no matter how successful, will have some teachers who are weak disciplinarians. However, the school should have an overall ethos of good discipline and behaviour, which counteracts the limitations of individual staff.
  • Most schools have a behaviour policy. To be of any value, it must be put into action.
  • Some schools have a behaviour code that is drawn up with the students and on display in every classroom. To involve students in defining a code is a positive step, but only if it is consistently carried out. Many schools have a clear and easily understood list of rules. If they are internalised by the students and applied by staff, then they are likely to be effective.
  • There must be a behaviour and discipline structure that works and the students believe in. Children must know that if they misbehave, clear sanctions will be enacted. They must understand that the sanctions become progressively more serious, and that they will, in due course, be referred to more senior staff. Students must not believe that they can get away with things.
  • If there is a culture where low levels of misbehaviour are not dealt with properly, then this will undermine effective teaching and learning. There should be attention to detail. If the details are taken care of, then the big picture will fall into place. For example, if a school insists that students take their coats off in class and an individual teacher fails to apply this rule, then this teacher has no purchase over the students if they commit a greater misdemeanour.
  • Students should always follow the reasonable requests of teachers.
  • Misbehaviour should be the exception to the rule, never the norm.
  • Every school must have a ‘bottom line’member of senior management, with whom, as far as the students are concerned, if they misbehave, the buck stops. This might be the Head teacher, or a Deputy. This person should have such a reputation, that the students would rather anything else happened, than be sent to them.
  • Student behaviour is usually good, if there is a visible senior staff presence which deters children from misbehaving. In some schools, as teachers get promoted to Assistant Head teacher, Deputy or Head, they deal less and less with students.This is not a good model. If good behaviour is to be maintained consistently then the senior team must have a hands on approach to behaviour and discipline.
  • In the right school for your child, the senior team should be seen everywhere.There should be no corner of the school, nor time of the school day where and when students think they can misbehave. The senior team should be visible at lesson changeover times, at the beginning and the end of break times and at the school gate at the beginning and end of the day. They should be talking to and challenging students all the time.
  • The Head teacher must have the strength and the confidence to levy strong sanctions for serious misdemeanours. If a Head teacher balks at giving out serious sanctions, students will believe that they can get away with things.
  • Sanctions should be consistent and clear. Students should know, for example, that if they swear at a teacher, then clear action will be taken. If such an incident occurs, then the whole class should immediately be confident that serious action will follow which identifies the culprit, and punishes them appropriately. It is no good if there is a climate where if a teacher is sworn at, the students think something might happen, but on a given day, it might not.
  • It is a cause for concern if all staff do not see it as their individual and collective responsibility to maintain good behaviour. In this climate, students will think they can misbehave if certain staff are present. They will not get a consistent message. In the right school for your child all staff will take on the mantle of maintaining discipline and behaviour at all times.
  • Sanctions should in part be dependent on a student’s record. For example, the first time a student swears at a teacher, a fixed exclusion of a certain number of days could be meted out to them. If the student offends again, then the temporary exclusion should be lengthened. When the student swears for a second time at the teacher, the rest of the class should be clear that they are in greater trouble, because this misdemeanour has happened before.
  • It is a cause for concern if staff are afraid of students. Sometimes in schools there is a small core of students that most staff do not challenge because they are concerned about confrontation or retaliation. Staff think that if they challenge these students, they will be abused. The right school for your child needs to be somewhere where all staff feel empowered to take on all students. There will never be a school that is free of rudeness or back chat. But there are schools where if a student does talk back to a teacher who challenges them, the teacher knows that the behaviour system will support them, and further action will be taken. If a teacher feels supported, they will consistently challenge students appropriately.

Further Information

Open Evening/Visits

Look for school rules or a code of conduct in every classroom. Then look to see these implemented at first hand during your visit. Ask a pupil, what would happen to them if they, for example, spoke back to a teacher. You want an answer that makes it quite clear that students get into trouble for this, and that it does not happen regularly. It is a cause for concern if you find out that ‘nothing really happens’. Ask students if there are certain rules – things that they know they cannot do, for example, chew gum in class. If they say ‘yes’, and in most classes and school areas, this rule is adhered to, then that is a good sign. Remember that there will always be some glitches in any well applied system. If however, students are aware of no such rules, then this is a cause for concern. It is also not a good sign if they acknowledge such rules exist but admit they are rarely or inconsistently applied.

Make sure you see the school in action. In the majority of the lessons, children should be on task, and there should not be students roaming unsupervised around the corridors. It is a cause for concern if you see students misbehaving and a teacher either being ignored or ignoring the misdemeanour. It is not a problem if, on occasion, you see misbehaviour. In fact, it shows you are seeing the school as it really is.What is a problem is if the bad behaviour is not always addressed.

Case Study


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