It’s important for a school to have a behaviour policy, it’s important for both the children and the staff as well as the coherent running of the school.
It’s also important that it works.
I spent today in a primary school, with two classes of 28 (Year 6) and 23 (Year 4). It felt more like being pitted against the combined armies of Genghis Khan and Stalin.
At the start of the day I was told that the school was lucky, it had some troublesome pupils in the past, but that now there were no behavioural issues at all. Previously, there were three or four exclusions a month, both internal and fixed-term external ones. Now though, there were no exclusions at all, that the behaviour never escalated to that level and the school was hoping to lose the ‘Requires Improvement‘ label. The key to this, I was told, lies in the school’s behaviour policy.
The school implements a decreasing behavior policy, using coloured cards. Each child starts the day on Gold, then, if their behaviour is poor, they are put on Silver, then Bronze, then Ruby. At this point, the child’s parents are telephoned and informed of their child’s poor behaviour. The head assured me that this rarely happens, as the children do not want to be in trouble at home. In fact, since Easter only one child had got this far down the behaviour chart.
I started teaching in the Year 6 class, and it soon became apparent that this was not going to be as calm as the head had led me to believe. Darren started the calling out, which was then picked up by Perry and Sam. Once they had calmed down, Maisie and Ella started. After which, Darren, Perry and Sam resumed the offensive. This continued the whole morning.
I diligently implemented the school’s behavior system, and checked with the TA that I was doing so correctly as it didn’t seem to be having much of an impact. At break-time I retreated back to the staffroom in search of a coffee and a chat with the TA to restore my sanity. I asked again about the behavior policy and at what point the children were sent out of the classroom for disruption, either to the Head, or into another class. I was informed that this simply didn’t happen.
The head had entered the staffroom whilst I had been talking to the TA and had overheard some of the conversation. She reiterated that children were never sent out of the room unless it was for reasons of first-aid or because they had been excessively violent to another child. In truth, the children, although rude and disruptive, did not strike me as particularly likely to become “excessively violent”. This probably explains why no children were ever sent out of the room. Furthermore, I was told that behaviour management was entirely the responsibility of the class teacher, and that if I followed the behaviour chart policy to the letter, no child would ever reach the point of having a phone call made to their parents. Something which, incidentally, the class teacher was responsible for doing, not the head.
I can certainly believe that few children reach the point at which their parents are called. But this is due to the ridiculous behavior policy, and not the good behaviour of the class.
For each of the ‘lower’ behaviour grades (Silver, Bronze and Ruby), the children had to be issued with both first and second warnings. On the face of it, it seems almost reasonable. Until, that is, you see exactly how that relates to a consequence. The children did not miss break or lunchtime play as that would be ‘detrimental to their well-being‘. They would not be prevented form taking part in any school activities, such as art, PE or golden time, as that was ‘infringing their academic rights‘. The only consequence to poor behaviour was the phone-call home.
In addition to the ‘warnings’ the children had their name written on the board before they were moved down to the next level. This effectively acted as a third warning.
|Misbehaviour incident||Behaviour chart level||Consequence|
|3||name on board||none|
|7||name on board||none|
|11||name on board||none|
As the morning progressed, the children slowly worked their way down the behaviour chart, ending up on the 9th or 10th level. I reminded them that although we were not yet at lunchtime, they were a long way past the half-way point on the chart.
The children laughed. And carried on.
At lunchtime I sat in despair in the staffroom, getting through far more coffee than is really healthy. Other members of staff assured me that my afternoon in Year 4 would be much better, and that Year 6 were notoriously difficult.
As I walked into the Year 4 class I noticed that two of the children were on stage 4 of the behaviour chart, only one of them had fallen as far as stage 8. The rest were all still on Gold. As the children entered I pointed out that some of them would have to be careful not to fall any further, otherwise I would have to call their parents.
This caused quite a commotion amongst the children, and as I attempted to make sense of their grumbling, the TA in that class informed me that the behaviour chart was always reset after lunch – all the children started again on Gold.
This means that, in effect, the children can each misbehave on 22 occasions each day before triggering a consequence on the 23rd occasion. Not surprisingly, they are fully aware of this.
In a class of 28, with each child potentially able to misbehave 22 times, that adds up to 616 incidences of misbehaviour every day. Admittedly, if the children are only engaging in low-level disruption, that’s probably no more serious* than 616 cases of talking out of turn. But is it acceptable? Or even reasonable?
Can anyone really be expected to maintain order in those circumstances? Even though there were only 5 children who were misbehaving, that equates to a maximum of 110 interruptions before the children face any consequence whatever.
This is the worst example of a behaviour policy that I have come across, but there are others which have also involved chance after chance after chance. How many chances do children require? How many warnings? What are we really teaching them by never letting them reach the ‘consequences’? What exactly does a child learn from this?
Incidentally, the teacher I was covering in Year 6 is off with long-term stress.
*Personally, I think more than one instance of talking out of turn is serious, but I’m beginning to suspect I may be alone in this.
Update: The school has a new head and the behavior policy has been changed. The 23-point behaviour policy – revised.