The 23-point behaviour policy

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
N/A Gold N/A
1 1st warning none
2 2nd warning none
3 name on board none
4 Silver none
5 1st warning none
6 2nd warning none
7 name on board none
8 Bronze none
9 1st warning none
10 2nd warning none
11 name on board none
12 Ruby Phonecall Home

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.

gold star

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.


March 2015

Update: The school has a new head and the behavior policy has been changed. The 23-point behaviour policy – revised.

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27 Responses to The 23-point behaviour policy

  1. Bang on and beautifully dissected – thanks! I’ve worked in so many schools where this type of system is blindly employed to no avail. It’s counter to most positive behaviour management strategies and almost unmanageable usually. If you want a peek, my post’s here but I think you’ve done a far better job!

    • Interesting post! I particularly agree with your point about moving names down a behavior chart being mistaken for a consequence, when in fact it’s just a warning.

      “The consequence should not be a card being turned, or a name being moved because that is not a consequence.”

  2. What does the school administration think it’s doing? At my elementary school, talking could lead to loss of recess or some other problem. It taught us to behave and made us better students. These unruly kids are basically learning that they can do whatever they want and it won’t matter as long as they know when to stop. I wonder what that’ll do to them when they become adults.

  3. segmation says:

    Being a teacher can be hard especially with policies like this. I hope your blog reaches people in your district so positive changes can be made. I hope that the teacher you covered for long-term stress has a full and safe recovery.

  4. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  5. Wow…what a grim situation….you just presented it appropriately….

  6. tinakmeyer says:

    That is just insane! And ridiculous. Talk about letting the kids dictate the tone of the school. The Head is delusional.

  7. Anthea says:

    Wow. That sounds awful. I think the main problem is that the students have a lot of rights, but no responsibilities to go with those rights.

  8. gettingtopenn says:

    Behavior is one of the things we need to look at when we look at improving our school system and I think this article clearly demonstrates that. We notice differentiations in the quality of education at different schools, and I truly believe it comes down to the schools disciplinary policy. A school fraught with distractions is a school where quality of education is lower. Great post, thanks for sharing!

  9. mumsthewordintheuk says:

    That is bad senior management right there. Ours is glare, verbal warning, name on board, tick next to name then removal to another class and if it continues get the head. If their name goes on the board after 2 in the afternoon it stays on for the next day, this was actioned after we heard two year four boys saying nothing happened if you got told off late afternoon . A poor behaviour policy leads to low level disruption and a poor learning environment. I bet you needed a lie down in a dark room!

    • Amazing how quickly some children realise how to ‘get around’ the threat of sanctions. And too many members of SMT think that’s the fault of the class teacher!

  10. I am a substitute teacher. I’ve been subbing for 4 years now and I understand and agree with absolutely everything you’ve written here. I’m ashamed to say, I was once one of those people who said, “teachers have it easy and they get summers off.” It was out of pure ignorance I spoke. My husband and I have raised our children to be respectful, polite and kind. Today, we have two teens who hold doors for people, offer chairs, say please and thank you…and they are both A students.
    When I began subbing, I blindly assumed I’d be teaching children who behaved like mine. I was ill-prepared for what I walked into. I wrote a post about student behavior a few days ago – though I keep my posts short and try retaining humor whenever possible – this post was difficult to do so.
    I believe the difference today with students today is they lack any idea that they should be respectful to one another and to the adults in the room – and without the concept of respect – learning will not happen as it should or as it could…
    AnnMarie 🙂
    I’m an optimist at heart, I believe things will reach a tipping point and bad behavior will fall out of fashion. Hopefully, with a little help from the media – who these days seem to reward/glorify bad behavior…

    • There are a lot of poorly behaved children out there, many of whom are let down by poor behaviour policies and ineffectual management. But there are also some wonderfully responsive and polite children who make the job worthwhile. These children are probably like yours, and they’re the ones that keep me going on bad days. Chin up! 🙂

  11. aoifemalone says:

    That is ridiculous, how are these kids supposed to grow up and live like normal people in society if they can’t even sit down + behave for a few hours in school! Crazy.

  12. PoshPedlar says:

    Empathise entirely as a teacher in the UK – we have no sanctions, the pupils know this. Lack of discipline and couldn’t care less attitude does not bode well for the future.

  13. kpasha says:

    Reblogged this on kpasha.

  14. Shannon says:

    This behavior problem is ridiculous. When I was in elementary school they had the “flip the card” system, but there was only three levels and the only warning you go was before the very last level, which meant a call home to mom and dad. In addition to the call home, we were punished at school by having silent lunch (having to sit with the teacher) or was made to sit out during recess, given a worksheet to do during that time. We got progress notes written in our planners by our teachers at then end of the week anyway, for attitude and academic reasons. Kids are getting by with way too much today, and I believe no one, not even the kids, are benefiting from the system they have for your school.

  15. It must be fun to be a student in that class!

  16. rhonwynalyna says:

    Where I have taught in the past they use a three point policy. 1:Warning, 2: note home, 3: call home and office visit. To go for 23 points before a consequence is purely asinine.

  17. Pingback: The 23-point behaviour policy – revisited | The Modern Miss

  18. sarahtiggy2 says:

    And that pretty much sums up why I have left teaching for a while. Calling out sends such a trivial thing, until you have it happen over and over again, and it clearly signals that, at best, the child is only listening for the words they can use as a prompt to call out something stupid; or, at worst, they’re just not listening at all. Placing the responsibility on the class teacher is another classic way of SM avoiding the issue, and being able to point the finger of blame at a clear, and helpless, target.

  19. ageekofnoimportance says:

    The mistake that everyone including the school, the blogger, and most of the commenters are making is think that the key to addressing challenging behaviour is rewards and sanctions. Our children are not dogs that need to be trained – they are children who need to be understood. All behaviour is communication and in order to address challenging behaviour we need to listen to that communication, work out what is wrong, and address any unmet needs that the children my have.

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