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Behaviour problem in schools nationwide, says expert in report

There is evidence of a national problem with behaviour in schools, according to the Government's behaviour tsar.

Poor conduct remains a significant issue for many schools in England, and there needs to be better ways available to help tackle the problem, Tom Bennett said.

In his review of school behaviour, Mr Bennett also suggested that there is a striking contrast between data gathered by Ofsted and school leaders on behaviour and the experiences of classroom teachers.

And he suggested that there were "perverse incentives" for headteachers to paint their school in the best light.

The report - Creating A Culture: How School Leaders Can Optimise Behaviour - concludes that there is no silver bullet to tackling disruptive conduct.

But it says there are a number of approaches that can be used to deal with the issue, and that good school leadership is key to creating the right culture in a school.

"Is there a national problem with behaviour? The evidence suggests that there is.

"Just as importantly, though, there are many schools that demonstrate it is possible to improve in even the most beleaguered of circumstances," the report concludes.

It says: "Standards of behaviour remain a significant challenge for many schools.

"There are many things that schools can do to improve, and leadership is key to this. Teachers alone, no matter how skilled, cannot intervene with the same impact as a school leader can."

The report also notes: " There is a striking contrast between data gathered from school leaders or school inspectors, and the experiences of front line teachers and students.

"This is partly understandable. School leaders are held to account by their ability to demonstrate they have secured a safe, calm school environment.

"Stakes for leaders are high. It is natural for the most positive interpretation of one's school to be presented publicly, especially in circumstances of external inspection."

Mr Bennett told the Press Association that he would hesitate to say that school leaders are deliberately holding back on behaviour in their schools.

"I'm sure that in some circumstances yes, there probably are some headteachers who are perhaps a bit more conscious of the fact of putting spin on data," he said.

But he added: "I think the vast majority of headteachers try to be as honest and straightforward and play a straight bat as they can."

Giving an example of differences between schools, he said he had seen some where lateness is not recorded as misbehaviour, and other schools where it is.

"Now, if you don't record lateness as a misbehaviour, and you've got lots of lateness, then your behaviour will look much better in formal external data, than it will be if you're a slightly more, shall we say, upfront school which does record that kind of data," Mr Bennett said.

"So there's a lot of variety in practices which can lead to rather misleading data."

He added: "There are many, many headteachers who are perfectly aware of what behaviour is like in their school, and I want to emphasise this, there are a tremendous number of headteachers that are running schools very well.

"However, I think that the practice of many schools could be sharpened up and improved, by being a lot more realistic and perhaps confronting a lot more boldly the types of behaviour that's really going on in their school."

He added: "If you create an inspection system whereby externally gathered data can have enormous consequences on the outcome of your school inspection, and you then put some of those data points in the hands of the people for whom the inspection matters - ie, the schools, then you have created a natural incentive for people to behave in a way that encourages them to present themselves in the best possible light.

"I'm not suggesting that it's corrupt, I'm suggesting that it's human beings reacting as human beings to slightly perverse incentives."

Mr Bennett said that when Ofsted visit a school they take most of their information on the issue from a voluntary survey given to staff and students, as well as informally talking to people.

This can create the wrong impression of the situation in a school, he said, and suggested Ofsted should have a mandatory survey for inspections, the details of which would need to be worked out.

"Ofsted could do a lot better in terms of gathering data on schools in terms of behaviour," he said.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: "We will discuss with the Department for Education matters identified for government which are relevant to Ofsted and consider in detail the recommendations for inspection."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: "It's refreshing that the report recognises the impact of workload on the capacity of staff to deliver positive but time-heavy behaviour interventions, and the need for investment in high-quality behaviour training for teachers during their training and throughout their career.

"However, there are some worrying omissions in this report; special educational needs are hardly mentioned and the role of external agencies for health, child and adolescent mental health services, social care and the police is conspicuous by its absence.

"We are also concerned that the emphasis on the role of school leaders, while obviously important, leaves little space for all school staff to participate in creating a positive culture and designing a whole-school behaviour policy."

The Government said it would be taking a number of measures, including reforming National Professional Qualifications from this September, to give school leaders the knowledge and skills they need to deal with bad behaviour, and conducting further research into what helps young people with behaviour issues.

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