As behaviour policies and classroom rules are being finalised for the new term ahead, Behaviour Matters reminds staff of their responsibilities in ensuring compliance and consistency to the agreed policies

For existing readers of these articles, welcome back from the summer break. And for anyone new to Behaviour Matters, I trust you will find all the articles useful in addressing the behaviour issues within the teaching and learning environment.

By their very nature behaviour policies need careful planning, agreement and consistent application, as well as regular evaluation and review. In practice the agreed policies or classroom rules should be clear statements of what is expected of student behaviour in all areas of the school. With these clear guidelines there should also be an agreed structure of response from both staff and student. Put into simple terms, this will read as:

  1. If the rules and guidelines are followed and adhered to, this is what will happen…
  2. If the rules and guidelines are not followed or adhered to, this is what will happen…

Linked to this guidance will often be a hierarchical structure of responses for members of staff to follow (the rewards and sanctions approach).

The strength of this type of approach lies in both the consistency of application and the inevitability of the response. The structure gives clarity to the student in order for them to take responsibility for their actions (ie, there is a clear choice to make regarding your behaviour and the consequences of your choice is absolutely clear for all).

While the strengths of this type of approach are fairly straightforward, there are some problems, mainly associated with how the member of staff undertakes their own responsibility for following the agreed steps within the policy.

Practical tips
As previously noted, part of the strength of a stepped or hierarchical behaviour policy is its inevitability and clarity. Students who make good or poor choices about their own behaviour know exactly what to expect in response.

There are some difficulties and potential weaknesses in this type of approach if staff do not take responsibility for the policy and play their own part on the structure.

It is probably fair to say that the desired outcome of such a behaviour plan or policy is that the student will think about their actions and make good choices regarding their behaviour. The key to the success of such an approach is in the style of response and consistency of the adult. In such a system the responsibility of the adult is in their application of the plan, where they try to use positives wherever possible. However, when sanctions or consequences are required, they should be the lowest response necessary.

The members of staff’s responsibility to ensure that each stage has been used before deciding to move on to the next level of response is ;inked to the practical application of this part of the plan. For example, many behaviour plans have a staged model of response for members of staff to apply:

Level 1 Non-verbal reminder
Level 2 Verbal reminder
Level 3 Verbal warning
Level 4 Refer to head of year or curriculum manager
Level 5 Letter home, etc.

The plan is fine, but if responsibility is not taken at each level, this produces inconsistencies and lack of clarity to the student (who will invariably use the ‘It’s not fair!’ card) – and perhaps worst of all, will fray the tempers of members of staff who can feel:

  1. Nothing is done when I refer students on to other more senior members of staff.
  2. Why are students being referred to me? Why hasn’t this problem been dealt with a lower level?

As the new term begins returning students seek to test the system while new students try to find the flaws. Make sure that you are familiar with all the stages and that lines of communication between members of staff are open and clear.

Good practice for all members of staff will be to record or note (electronically if possible) student behaviour (both good and unacceptable), together with your responses. Date, time and location should all be included in the record with your responses. When the reward or sanction needs to be moved on, it will be clear to all why you have decided to refer the issue on and exactly what has led up to this decision.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in September 2009

About the author: Dave Stott has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a writer, consultant and trainer.