‘Significant minority’ is an often-used phrase describing small groups of student who have negative influences on the behaviour of others. How can schools prevent this occurring, and how can they prevent the minority becoming a majority?

To try to get a clear perspective of the problem affecting the significant minority, it is easier to think in terms of teaching groups rather than the school population as a whole. Within a typical class group of approximately 25-30 students, individuals tend to fit into the following categories:

  1. No problem: Can always be relied on to be on task and follow school/classroom expectations.
  2. Constant problem: Their chronic poor behaviour disrupts and challenges the smooth running of the classroom, sometimes escalating into severe problems.
  3. The floating voter: This is the group of students who could go either way. On some occasions they fit neatly into group one, but with only a little encouragement or distraction from peers they can easily become disruptive and challenging – in other words, group two.

Groups one and two generally have the smallest numbers, while group three provides the bulk of the class group. The key point of today’s article is to recognise these groups and to use your school systems and rules, and your own style of management, to ensure that students understand your expectations and that they make good choices regarding their own behaviour. This should reduce the numbers of students who, for whatever reason (peer pressure, attention-seeking) are in danger of joining group two.

Changing overall behaviour patterns by encouraging all students to make good choices over their own behaviour seems to be a good way forward. This is relatively easy to set as a target, but more difficult to put into practice. What steps can you take, and what practical techniques and strategies are currently available to you within the whole-school system and in your own teaching and learning environments? Practical Tips Best-practice for all schools in managing the ‘significant minority’ is to be clear and consistent in teaching and in applying the agreed school rules and expectations. Ensure that all students are involved in the construction of the rules through discussion, recording and evaluating. Establish effective working systems to enable students to have a voice on matters relating to behaviour, i.e. pupil voice, school council, classroom and tutor group discussions.

When thinking about the consistent approach to embedding school rules, don’t make the mistake of assuming that students know and understand them. Behaviour expectations should be taught and made reference to as often as possible. Teaching and non-teaching staff alike need to model appropriate behaviour, as well as using the hierarchy of rewards to reinforce expectations. While the practical everyday use of school rules, rewards and, where necessary, sanctions can have a dramatic effect on student behaviour, it is equally important to create an environment in which students and teachers alike can feel safe, listened to, enthused and happy. There is a direct link between thoughts, feelings, perceptions and outward behaviour. Students who want to be part of the school or individual classroom and enjoy the social environment will invariably make good choices about their behaviour.

The influences and feelings that affect you on a daily basis have the same influence on student behaviour. On a typical working day, how would you score your state of mind or attitude according to the scale below?

1 = I’m not happy, I don’t really want to be here –> 10 = I feel great and am really looking forward to the day

Your mood and behaviour will inevitably be influenced by any issues you bring from home. But what else has an effect on your behaviour?

  • How welcoming is the building (signage, litter, graffiti, staffroom)?
  • How was your journey to work (traffic, weather, buses)?
  • Who did you meet on your way to work?

All of the above have an effect on not just your behaviour but also that of students. Their journeys to school will influence their behaviour just as much as the social groupings, the way in which they are welcomed into the building/lesson/tutor group and what lies ahead during the day.

In managing or reducing the ‘significant minority’, time and care should be taken over the bigger picture. Merely concentrating on individual behaviour and strategies may not have the long-lasting effect you are seeking; it’s far better to consider the whole-school experience. Perhaps you could make a start by getting students to take part in the social aspects of National Walk to School Week (17-21 May). Apart from the obvious benefits of exercise and a reduction of cars involved in the school run, a walk to school also presents the opportunity for self-control and social interaction. It’s worth taking the time to speak to students on the positive aspects of walking to school, including:

  • meeting up with friends they don’t normally see before school starts
  • having the opportunity to mix and chat to students out of their normal year/peer groups
  • being responsible for getting themselves ready and being on time.

In the same way that we as adults prepare ourselves for the day ahead through responsibility and social interaction, so students develop similar skills through a change of routine and a walk to school. Again, don’t assume that students will know how to benefit from the change of routine: you will need to discuss, teach and encourage.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2010

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