For the vast majority of teachers good behavior management is, understandably, their number one priority. Without it, even the best planning and most interesting activities and resources may be totally ineffectual. This issue we consider those pupils whose behaviors present a challenge for mainstream teachers and suggest some strategies for teachers to try out

Support for SENCOs

Most schools have very successful behavior and discipline systems in place, with well established rewards and sanctions systems. Sir Alan Steer’s report on improving behavior and attendance made a number of recommendations and listed five things that schools can do. (In response to the report, the secretary of state for Children, Schools and Families launched the Behavior Challenge, a new strategy for achieving the aim that every school should have good, not just satisfactory behavior, including a plan of action in response to Sir Alan Steer’s recommendations.)

Five things you can do to continue improving behavior

1. Make sure that consistent, excellent teaching practice underpins your plans to improve behavior
For children with SEN this translates to work that is achievable, age appropriate and delivers satisfaction in ‘a job well done’. Effective differentiation is essential.

2. Base your strategies on the ‘what works’ principle
In 2005, a group of expert practitioners identified ten principles. These principles draw together proven best practice and are set out in the publication Learning Behavior Principles and Practice: What works in schools

3. Keep talking to parents and pupils themselves about improving behavior
Consult on your behavior policies and communicate them clearly and regularly – on your website, in school and through regular contact. The DCSF has published a booklet aimed at parents to help raise their awareness of schools’ powers to discipline and of their responsibilities and rights. Working Together for Good Behavior in Schools: Information for parents and carers can be found here.

4. Work with other schools to share your expertise. Get closer support from the police and local agencies in a Safer School Partnership
These partnerships help to engage young people and reduce antisocial behavior in the wider community.

5. Make sure that colleagues understand the extent of their legal powers to discipline, and can use them confidently
Guidance is available to help schools understand their overall legal powers and duties as regards establishing a school behavior policy and disciplining pupils, along with practical advice on how to promote good behavior and on the range of sanctions available to schools.

There is also the School Discipline: Your powers and rights leaflet produced jointly by NASUWT and the DCSF (2009).

Even in schools where discipline and behavior is generally good, there will be occasions when a pupil oversteps the mark. Often, the pupil will be on the SEN register and too often, the matter ends in exclusion – sometimes even with very young children. As SENCO, you can work with senior staff to support colleagues in developing the skills necessary to deal effectively with challenging behavior; share ideas and best practice and provide prompts for them – being ‘prepared for the worst’ gives teachers confidence and helps them to prevent bad situations getting worse. Some ideas are provided below- you will have others to add…

Support for teachers

  • Be clear about class rules. Make them precise and identifiable. Refer to them often.
Good listeningFidgeting and not paying attention
Hands upShouting out
Taking turnsTalking when someone else is speaking
Being politeBeing rude
Being kindBeing thoughtless
  • Learn about pupils’ individual difficulties and needs and try to accommodate them where possible. For example, a child on the autistic spectrum may need to have his ‘own space’ around him. Expecting him to sit on the carpet squashed up with 29 other Year 6 pupils is never going to work.
  • Use the school system of rewards diligently – perhaps enhanced with your own. Make a list of ways in which you can acknowledge good behavior, based on pupils’ ages and preferences, eg:
    • verbal praise (public/private)
    • non-verbal praise – thumbs up, a wink, high-five; with older pupils, an understated but sincere compliment can work well – ‘not half bad’…
    • ‘Mrs Smith merits’ (collect so many for a reward of…. free choice activities; book choosing; acting as monitor; page turning (big book); being the quiz master; computer time)
    • special ‘good news’ cards sent home to parents
    • ‘pupil of the week’ spot
    • sweets, biscuits (in moderation); small ‘lucky dip’ items such as pencils, erasers, pens.
  • Get to know a pupil’s interests and make time to talk about them – even if only for a few minutes at breaktime. Improving self-image can make a huge difference to behavior.
  • Use a seating plan.
  • Speak in a way that conveys your expectation – ‘I need you to be quiet and listen now Matthew – thank you’.
  • Make it clear that the pupil has a choice: ‘You can choose to finish your work before the bell goes, or to stay in at break time (detention) and finish it then’; ‘Are you choosing to sit in your chair here, or in the blue chair?’ (in the corridor/library/head’s office).
  • Use warnings (red/yellow card) – but not too many; always stick to your guns.

Individual behavior plans (IBPs) can provide pupils with clear and achievable targets and help to identify and quantify progress. Involve the pupil in setting specific objectives like the examples below:

  • to put up a hand before speaking (note number of times this is done in a lesson)
  • to stay in seat for X minutes at a time (increase time accordingly)
  • to bring books and equipment to lessons (score on daily basis)
  • to avoid touching other pupils’ work and equipment
  • to walk away from someone who is unpleasant
  • to practice using a quiet voice in class
  • to finish the lesson/lunchtime/day without spitting/fighting/swearing, etc (tally number of warnings or negative comments in behavior diary).

Some pupils will require intervention over and above the whole-school system of behavior management. These may include counselling and specific help, such as:

  • flexible teaching arrangements (time out; small group working; one-to-one sessions)
  • explicit teaching of social skills and emotional literacy
  • specialized behavioral and cognitive approaches (eg, anger management)
  • re-challenging or re-focusing to diminish repetitive or self-injurious behavior.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.