Lynn Cousins looks at everyday behaviour management and behaviour policy and considers what the future holds in this area
You have kept your diary free so that you can tackle the paper mountain on your desk. As you start reading the first document there is a knock on your door. ‘I was told to come and see you,’ mutters George, offering a note that explains his behaviour in the classroom and the decision of the teacher not to put up with it any longer. A familiar scene, but how do you respond? There is no definitive answer; it is up to you how you decide to respond to the child and whether you are able to make use of the time that has effectively been taken from you. Let’s take three options and explore their usefulness.
This is the quickest approach and it obviously lets you get on with the job in hand. But what is it doing for George’s education? Is it addressing any needs he has or problems with his self-esteem?
If George is prone to outbursts he may benefit from some quiet time-out. This may be exactly what he needs. It may also be what the teacher needs – time to calm down and get on with teaching. It may also benefit the other children who were being distracted by George’s behaviour or ignored by the teacher who was dealing with George.
It is perfectly acceptable that you should leave him to sit quietly for a short period of time; and it means that you can finish a job. He can see that you are busy and by staying quiet he is demonstrating that he can show respect for another person’s needs. Thanking him for this when you complete the task sets a different mood for any dialogue. He may well be surprised that even though he is in disgrace there is still a place for politeness. Such a small act may be sufficient to get him thinking.
Once he is calm you may be able to send him straight back to the classroom. You may want to ask him to return at breaktime to, ‘have a talk about what went wrong.’ It is important you let him see that you value the learning that is going on in the classroom and that you want him to be part of that.
Of course, George may like sitting quietly in your room simply because it means that he can avoid being in the classroom doing work that he finds hard or unappealing. He can be the centre of attention – first with you and then again when he returns to the classroom. For these reasons it is best if you can limit the time spent ‘sitting thinking’. Because, of course, George may not be reflecting on his behaviour at all!
- ‘Have you brought your work? Well get on with it quietly.’
Let’s tackle the practical problems first. Where is George going to sit? If you expect children to sit at a table to write in the classroom, then it is not a good idea to let him work on the floor or resting the book on his knees. Have you room for a small table and chair? Will one size suit all ages within your school?
Has he got all of the necessary resources with him? If he finds that he needs something he hasn’t got, what is to happen? Does he go back to the classroom? Will he go straight there or will he need accompanying? It is a good idea to put together a box of basic equipment and keep it in your room.
What if he gets stuck? The chances are that George is not going to be the most able pupil, and it may be that he can’t read all of the words on the worksheet. He may not fully understand the instructions because he was messing around when they were given. Are you going to give him individual tuition?
This approach may be useful when the child is mid-activity in the classroom but simply not getting on. He can then come to your room for as long as it takes him to complete the work. Your role will be one of encouraging and then he can be sent back to the classroom to hand in his work.
- ‘We need to talk about this.’
This is the one approach that is more likely than the others to address the child’s actual situation. It makes the time you devote to the situation profitable in terms of managing or improving a child’s behaviour. It may have to follow one of the other steps. The child may need to calm down. You may want to leave things for a little while so that you can find out the background to this. You may genuinely not have the time to deal with this properly in which case arrange a time when you can give quality time to this child and his needs.
If you have the time then a simple but effective way to get George talking and thinking about what happened is to ask him to recount exactly what happened. Prompt him as he provides an explanation, going over and over it if necessary to get a chronologically accurate and detailed account of events and emotions: what were you asked to do, who were you sitting next to, did you understand, did you ask for more explanations, what did the child next to you do, how were you feeling when the lesson started and so on. Aim for precision because somewhere in all of this is a trigger point, an action or an emotion, that started George’s behaviour. Once you have found that you can start to address it, through support, some additional resources, a move to another table, or he may need to learn how to manage his own emotions in a more mature and acceptable way.
You can discuss these issues with the class teacher and develop some strategies to deal with George and his particular circumstances or class discipline as a whole. Be aware of specific teachers who are sending children to you as their sole method of controlling their class and work through this via your performance management and staff development programmes.
No matter how busy you are, whatever you had planned to do at this time, when a child is sent to you, you have to find some way to respond, and the focus of that response has got to be the child’s wellbeing and the child’s learning. See it as a chance to move the child forward in terms of his own self-understanding, help him to find ways to address his own emotions so that he can control himself when faced with a similar set of circumstances – or he’ll be here again, same time next week.
Is this particular sanction – sending a child to the head – an actual part of your behaviour policy? Have you discussed it with your staff so that they know when (and if) they can send a child to you? Who will fill this role when you are not in the school? If you are teaching, is a child to be deposited in your classroom? And are you always the best person for the job? There are many issues to be thought about.
There will be times when you are the only person who can deal with a particular situation and some of the practical issues mentioned above will come into play. For other occasions consider training a TA to be available to monitor a child who needs time out of the classroom, in a dedicated space, with suitable furniture and resources. Your SENCO may have the necessary skills to talk with a child about his behaviour at appointed times.
If this is a frequent event do you need to look again at your behaviour policy; why is inappropriate behaviour reaching this stage?
Your policy should contain specific details of the procedures that you and the governors have agreed on. If these are explicit and written in order of severity then it should be clear to staff how they should respond. If the procedures are followed as written this will help to safeguard the children from inappropriate discipline and it will guide the staff and back up their actions if questions are asked.
Your behaviour policy should make it clear that all incidents will be recorded immediately, countersigned by any witness, and handed to you for safekeeping. This will also serve to keep you informed so that when George does turn up at your door you have some prior knowledge of what has been going on.
Safeguarding children and protecting yourself
Should you, or any other person monitoring a child, be in a room on your own with a child? If you can’t avoid this, keep the door open, stay visible to others who may pass by, use a table and chair outside your room, making sure that you can see the child working there, and that he can’t ‘escape’. When any child is in a ‘time-out’ situation with any adult, these same guidelines apply.
Think about what you would do if you needed to restrain an angry child in these circumstances. You may have rights and legal powers, but they don’t prevent accusations being made or the legal implications that may follow. This has happened even to staff who have followed guidelines explicitly and had witnesses present.
Under recent legislation the head or a member of the school’s security staff may search a child if they have reasonable grounds for suspecting that he is carrying an offensive article or weapon. You may use an arch or wand detector to search in unobtrusive ways. The person who searches must be of the same sex as the pupil and must be chaperoned by another member of staff who is also the same sex as the pupil. No clothing other than outer clothing may be removed, and a child’s possessions may be searched only in the presence of the child and another member of staff. Reasonable force may be used; this term is of course open to interpretation so be wary of relying on this. Anything which is suspected of being evidence of an offence may be seized and should be handed over to the police as soon as possible. This power should only be exercised in the most extreme circumstances. If you consider there to be any risk attached to doing this then it may be more prudent to contact the police.
These measures should also be explicit within your behaviour policy and clearly explained to all members of staff.
The right to search is part of a raft of measures which became law at the start of April 2007 and includes:
- power to punish children in school and on the way to and from school
- a legal duty to tackle bullying
- a legal right to confiscate items such as mobile phones which may be distracting pupils from learning
- legal powers to use physical force to restrain or control pupils.
Further measures came into force in September 2007.
The issue of behaviour highlights just how much schools have changed over the last 20 or 30 years. What headteacher could have foreseen when they entered the profession that they would one day have the right to search their primary-aged pupils for offensive weapons? A strong behaviour policy is key to safeguarding your children, your staff and yourself – take a look at yours now!
For complete details of this legislation, and definitions of some of the terms used, go to www.opsi.gov.uk and read or download The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (Chapter 38), published by The Stationery Office 11/2006. Ref: 342417 19585.
Other useful advice can be found at www.new2teaching.org.uk/tzone/health_and_safety/assaults/offensiveweapons.asp