Since the launch of the ‘Behaviour Task Force’ last week there has been lots of debate in the education world about approaches to managing student behaviour in schools. As is often the case, the debate is extremely polarised and various unsupportable points have been made. Concern was expressed by a range of leaders and interested parties about the strong impression given that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to behaviour could be taken which would solve all problems across the country. Gavin Williamson advocated silent corridors as ‘the norm’ and was backed by a number of those involved in the behaviour task force and supporters of a ‘warm-strict’ approach. This weekend Tom Bennett stated ‘the fact that some students are routinely removed from lessons is a sad by necessary feature of a school trying to keep students safe’ and Katherine Birbalsingh (Head at Michaela School in London) pronounced ‘if you stand against silent corridors, hate behaviour systems imposed consistently, and instinctively reject order you support this, you are the problem, you are ruining children’s lives’ (above a story about an autistic boy who had been bullied and a picture of his bruised face).
I would suggest that the language and presumptions here are unhelpful and inaccurate. Being against silent corridors isn’t the same as being against consistency or against order. Schools who take a more inclusive approach are not careless of student safety. It could be argued that leaders who are taking an inclusive approach are the ones who are picking up those students who have been encouraged to move on when they ‘don’t fit’ the more rigid systems applied by those very schools that the education secretary so passionately advocates. The real danger here is that we are creating a two tier system that has high performing schools who serve 70-80% of their natural catchment as students with behavioural issues move on to other, more flexible systems locally. These more inclusive schools will receive a lot of students mid year and therefore struggle to achieve the high progress 8 scores that we prize so highly and will become the natural choice for parents recognising that their children will not last long in the silent corridors down the road. However, those same students are more likely to find a measure of success under this more relational approach where leaders and staff are prepared to invest the time needed to cater for all students. I would argue that there is therefore a lack of system leadership responsibility by those who do not recognise that there is a knock on effect if students don’t fit the behavioural approaches. I have worked with students who could not cope with that level of rigidity but who also need to be in school to stay safe from negative influences outside the gates. Are we happy that some of our most vulnerable students do not receive the one thing that could set them on a more positive path – an education? Are we happy that we have students on long term reduced timetables that expose them to exploitation and the dangers of county lines? Is this a price worth paying for improved progress 8 for those that remain within the narrow boundaries of a system that some expect to become ‘the norm’ ? Does silence and imposed behaviour prepare young people for the world beyond school ? Are we prepared to put the time in that is needed to create sustainable improvements in behaviour and provision that caters for the vast majority of students? Questions that need answering before we blithely accept the roll out of an approach advocated by a passionate and vocal few.
Upcoming events where aspects of this debate will be further discussed: