Improving School Behaviour


Chris Watkins & Pasty Wagner

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    To all those who have talked out of turn and, at least once a week, made unnecessary (non-verbal) noise; and to Douglas, Etta and Fred, three great improvers.

    List of Figures and Tables

    • 1.1 Three levels of patterns in school behaviour 15
    • 3.1 Three stages in emotionally intelligent behaviour 67
    • 3.2 Ingredients in classroom activities 76
    • 3.3 Three dimensions along which group roles vary 78
    • 3.4 Possible group descriptions of role types on three dimensions 78
    • 3.5 Pupils' perceptions of frequency of classroom activities and their effectiveness in developing learning 81
    • 4.1 ‘Leroy’: a cycle of behaviour and relations 96
    • 4.2 Diagnostic behaviour questionnaire (secondary school version) 101
    • 4.3 Locating wider patterns from individual cases 115
    • 5.1 The recurring referral cycle 124
    • 5.2 The image of referral as staircase 126
    • 1.1 Explanations of heads, psychologists and parents 5
    • 1.2 Number of different causes attributed by teachers in respect of the origin and improvement of difficult behaviours 13
    • 2.1 Features of proactive and reactive behaviour policies 30
    • 2.2 Four disciplinary climates 38
    • 4.1 ‘Paul’: diagnostic behaviour questionnaires from 8 teachers 104
    • 4.2 ‘Martin’: diagnostic behaviour questionnaires from 7 teachers 108
    • 4.3 ‘Katya’: diagnostic behaviour questionnaire from a primary teacher 111


    Welcome to this text. We intend you to find it useful.

    As a whole in this book we aim to offer you ideas, arguments and examples which will allow you to see issues of school behaviour in the most constructive way possible, and to think through some appropriate forms of action to follow. Is that what you were expecting? Take a moment, if you will, to unearth any expectations you have as you start this text: not only will this help to activate your reading, but it might also help you gather your skills of handling disappointment! – not everything you might expect will be found herein.

    What is in the Chapters?

    In the first chapter we have to consider how behaviour is explained, since this has a major knock-on effect as to how action is devised. In schools we are surrounded by different forms of explanation, some of them more productive than others. Improving school behaviour can mean improving the explanations. This chapter also brings forward the evidence which supports the ‘multi-level’ approach we adopt.

    Chapter 2 addresses an area which some teachers baulk at – school behaviour. ‘It's not the school that behaves, it's the pupils’ they say to us. We disagree and consider the way that different schools behave, together with how aspects of the school as an organization influence the patterns of pupil behaviour. Improving school behaviour can involve a range of action at this level, and is generally much more productive than making up reactive school policies.

    The classroom is one of the most complex social situations on Earth, and this has to be understood before we can think sensibly about approaches to improvement Chapter 3 distils much research about the many factors which influence classroom behaviour, and leads to a diagnostic framework.

    In adopting a multi-level approach we do not ignore the individual, and Chapter 4 offers frameworks and examples for making sense of patterns of behaviour at this level. It also leads into thinking which can help to develop appropriate action, and which links up to other levels of action when needed.

    Finally, Chapter 5 focuses on the working relations between staff over matters of behaviour. It contrasts the repetitive relations in a referral system with the productive relations in a consultation system. With some of the frameworks from earlier chapters and on extra focus on process, working relationships can be developed to minimise difficult school behaviour.

    Using This Book

    As the above outline may have indicated, the order of chapters is deliberate. We feel you will get most out of the book by gaining a sense of the important perspective in Chapter 1, before moving into the different levels in Chapters 2, 3 and 4, where school and classroom deliberately come before individual. The evidence for this approach is to be found in Chapter 1. But we recognize that many readers will want to go straight to a chapter which interests them – we do this ourselves as readers. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that you might read this book in a similar way to how A S Byatt describes her reading of a novel – a quick skim to find out the main plot, followed by a more detailed read of the episodes which attract.

    We do hope you will use this book, and that you might do more than read it. We hope we have presented ideas and practices which you can adapt into your own practice, and we hope to regularly encourage you to talk about what you have read (and done) with your colleagues. That is the way that change really happens.

    Why are We Writing This?

    We have a ‘because of’ reason and an ‘in order to’ reason. We write because of the many occasions when we see matters of behaviour handled in ways which make things worse. A school might formalize a reactive policy which leads to more exclusions; a classroom teacher might ‘tighten up discipline’ and worsen the learning relationships; another colleague might handle interactions with a particular pupil in such a way that their dignity is eroded rather than enhanced. On all such occasions the outcome is not what anyone really wants. It could be otherwise, even in the busy and crowded place we call school. So we write to put in place some constructive alternatives.

    Twelve years ago we wrote a text which had some similar structural features to this book: a multi-level view to create a ‘whole-school approach’. Part of our motivation then was to combat the distortion of pastoral care systems into discipline dustbins, and to move beyond the prevalent within-person explanations for difficulties. Those motivations remain, and have been enhanced by our experiences and what we have learned from them over the intervening years.

    What is This Book Based on?

    The knowledge base which informs this book comes from the work and thinking we have been involved in for many years. Chris Watkins is a senior lecturer at the University of London Institute of Education, and has run many courses in the area of school behaviour. He has facilitated dozens of school in-service days on the theme, regularly hearing the comment ‘that's the best day we've ever had’. Working with teachers at higher degree level on this theme means that he has to be up to date with the international research evidence. Patsy Wagner is an educational psychologist in Kensington and Chelsea who has pioneered a consultation-based approach for education psychology services working with schools, and works closely with teachers and parents in a multi-level way. She is regularly involved in consultations with teachers, and sometimes with parents, on many concerns some of which may include the difficult behaviour of individuals, groups and classes. But for both authors, the theme of behaviour is one strand of our work, which is as it should be. We are sceptical about any job which is completely devoted to behaviour, since it appears to say that this focus is a goal in itself. It is not. We work in this area in order to release people's energies for the real work: effective learning, good tutoring, positive personal-social development, and so on.

    Over the years, we have been privileged to work with many colleagues in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as Hong Kong and Norway. Our publications have been translated into Spanish and Cantonese. Throughout these experiences, we have learned how to improve the ideas and how we communicate them. We have also learned the limitations of what we offer.

    Who Says We Need to Improve?

    The life of educators in many ‘developed’ countries has increasingly become the focus for hostile comment over recent decades. This book is not part of that trend. When we say ‘improving school behaviour’ we are not criticising you or your school; we are merely setting out the ground – things could be better. As colleagues in school improvement have often remarked, ‘You don't have to be ill to get better’. So we feel that nearly every school situation in which we find ourselves could be better, and as a result pupils, teachers and others would feel better about their work, relationships and achievements.

    So are Things Getting Worse?

    We recognize this question in this introduction because we are often asked it. Perhaps people ask because in Britain the public climate regarding school behaviour is regularly a critical one, made so by the way in which national and local media select and sensationalize their coverage. This process is not new: Pearson (1983) offers a fascinating account of how public fears regarding ‘hooliganism’ were constructed in Victorian times.

    It seems that favourable behaviour does not sell newspapers. Sensationalized reports have a role in amplifying deviance, in heightening public fears and setting off debates about reactions which may not be needed. With regard to crime generally, many people in the United Kingdom believe there is much more crime than there actually is, and with regard to school behaviour, difficulties are distorted. The problem is that people seem to believe such accounts, including journalists in neighbouring countries, one of whom recently stated ‘UK teachers are regularly subject to intimidation and assault’ (Cork Examiner, 1997). Even in USA, where estimates suggest that 135,000 school students each day take a gun to school (cited in Welsh, Greene and Jenkins, 1999), experienced researchers in the area have tracked a number of indicators of school violence over the past 20 years and concluded: ‘As was the case 20 years ago, despite public perceptions to the contrary, the current data do not support the claim that there has been a dramatic, overall increase in school-based violence in recent years’ (Hyman and Perone, 1998, p. 9). Historical analyses show us that ‘pupil riots’ were much more common in the early part of the century (Humphries, 1981), and that in England the most extreme act of violence from pupils to teachers – a plan to shoot them at a staff meeting – was planned in 1947 (Adams, 1991).

    If we only believed what we see in press coverage we might think that school behaviour is getting worse, but there is not an available database which could provide us with evidence that pupil behaviour is in fact getting worse – or better, for that matter. Sometimes surveys are carried out (and we will analyse these in Chapter 1) but they are based on various reports rather than direct evidence. Nevertheless, numbers of teachers tell us that they feel behaviour is getting worse. That feeling is real and is worthy of concern.

    Significant increases in pupil exclusion are with us, but these cannot be taken at face value as a direct reflection of worsening pupil behaviour. Rather they can be seen as a reflection of the reactive approach encouraged by central government policy-making and legislation over a number of years. It also relates to the sudden growth of out-of-school provision such as ‘pupil referral units’. As a result there is a more widespread sense that exclusion is an acceptable response. In the process some young people have lost their right to full-time education.

    What does feel clear to us is that school practice is not improving in significant or widespread ways. Our schools are subject to increasing demands for particular sorts of performances, and to increasing add-on accountability. This can divert and narrow their attention, away from the very things which contribute to healthy behaviour and effective achievement. When goals and relationships are left unattended, the first signs can be worsening pupil behaviour.

    So, overall, we do not find it fruitful to pursue the question ‘Are things getting worse?’ – rather we offer the following ideas on ‘Working together, things can be better’.

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    • Admiraal W. F. 69
    • Ames C. 77, 81
    • Anderson V. 59
    • Argyris C. 89
    • Arlin M. 75
    • Bach G. 71
    • Badger B. 125
    • Bain A. 60
    • Bales R. F. 77
    • Ball S. J. 75
    • Battistich V. 121
    • Benard B. 121
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    • Blatchford P. 49
    • Bossert S. T. 76
    • Brophy J. E. 11
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    • Bryk A. S. 35
    • Bullough R. V. 53
    • Cannan C. 23
    • Caplan G. 128
    • Chaplain R. 39
    • Chessum R. 4
    • Chisholm B. 131
    • Clandinin J. D. 53
    • Clarke D. D. 60
    • Clarke S. 39
    • Cohen B. 38
    • Connelly M. F. 53
    • Conoley J. C. 128, 132
    • Consultation Development
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    • Cooper P. 81
    • Corrie L 60, 61
    • Créton H.A. 69
    • Cromby J. 4
    • Daines R. 7
    • Department for Education
    • and Science 66
    • Dickson A. 69
    • Dixon N. M. 90
    • Douglas J. 128
    • Dowling E. 116
    • Doyle W. 54, 74
    • Dugan T. 121
    • Emmer E. T. 18, 47, 75
    • Evans M. 11, 125
    • Ferguson E. 47
    • Figg J 128
    • Fraser B. J. 85
    • Friend M. 130
    • Galloway D. 5, 23, 127
    • Gannaway H. 66
    • Gamer P. 41
    • Gay B. M. 60
    • Geiger K. M. 8, 14
    • Gergen K. J. 10, 93
    • Gill D. 132
    • Goleman D. 67
    • Gottfredson D. C. 17, 18, 92
    • Graham P. 4
    • Gray J. 41, 59
    • Gutkin T. B. 132
    • Hammond S. A. 42
    • Hargreaves D. H. 14, 40, 65, 84
    • Hart P. M. 29
    • Hayden C. 120
    • Heller H. 46
    • HMI 22
    • Houghton S. 59
    • Hughes M. 81
    • Humphries S. xiv
    • Hyman I. A. xiv
    • Inner London Education
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    • Johnson B. 59
    • Jones E. E. 14, 93
    • Jones K. 59
    • Jordan J. 71
    • Katz N. H. 70
    • Kilgore T. L. 130
    • Kohn A. 48, 85
    • Kounin J. S. 61
    • Kratochwill T. 128
    • Kruse S. D. 34
    • Langfeldt H-P. 11
    • Lawrence J. 6, 40
    • Lee V. E. 35
    • Lewin K. 14, 85
    • Little J. W. 89
    • MacHardy L. 132
    • Martens B. K. 128
    • Maxwell W. S. 11, 27
    • Medway F. J. 131
    • Merrett F. 59
    • Metz M. H. 33
    • Meyers B. 130
    • Milgram S. 48
    • Miller A. 12
    • Minuchin P. 23
    • Moore D. 120
    • Mortimore P. 4, 7, 9, 23
    • Munn P. 90
    • Murphy J. J. 97
    • National Commission on
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    • Newmann F. M. 74
    • Nicholls D. 47
    • O'Hagan F. J. 32, 60
    • Office for Standards in
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    • Power M. J. 9, 23
    • Poyner B. 67
    • Rabinowitz A, 7
    • Reynolds D. 9, 23, 29
    • Rhodes J. 97
    • Rogers B. 69, 84
    • Roland E. 49
    • Rosenholtz S. J. 11, 33, 34
    • Ross L. 14, 93
    • Rutter M. 4, 9, 24, 121
    • Ryans D. G. 54
    • Schaps E. 85
    • Schein E. H. 128
    • Schmuck R. 128
    • Senge P. M. 10, 20
    • Sergiovanni T. J. 36
    • Sharp S. 50
    • Silverstein J. M. 40
    • Smith P. K. 50
    • Solomon D. 85, 86
    • Stage S. A. 124
    • Steed D. 11
    • Stevens R. 33
    • Stoll L. 26
    • Swinson J. 90
    • Sykes G. 68
    • Tattum D. P. 7
    • Taylor N. 41
    • Tomlinson J. R. G. 31
    • Wagner P. 120, 128
    • Watkins C. 27, 40, 88, 89, 90, 113, 114, 121
    • Wayson W. W. 24, 123
    • Weinstein C. S. 73
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    • Westheimer J. 37
    • Wheldall K. 58
    • Wubbels T. 96
    • Young P. 7

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