In my last column I challenged the assertions about school exclusions made by the Scottish Secondary Schools Association (SSTA). I also stated that, despite contrary pressures, behaviour in the bulk of Scottish schools was good and improving, as were the behaviour-management skills of teachers. If that is to be maintained, we need to identify why it has been achieved, who has achieved it and what is still required to be done.
Scottish teachers understand that crucial to purposeful learning and good behaviour are an engaging and relevant curriculum, over which they have little control, as well as high-quality teaching and mutually respectful relationships with learners, over which they do have control. Most achieve these goals. The few that don’t achieve them need support and training. The very few who still don’t, even after support and training, need a speedy move to alternative employment.
Management makes or breaks behaviour in any school. The first responsibility of heads and deputes is to be visible, in the corridors, the classrooms, the lunch-hall, not the office. Their second job is to set, reinforce and articulate the highest expectations to students and to set the best-practice example to teachers. They must give teachers room to deal with routine matters themselves. The alternative is disempowered teachers who can only move every problem, however minor, up the chain of command.
School managers , however, must be unhesitatingly ready to intervene on the genuinely high-tariff cases – the threats, or reality, of violence; the foul-mouthed parent supporting his foul-mouthed offspring; the collective challenges to discipline – and be ready to deal decisively with such events.
The local authorities have two quite different roles. The first is to have clear, simple behaviourmanagement policies for schools, including guidance on exclusions, established in agreement with the unions and then enforced. Schools that follow these should be explicitly supported, including at parental appeals against exclusions. Schools that play fast and free with exclusions (they do exist in tiny pockets but interestingly were never mentioned by the SSTA) need pulled into line, just as do the tiny minority of schools where good order is not enforced.
The second responsibility of each local authority is to provide adequate resources to deal with seriously challenging behaviour. Schools need appropriate support (which will vary from school to school) to deal with as much of the challenge as possible inhouse.
That may involve behaviour-support teachers, in-school social work support, family-support programmes, withdrawal units, alternative curricular arrangements and other strategies.
With the best will in the world, however, there will be a small cohort of severely damaged children for whom mainstream schooling is too much and whose inability to cope with it endangers other learners and teachers. Local authorities have a duty of care for such children. That involves appropriate education and therapeutic interventions. The reality is that places in such establishments, indeed the presence of such establishments, has been reducing year on year. Schools are either continuing to cope with the unmanageable or excluding such children permanently without alternative provision being available.
Finally, central government is required to provide local government with the necessary resources.
Even more importantly, it is required to give a lead on providing teachers with a relevant and engaging curriculum. Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has stimulated innovative thinking on the methodologies, but there remain questions on the content. Many of our challenging youngsters are entirely alienated from the standard academic curriculum. They require experiential learning, opportunities to build useful skills and confidence (including interpersonal and communication skills), and education and training that will prepare them for the world of work. These, especially the vocational aspects, have not been high on the CfE agenda to date.
This article was first published in Holrood Magazine on 30 January 2012: http://www.holyrood.com/articles/2012/01/30/marks-for-good-behaviour/