I stumbled across this paper via an article in, of all places, the Daily Mail. Typically, the interpretation in the leader displayed the kind of informed opinion about education, based on total ignorance, that we’ve come to expect from some prominent media sources, but it was ironic that a paper that prides itself on a reactionary viewpoint should espouse the epitome of a progressive approach in stating “Is it possible that if lessons were more inspiring, pupils would be better behaved?” I couldn’t help but tweet @tombennett71 – as the original behaviourguru. His response was apposite. I’ve now got round to reading the paper – Haydn that is, not the Daily Mail.
The Review of Education is a new journal and, as such, not only behind the usual paywall, but I’ve had to source a copy of the article through an inter-library loan, which indicates that it’s not yet well-enough established for the academics in my School of Education to be requiring regular access. Given that it’s produced by the British Education Research Association there is some possibility that it will become an important outlet for the kind of comprehensive reviews that are of much greater use to teachers than individual research papers, but that remains to be seen.
Haydn’s paper doesn’t fall into this category of comprehensive review but it does offer up a succinct overview of the issues and some linked research which presents an alternative to the official line from the Steer report and Ofsted statistics, that behaviour in most schools is okay. It tends to be surveys of teachers, mainly carried out by unions, that offer the usual alternative narrative; Haydn’s research is also primarily focused on asking teachers and head teachers to report on the levels of behaviour experienced in schools. However, the less obvious bias, and triangulation using data from trainee teachers and pupils, adds the weight to Haydn’s findings that union questionnaires lack.
He makes a strong case for the difference between his findings, and official ones, being to do with perspective. To an observer, a classroom where behaviour is good because the teacher has planned carefully to avoid disruption and where a significant proportion of their time and energy is going into maintaining that situation, may seem comparable to one where the teacher is barely thinking about behaviour because they don’t need to. To the teacher, these two situations will feel very different. Haydn’s 10 point scale, used in the research, draws out this distinction, with the former classroom experience somewhere in the region of 6-8, and the latter sitting at 9 or 10. Given that the research findings suggest an average teacher-rating of about 7 and a general view from ‘trainee teachers as observers’ that a good half of lessons were getting up to 9 and 10, added to the mysterious absence of some of the most difficult children during inspections, and I find I can see why an official view might be that behaviour was generally good in the majority of schools.
I think Haydn’s conclusion that, in fact, poor behaviour is a fairly regular feature of some schools is valid. A quick read of Levels 1-5, and the various results in the research showing that these levels are quite common, will probably not surprise many experienced teachers (many of us will have been there and some will still occasionally relive the experience, perhaps in the wee, small hours after over-exuberance at the cheese-board). There is no way that these levels do not significantly affect learning, so the inescapable conclusion is that poor behaviour does disrupt learning to an extent not recognised by the official, published line.
Of course, a lot of children need boundaries in the classroom to be established and continually maintained. These are not the unfortunate few with serious behavioural issues; these are ordinary kids who respond to good behaviour management but will happily talk over the teacher and think it’s funny if someone can make strange noises without the teacher being able to work out where they are coming from. Having just a few of these children in your class will mean that you have to make an effort to keep them on the straight and narrow. This is one of the fundamental skills of teaching, for anyone working in all but the most leafy of comprehensives. So I don’t think Level 10 should be expected, but in schools with a strong behaviour policy, good support, and well-trained teachers, I think you would expect Level 8 to be consistently achievable with Level 9 for the better classes and the more skilled teachers. To me that would represent good behaviour, although most teachers would definitely still be having to work to maintain this level in their classrooms. So it’s the gap between this acceptable standard of behaviour, and the regular reality in classrooms in many schools, that is the key finding in Haydn’s research.
Although Haydn’s evidence draws attention to the problem, he doesn’t say much about why it exists. That may not be the point of his research but it is the most important question. My view is that often it’s that SLT have not got to grips with the problem – the behaviour policy exists but is not enforced unremittingly. Perhaps more thought needs to go in to how to fix this issue. It’s easy to say “appoint better headteachers” but that’s as trite as saying that the FA need to appoint a better England coach. Secondly, ITT courses do not equip enough teachers with the necessary skills. I’m afraid Michael Wilshaw was right about this. But it isn’t because HEIs are spouting progressive rubbish suggesting that engaging teaching will fix everything; the problem is that we provide several sessions along the lines of Tom Bennett’s Top Ten Behaviour Tips, delivered by people like Paul Dix, and local teachers that are walking the walk on a daily basis, but whilst our trainees know the theory, they can’t always apply it in the classroom. Now, they spend two-thirds of their course working in schools (and all of their NQT year, obviously) so it’s not that they don’t get the chance to do so, nor for that reason can I see how the rush to School Direct and SCITTs will make a difference. We could just filter out all the trainees that don’t nail behaviour management during ITT but the failure rate might be pretty shocking. I suspect, instead, that we need to give many trainees the chance to practice the skills in isolation – without the distraction of delivering a lesson at the same time. I know Doug Lemov and associates break down skills like this in the USA but it’s not happening as far as I know in the UK. Perhaps it should. Thirdly, teachers need to start talking properly and professionally about the problem instead of hiding their own issues and/or turning a blind eye to the issues of other teachers. Amongst trainees, at least, Haydn’s scale might be a good way to begin to make this happen, and perhaps it’s even more relevant to NQTs, but it’s an emotive topic unlike questions about most other aspects of one’s teaching. Regardless of how, it does need to happen, so teachers can start standing shoulder to shoulder in all schools, not just in the best ones.
Why are these three things not ubiquitous? Well that kind of brings me full-circle to the assinine comment in the Daily Mail and the implicit suggestion that if teachers weren’t so lazy and useless the problem would be easily solved. The success of some schools demonstrates that it’s fixable; but Haydn’s research shows it is an ongoing problem. The implication is that fixing it is not easy. Whilst Ofsted continue to suggest it’s generally fine it will remain a lower priority, in some schools, than data, or teaching and learning. That is the wrong message; Haydn’s is much more the right one.
Here is the UEA Summary of the paper.
Haydn, T (2014) To what extent is behaviour a problem in English schools? Exploring the scale and prevalence of deficits in classroom climate in Review of Education doi: 10.1002/rev3.3025
Here a link to The Haydn Scale
And his book, Haydn T (2008) Managing Pupil Behaviour: Key Issues in Teaching and Learning. London: Routledge, which expands significantly on ideas about teachers’ experiences of behaviour and how trainees and NQTs learn (or don’t learn) from their experiences – is available on Amazon and elsewhere.