Several people have recently laid into the inadequacy of ITT in preparing NQTs for the task of establishing good behaviour in their classrooms. Sir Michael Wilshaw and Tom Bennett are the two most prominent although obviously Gove wasn’t shy in his views either. I would agree with the basic statement that not all NQTs are ready and able to handle behaviour issues effectively when they qualify. I don’t accept that this is because they are either getting no training, or because that training is all about engaging teaching, restorative justive, praise, etc. I think that would have been a fair charge against my HEI back in the 90s when I trained, and in the 60s when my dad was at the IoE, but it’s out of date.
I guess I can only speak from my own perspective but our trainees get three main sessions on behaviour management as part of their cross-curricular programme. Last year one was run by an assistant head and another by a fairly recently-qualified teacher who has just moved to a HoD post. Both are from (different), local, coastal-urban Outstanding schools. The latter is someone picked specifically because she has had to work on this skill in her own teaching to get really good at it. The final session was run by an external speaker who has worked in a typical, challenging secondary and PRUs. There are also sessions specifically about working with children with ADHD and autism. Within the curriculum programme the emphasis is on getting trainees up to speed on subject knowledge and how to teach their subject. Behaviour issues do appear deliberately in this e.g. how to use routines and manage transitions, and keep pupils safe, and on-task, during practical work; how to plan lessons and differentiate to avoid ‘dead time’ etc. and also there will be a degree of modelling (I start with a seating plan for my first session, for example, and explain why), but it’s a recurring theme rather than the explicit purpose of any curriculum sessions.
I am more than happy to be told that there should be more behaviour training in one or both of these programmes. In fact I agree with that sentiment. But anyone doing so needs to be aware that two-thirds of the course is time in schools; think about whether behaviour training should be mainly telling, or mainly practising; and convince me that they know what we should be doing in these sessions. This is the crux of the problem. It isn’t difficult to get a good idea of what successful teachers and successful schools do to get good behaviour. Charlie Taylor’s checklist and Tom Bennett’s Top Tips and David Didau’s rules and Stephen Tierney’s collection are examples of most of what trainees should know. It is helpful to get some different perspectives but how many sessions does it take for graduates to learn what to do? The problem is not getting trainees to know what to do, it’s getting them to (all) be able to do it. Managing behaviour is a practical skill and given that virtually all placement schools are Good or Outstanding, the behaviour training expertise ought to be there in schools. In the end, this is the underlying justification behind the move to School Direct. Unfortunately, it isn’t working.
Many trainees are pretty good on behaviour from the off, a few just need to develop a bit of confidence in front of a class and are then pretty good, a few need a hefty nudge to pop their cherry and then never look back (I never actually set my trainees a target of putting someone in detention by the end of the week but I do insist they stop pulling punches at the critical point, which kind of has the same effect; good mentors in school set similar targets).
But the ones who struggle throughout their training do tend to just keep struggling. It’s not that they don’t know what to do, or even that they are not trying, it’s that they can’t do it. Instead of behaviour ninjas, swiftly dealing out hard stares, somersaulting across the room to provide looming presence, whispering in ears, and cutting the worst offenders down without a second’s pause, think Kung-Fu Panda (before he is awesome) – lack of awareness, bad timing, snigger-worthy implementation, no focus. At the moment I don’t think schools have any better ideas about solving this than HEIs or anybody else does. Tom Bennett says “Running a classroom is hard work: it takes time and stamina. But almost anyone can do it, if you follow these simple guidelines” and as someone who believes almost anyone can ace A-Level Physics, I’m with him entirely on the first sentence; not so convinced by the second.
Trawling the research literature is a thankless task at the best of times but I can’t quickly find any evaluations of ITT behaviour training programmes that give us an idea about ‘what works’. The EEF have evaluated research on interventions in schools but not teacher training approaches. The NCTL have some examples of good practice but there isn’t much meat on the bones. My hunch is that just possibly the work that Doug Lemov is doing using video clips, analysis, and very specific practice might make a difference but there is definitely still an issue with adapting this for the UK.
Tom Bennet’s contributions to the Carter Review are full of good suggestions but there are issues with implementation. As I said in my post on the Carter Review, the quality of partnerships between providers and placement schools is critical and several of Tom’s suggestions need this in spades. The other issue is time. We probably need to start thinking about a system whereby trainees start slowly but are then not under pressure to hit a 35% timetable within a few weeks; many will be able to do so as now, but any with even a hint of behaviour issues probably need to keep their planning load really low and just get it right with one or two classes, using the extra time for observation, maybe some team-teaching where they can do some behaviour work, video feedback etc. The trouble is, the training year flies by and they need to be ready for an NQT timetable by the end. Some help from the NCTL and Ofsted to allow us to extend their training if it takes longer would be great. I also think placements where there is a really comprehensive SoW help a lot, and of course the quality of school mentors is critical – but beggars can’t be choosers and there are barely enough placements to go round as it is. We can do better but unless your money is where your mouth is – don’t tell me it’s easy.