Behaviour hubs: Experts to get behaviour on track – again

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Every teacher knows how important it is to have good behaviour in the classroom. However, for some schools, behaviour management remains an issue. Suzanne O'Connell looks at what is being recommended and asks: Haven’t we been here before?

At the end of February, the Department for Education published a press release entitled "Experts to help tackle poor behaviour in schools" (DfE, 2020a).

It announced a new behaviour drive by the DfE that includes a selection of behaviour experts and exemplary schools working with those settings needing support. These participants will be grouped into behaviour hubs and the initiative being government-funded to the tune of £10 million.

The strategies to support this new drive are largely derived from behaviour tsar Tom Bennett’s report for the DfE in 2017, entitled Creating a culture: How school leaders can optimise behaviour.

The methods recommended are not new. Some of them are even controversial. It will come as no surprise that consistent practice, high staff support, visible leaders and detailed expectations are all included. So too is the support for internal inclusion units, which are a controversial issue as Headteacher Update has reported in the past (2019).

This is not the first government initiative to improve behaviour. In 2011, Charlie Taylor was at the helm advocating that schools got the simple things right. Tom Bennett then picked up the baton in 2015 when there was concern about low-level disruption in the classroom.

The messages are the same – consistency, commitment and a school culture effectively communicated are important for good behaviour. But still for some schools there is a chasm between knowing good practice and applying it successfully.

In January 2020, Ofsted published its own evaluation report, Fight or flight? How ‘stuck’ schools are overcoming isolation. It outlines the number of improvement strategies that have been introduced since 1998 – and the list is impressive. But, in spite of all these attempts to pull schools up, a significant number are proving very hard to shift. So why should the latest programme fare any better?

Behaviour hubs

Ministers published guidance for their behaviour hubs approach in February (DfE, 2020b). The behaviour drive is set to be implemented across all phases and types of schools. An invitation was opened to 20 schools to apply to be lead schools in this new project. They will be complemented by six expert advisors.

This reservoir of expertise is expected to consist of 10 secondary schools, six primary, two alternative provisions and two special schools. Not only are individual schools to be targeted but also MATs. Two to three MATs with excellent behaviour management will be recruited to support other trusts.

Together these model establishments will work alongside an estimated 500 partner schools over a three-year period. The project is intended to start in September (although this might change given the current coronavirus situation).

The lead schools and MATs will be supported by the behaviour advisors and a delivery centre that will provide the logistics and administration.

The partner schools will be selected on the basis of being Ofsted "requires improvement" and being ready to “make changes” to their school. This category might also include those schools that are RI for behaviour.

The support package will comprise of one-to-one support for those facing the greatest challenges, while others will receive an action-planning surgery service.

The lead schools will provide around 15 to 20 days of senior leadership time each academic year. Lead schools will receive £500 a day for the work done by a headteacher, £400 for a senior leader and £300 for a middle leader. A further £1,100 will be paid for each open day and these will be held once a term.

All partner schools will have access to:

  • Training events.
  • Open days at lead schools to observe practice.
  • Hub networking events.

It is anticipated that the online resources that are being developed will be available to all schools at a later date. The programme is based on Tom Bennett’s review (DfE, 2017) which recommends that school leaders:

  • Design the school culture they want to see.
  • Build the culture in practice with as much detail and clarity as possible.
  • Maintain that culture constantly.

It recommends that the DfE should fund schools to create internal inclusion units to offer targeted early specialist intervention. In order to make comparisons between schools there should be a national standardised method of "capturing data on school behaviour".

However, it falls short of providing guidance on how to manage and support the most challenging students – and refers this on to a follow up report. The issue of challenging students is perhaps the one that most schools would like more detailed guidance on and advice to cover.

Searching for a solution

There is no doubt that this initiative is right at the heart of what the DfE believes to be the problem for Ofsted's"stuck" schools. The inspectorate's "Fight or flight?" report refers to the importance of a school’s behaviour policy. It cites this as one of the reasons why schools in similar circumstances respond differently to support.

However, there is a word of warning in this Ofsted report. It states: "Most stuck and unstuck schools stated that they had received too much school improvement advice from too many different quarters of the school system."

A table in the report identifies 17 different school improvement initiatives since 1998, beginning with Education Action Zones. Many of them are packages of support that include a similar profile to the one of the behaviour hubs. A mixture of exemplary schools and their leaders supporting struggling schools to improve.

Fight or Flight recommends that schools should be advised by someone who knows the school already rather than an outsider who has little time to spare. The research suggests that advice received externally is not always helpful and that internally driven changes are generally more effective.

Unions are divided as to whether the behaviour hubs will be the right solution. The National Education Union in particular has raised concerns that there is insufficient discussion around the issue of disadvantage, the impact of poverty and mental health difficulties (NEU, 2020). Let’s add to this list how schools cope with challenging children – an issue that is likely to be even more poignant as and when schools return after this long lockdown period.

Finding the right medicine is a delicate process. However, some schools experiencing these difficulties, with help, do manage to turn themselves around. What the new behaviour hubs do have in their favour is an acknowledgement that context matters and that "different leadership styles and school contexts may require different approaches to support” (DfE, 2020b).

With the right experts who are sensitive to the individual school’s contexts, perhaps the hubs will be able to provide what other programmes have not.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.

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