One small step towards good pupil behaviour...

Written by: HTU | Published:

Small steps and consistent language can have a huge impact on children’s behaviour. Nick Bannister looks at the successful approaches of two schools to behaviour management

When Rob Carpenter became head of Bannockburn Primary School in Greenwich nine years ago he found a school with a culture of underachievement, poor behaviour and low expectations.

“Staff at the time wanted to provide the children with a nurturing environment but there was a lack of clarity on boundaries and how we structured the learning environment for children,” he said.

“One example of this was that the children didn’t line up before school, they just waltzed in and that led to chaos.”

The turning point came in 2004 when he appointed Shirley Moore as an advanced skills teacher with a specialism in behaviour leadership. Shirley is now head of school at Bannockburn.

“That filtered across the school from her class. Her classroom was an oasis of calm. I think staff thought that the children were being coerced into behaving but it was all values-based,” Mr Carpenter explained.

“It was, for example, about how the book corner was looked after and respected, how children were expected to use resources in a safe way, and how they were expected to move around the classroom.”

Consistency in the language that adults used when talking to the children was as vital as structure and organisation, Mr Carpenter explained. “If you come to our school you would see very well organised learning environments. There’s structure in how children move around and there’s also structure in how the children are spoken to. We make sure that the same sort of language is used constantly by all staff. This might seem prescriptive but in the end it becomes so ingrained that adults and children use the same language to describe learning behaviours.”

Key to this is using language that targets the child’s behaviour – and not the child. Mr Carpenter gave an example: “You might say ‘at Bannockburn School, we treat each other with respect. I noticed that you used unkind words towards (child’s name). When you use unkind words, your behaviour is not respectful. This is your first warning’.

“If the child is seen or heard doing that again a consequence is given and if there is a third time it’s a time-out.”

Bannockburn’s simple and consistent approach to behaviour management has had a dramatic impact. By 2009 pupils’ behaviour was judged by Ofsted to be outstanding. The school is now aiming to share its knowledge with other schools through a new programme called Behaviour for Learning, which is being delivered through the London Leadership Strategy, an initiative which helps schools work together for school improvement.

The six-week programme has been piloted in Bannockburn and three other London schools and Mr Carpenter has ambitions to expand it across the city and into authorities in Kent and on the south coast.

One of the schools involved in the pilot was nearby Rockcliffe Manor Primary, which is federated with Bannockburn.

“The course gave teachers the confidence and practical strategies to deal with challenging situations in a more confident and assertive manner,” explained Nav Sanghara, who is head of school at Rockcliffe.

“The key for us as a school was ensuring that more adults were interacting with children in a positive manner and were pre-empting situations before they escalated, which has made for a school with even better behaviour and stronger positive teacher-pupil relationships.”

Behaviour leadership hinges on all adults working at the school having a common voice, agrees Ms Sanghara. Behaviour is then improved through small incremental steps, she said.

“Classroom organisation seems a small thing but it can have a big effect,” she continued. “One of our teachers came back from the programme and realised that classroom layout was creating an issue with a couple of children – the position of their tables meant that they were bumping into each other when they got up and this was causing friction.”

Staff returning from the programme also realised that some of the best behaviour leadership practice could be found in the neighbouring classroom. Ms Sanghara has encouraged colleagues to observe colleagues to pick up tips on good classroom management.

“Our behaviour was good but there were some inconsistencies which have now been ironed out. The course strengthened our behaviour management even further.

“I’ve made a point of grabbing some of our children to ask them about behaviour in the playground and they say they’ve noticed changes.”

“It’s important to be supportive if there are colleagues who are perhaps struggling with behaviour management. The course is a really positive, supportive experience and staff have come back with lots of ideas. You can see changes like the consistency of language filtering throughout the school.”

Mr Carpenter, meanwhile, is clear about the risks of not addressing behaviour with a clear strategy. “If there’s no consistency in the way that adults manage behaviour then children very quickly learn the differences and they can play people off each other.”

Positive language matters, especially if a school is managing the behaviour of children with challenging home lives. “Our focus is to make the child feel valued and safe. One of the key pieces of research shows that children from professional families can have a larger vocabulary and can be exposed to a higher ratio of positive words to negative words than those children, for example, from less well off families.

“Our challenge is to ensure all children receive quality, positive interactions with each other and the adults who support them, regardless of who they are and where they are from.

“At Bannockburn we sometimes take hard-to-place children. These children have been let down. They’re not feeling safe and they’ve been moved from school to school. Some have never been in a primary school at the age of six or seven. For those children to even come to school and feel ready to learn is an achievement.”

Good behaviour does not stop at the playground gates and it is important to bring parents into the equation, Mr Carpenter added. “We are also targeting support for families and that work has led to a massive reduction in fixed-term exclusions.

"Attendance has risen by two per cent in the last three years. There’s more engagement in lessons and parents trust the school. In 2003 it wasn’t uncommon for parents to fight and tear each other’s hair out in the playground. That’s not happening now.”

• Nick Bannister is an education writer and communications consultant.

Further information

Advice on behaviour management, including behaviour management checklists from former government behaviour advisor Charlie Taylor, is available from the Department for Education at

Behaviour for Learning

Bannockburn Primary School is working in partnership with the London Leadership Strategy to deliver the six week Behaviour for Learning programme. Aimed at teachers and teaching assistants, the course includes sessions on:

• Establishing a positive learning environment.

• Effective use of “rules” and a fresh look at rewards and sanctions.

• Verbal triggers and the language of behaviour.

• Dealing with low-level disruptive behaviour.

• Building positive relationships.

• Dealing with extreme behaviours and exceptionally challenging pupils.

More information about the Behaviour for Learning programme is available at

Wider details on the London Leadership Strategy are available at

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
About Us

Headteacher Update is the only magazine delivered directly to every primary school headteacher in the UK. It is published six times a year, at the beginning of each term and half-term, to keep headteachers up-to-date with everything going on in primary education.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.