Behaviour in schools: The common factors behind success and failure

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

Eight key aspects to achieving a culture of good behaviour in your school have been identified by teacher and government advisor Tom Bennett. He has also uncovered some of the common factors in less successful schools.

In a government-commissioned report, published last week, Mr Bennett says there is no “silver bullet” approach to behaviour.

However, in researching his report, Mr Bennett visited a range of schools across England and he highlights eight features “commonly found” in the more successful ones. These include visible school leaders, consistent practices, detailed expectations, and high staff support (see below for the full, more detailed list).

At the same time, the report also highlights challenges that “frequently impede improvement” when it comes to behaviour. These include:

  • A lack of clarity of vision.
  • A lack of sufficient in-school classroom management skills.
  • Poorly calibrated or low expectations.
  • Inadequate orientation for new staff or students
  • Staff over-burdened by workload.
  • Unsuitably skilled staff in charge of pivotal behaviour roles.
  • Remote, unavailable, or over-occupied leadership.
  • Inconsistency between staff and departments.

The report offers a range of practical advice to teachers and school leaders drawing on the practice that Mr Bennett has witnessed during his research.

Mr Bennett said: “I spoke to leaders of coastal schools, inner-city schools, rural, primary, secondary, alternative provision and asked them what they did. Every school has different circumstances and challenges, but we found that some themes were almost universal: clear routines, robustly administered, high expectations and a focus on building a strong sense of identity and good relationships where children feel they belong, are safe, and are expected to do their best. That’s why I called it ‘creating a culture’. Because these things don’t happen by accident.

“We also need to acknowledge that in some schools, challenges faced are greater than in others, and in these circumstances we need to look at better ways of guaranteeing that provision, skill-sets and support are available. The skills required to improve school behaviour cultures already exist within the ecosystem of schools. The challenge now is for us to collaborate as a community to do so.”

The report calls on the Department for Education to fund schools to create internal inclusion units to offer “targeted early specialist intervention with the primary aim of reintegrating students back into the mainstream school community”.

He also urges better training of school leaders, including visits to other schools, with a potential pilot training scheme to take place in the government’s Opportunity Areas.

The Department for Education has said it will use the report to inform its on-going work to support schools with behaviour.

Factors behind good and poor behaviour in schools

Tom Bennett’s report emphasises that there is no “silver bullet” to good behaviour, but highlights eight “commonly found features of the most successful schools”. In his own words, these include:

  • Committed, highly visible school leaders, with ambitious goals, supported by a strong leadership team.
  • Effectively communicated, realistic, detailed expectations understood clearly by all members of the school.
  • Highly consistent working practices throughout the school.
  • A clear understanding of what the school culture is – “this is how we do things around here and these are the values we hold”.
  • High levels of staff and parental commitment to the school vision and strategies.
  • High levels of support between leadership and staff, for example, staff training. Attention to detail and thoroughness in the execution of school policies and strategies.
  • High expectations of all students and staff and a belief that all students matter equally.

The report also highlights common factors found in schools where behaviour was poor:

  • Limiting beliefs. The belief that students cannot improve, or achieve, because of their circumstances.
  • Inadequate understanding. School expectations have not been made concrete, demonstrated clearly, or repeated often enough.
  • Lack of skills. Many schools have insufficient skill-bases in behaviour management to effectively maintain consistency of training. Additionally, some schools have inappropriate staff in charge of behaviour, for at least one of the two reasons given above. Executing a behaviour programme is a highly skilled and difficult role, and should not be assigned to staff without the experience, character or skills to deliver it.
  • Poorly calibrated expectation. In some schools, it is necessary for leaders to step out of one’s context and observe schools with similar contexts but better behaviour, in order to re-assess what is possible in their own circumstances.
  • Lack of resources. Additionally, there was general agreement among school leaders surveyed that there is a resourcing issue for some schools with a disproportionate numbers of the most challenging students. Even ambitious and skilled school leaders can only do so much without funding, premises and suitably trained staff.

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