I’m delighted that Tom Bennett has been appointed to oversee behaviour policy by Nicky Morgan. It’s particular heartening that the DfE has selected a practising teacher. Tom’s a great choice because I know that he spends a lot of his spare time talking to teachers far and wide, and has not only first-hand experience but one of the most comprehensive ‘second-hand experience banks’ out there.

Behaviour is a tricky issue, though. I began by saying that I was delighted because I’ve been very influenced by Tom’s writing on behaviour, as I mentioned at the end of my first year of teaching.

However, not everyone feels the same way. If you thought the teaching of phonics – or standardised testing, or mixed ability classes – was politically or ideologically based, then try and enter into a conversation with someone who has a different view on how (/whether) you should sanction children, and for what.

In many cases, we can consult research evidence to try and put the matter to bed. Sure, the literature might not be perfect, but at least we have a shared understanding of how the matter can be objectively resolved. For example, you believe phonics gets more children reading quicker, but I believe the whole-word approach gets children reading quicker. We both have had great personal experience with our respective approaches. So how do we settle it? Well, we need bigger numbers. Data is the plural of anecdote, so let’s run some big trials and try and get to the bottom of it.

As I say – perhaps this may be flawed in practice, but at least we can agree it would be an acceptable way of resolving what we ought to do.

Not so with behaviour. For even if a method is effective, there are many who would still oppose such a method. In fact – many object to some behaviour management techniques because of the very fact that they are effective. They teach compliance, obedience, authority, subjugation. They involve indoctrination. They eliminate critical thought and personal agency. Or so the objections go.

It’s a thorny issue. If we’re honest, all behaviour management is in fact behaviour modification, whether you take one extreme position or the other. So I think that the government promoting one particular approach to behaviour management (and therefore behaviour modification) is an uncomfortable position – even if you happen to agree with the position being promoted.

With this in mind, I have a few questions for our new Tsar:

  1. Should there be significantly different approaches to behaviour management in different phases (primary, secondary, FE)?
  2. Should schools have the freedom to select their own behaviour management policies?
  3. How do ITT providers justify their guidance on behaviour management?
  4. Is there a noticeable variation in guidance on behaviour management from different ITT providers?
  5. With a move to schools-based training, is qualification predicated on luck of the systems of the school?
  6. What is the role of a behaviour PRU?
  7. What should the role of a behaviour PRU be?
  8. Are there any circumstances in which behaviour expectations should be differentiated?

Perhaps you have some of your own. I’d be interested to hear them…



  1. Hi Jon. Yes, we all have personal insights, including parenting styles. My career experience has shown that there’ll always be pressures at the margins, as individual needs clash with global expectations. Most conform, on the whole, just like the adult population.

    My blog.
    Behave or else. Crime and punishment or choices and consequences? Topic of the moment…

  2. I think for too long though it has been about differentiated behaviour management with too many sticking their heads in the sand with regard to the impact on the class and the school as a whole. I heard someone tell me today about how if we took school trips away from a child due to behaviour its sad as ‘they are the ones who really need it’. However, when I asked about whether it helped their behaviour or learning – she couldn’t answer. The problem is are we following a behaviour management system to enable learning or some attempt to build their self esteem. etc and learning is a by-product. Differentiating behaviour management in classes does not deal with the issue – just confuses the hell out of the children as they do not know which rules to follow at times, everyone goes for the lowest common denominator (being badly behaved means less effort to behave) and the well behaved children always miss out but apparently they are not worthy of empathy (or more to the point the sympathy) of the adults in school.

    What I would like to see is the focus back on learning and for schools and teachers to accept they can not solve psychological and social problems by just being kind to a child throwing chairs. If people want to save souls then there are jobs where that is the primary focus. If they want to care for young children, ditto. Teaching, especially primary school teaching, needs to be handed back to those who put learning at the heart of their teaching rather than cop out of making hard decisions with regards to behaviour as they haven’t grown up enough to not care what the children think of them.

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