The Impact of School Leadership on Pupil Behavior (my experience)

In this post I am going to compare and contrast how two of my previous schools dealt with behaviour, the behaviour policies and the respective outcomes.

I would like to say upfront that obviously as my experience is anecdotal there are limits to the conclusions that can be drawn from it.

Also as the schools are different in terms of demographics, ethos and the kind of behavior problems they face some differences in policy, strategies and outcomes were inevitable.

The main difference between the two schools in terms of pupils is that school 2 is increasingly mono cultural whereas  school 1 is mostly 2 (warring) ethnic groups with a smattering of “other”.

School 1:

There was always a detailed “official” behavior policy. It outlined what sanction should be given for a variety different types of poor behavior. It also outlined what should referred to HODs, HOYs and SLT and when the “on call” system and the withdrawal room should be used.

Sadly it quickly became apparent that very few teachers dared to actually USE the behavior policy and most teachers made up their own systems instead. The reason for this was simple. It came from the top. The headteacher did not like dealing with problems. Anyone that gave our glorious leader a problem to deal with was frowned upon. Doing it too often was career suicide. Our stalwart commander seemed to promote on the basis of loyalty, enthusiasm and not causing any problems rather than ability. The venerable sagacious director also did not exclude on principle (unless a pupil annoyed, defied or threatened her personally) This had curious knock on effects:

  1. Most of the senior management team were terrible at managing behavior.
  2. Those that were good at managing behavior were largely not interested in doing so outside of their own classrooms.
  3. Those that genuinely tried to have an impact on pupil behavior were sidelined into pointless non-jobs or pushed out entirely.

This in turn had knock on effects:

  1. Most things that were supposed to be referred to SLT were not unless they were incredibly serious. Sometimes not even then. (I know of several physical assaults on staff, and innumerable fights where no paperwork was done because the members of staff concerned thought the person likely to deal with it would not do anything useful)
  2. Most Senior Leaders would not take on any issue relating to behavior that they did not think would go well. If their attempt to deal with the incident went badly they would have to decide between involving the HT and letting the poor behaviour slide, thus undermining their authority. They would not willingly place themselves in a situation where they had to choose between lethal injection and firing squad so instead often decided to either do nothing or do something completely unhelpful (If a pupil has punched me then a grudging apology doesn’t really cut it). Instead they often tried to blame the person who had referred the pupils to them for being unable to deal with it themselves. The SLT member that was supposed to deal with the incident one of the times I was assaulted by a pupil initially suggested that he would observe my lesson to make sure I was differentiating for the pupil appropriately. That was his proposed was of dealing with the assault in its entirety until I informed him of my intention to press charges if he did not deal with it to my satisfaction.
  3. Many SLT members actively sabotaged those referring them too many problems.

This in turn had knock on effects:

1) Middle leaders had similar dilemmas to SLT. When referred an incident they were not confident they would be able to deal with they would either blame the teacher, do nothing at all or do something completely unhelpful. Often they chose to do something completely unhelpful.

This meant when managing behavior it was almost every man for himself.

I made some informal agreements with other teachers allowing us to send pupils out to each other which helped but it was a nightmare trying to maintain basic standards of behavior.

As a result of my insistence that pupils be polite, do some work and behave tolerably, my refusal to “selectively ignore” atrocious behavior and my use of the behavior policy as written I used the withdrawal room and the on call system a lot. This resulted in my being labelled a “poor manager of behavior”. I was inexperienced at the time and I actually believed this.

After a while, and after a spate of serious incidents, SLT acknowledged that the behavior policy and how the school dealt with behavior was fundamentally flawed.

A “Positive Discipline” system was introduced. This included a hierarchy of sanctions that was like this if I remember rightly:

  1. Non-verbal warning
  2. Verbal warning
  3. Name on Board
  4. Tick next to name (kept behind 5 minutes after lesson or at the end of the day)
  5. Second tick next to name (15 minute detention)
  6. Third tick next to name (Sent out of lesson + hour detention)

The first question I asked was “Will teachers be judged based on how many pupils they send out?” The answer was no. This turned out to be untrue.

The second question I asked was “Will it be a problem if a teacher sends out multiple students from the same lesson”. The answer was no provided they have used the behavior policy correctly. This also turned out to be untrue.

There was also a system of merits with a system of rewards for different numbers of merits. What merits were supposed to be given for was clearly explained in the behavior policy. This was largely ignored and pupils got merits for whatever the teacher felt like giving them for. The fact that the worst pupils in the school got most of the prizes leads me to think many teachers used them for bribery and appeasement.

Despite the policy looking good on paper and the dramatic improvement in internal and external exclusion figures the behavior was the worst I have ever seen in 15 years of teaching. There were fights on a daily basis, I was sworn at, threatened and assaulted on numerous occasions. There were 2 pupils who routinely sexually assaulted female students. It took 2 years to get SLT to take this seriously. The behavior in lessons was dreadful and the results were equally poor. It was only the hard work of the staff that kept the OFSTED rating reasonable.

School 2:

The behavior policy contained no useful information about which sanctions to employ, when or for what. There was no information what so ever about what HODs, HOYs and SLT are likely to do if a problem is referred to them. This allowed “flexibility”. Most of the HOYs were excellent. Most of the HODs were excellent. A few of the SLT were excellent managers of behavior.

Within reason they all took their lead on dealing with behavior incidents from the teachers concerned. I did not experienced any culture of blame or any problems getting incidents dealt with. There was no “Have you tried an interactive starter?” nonsense at all. Whether or not SLT did exactly what I wanted they always did something.

There was a merit system but virtually nobody used it. The pupils were not interested and staff could not be bothered as a result. (Or possibly the other way round).

In this school there were few serious incidents of poor behavior (4 or 5 in 5 years). The behavior in lessons was ok in that pupils would not be openly rude of defiant. They would not do anything much at all (good or bad) given the option. The results were ok and reflected the complete absence of work and motivation displayed by the pupils.

It was interesting to me that despite having nothing in the way of systems in place and a behavior policy containing no useful information at all the behavior in school 2 was far better, the results were far better. This was largely down to the difference in attitudes to dealing with behavior at the top of the school. There are few more cynical teachers than me but I always felt fairly confident any significant problems I had would be dealt with at school 2.

The SLT at school 2 weren’t perfect but they did make me realize what a difference good leadership makes.

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3 thoughts on “The Impact of School Leadership on Pupil Behavior (my experience)

  1. Pingback: My experiences of Mocksteds | mylifeasacynicalteacher

  2. Pingback: Can a pupil (or a small group of pupils) ruin the chances of the rest to do well? | mylifeasacynicalteacher

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