What can your school do about students’ change in behaviour over the last 12 months?

As parents have seen first-hand how their children learn and where problems might lie, is there more that schools can do to keep in regular contact with parents?

A British Prime Minister once said, “Young people ought not to be idle. It is very bad for them.” While schoolchildren have hardly been idle for the last year, not having regular stimulation from teachers and their peers in the same room has undoubtedly been “very bad for them”.

A recent Tes survey revealed that most teachers believe pupil behaviour has worsened since the pandemic began, with a third saying it has worsened ‘noticeably’ or ‘hugely’. Being at home for so long has meant children are struggling with what’s expected of them now they’re back in the classroom. And continuing restrictions, such as wearing masks and social distancing while at school, are putting an extra strain on pupils. As teachers and senior leaders report a worrying slip in standards, what can schools do to keep track of student behaviour, address issues quickly and report back to parents?

As the head of Ofsted Amanda Spielman said in a speech at the recent ASCL conference: “Being cooped up for weeks and months on end has piled on the misery for otherwise sociable and active children. So many have been bored and lonely – and getting very little exercise. Teachers have even reported to us that younger children have lost very basic skills, such as using a pencil, having lost the daily practice that comes from being in school.”

Young people know that this unusual time has been stressful – and this is not just a problem reported in the UK. A recent study in India showed almost three quarters of children showing signs of increased irritation, and signs of anger in more than half. It’s no surprise that this pressure on children has led to outbursts of bad behaviour. At the same time, some students have preferred learning at home and some teachers have even reported improvements in behaviour, so it’s likely that the gap between those pupils thriving and those struggling will continue to grow.

The classroom has changed dramatically in the last year too. Change is disruptive and being required to wear masks while sitting in spaced out classrooms could also cause some children to ‘act up’. Pupils may take time to reintegrate into the classroom setting having been away for some time. They may need guidance on how to behave and reminders about the specific behaviour policies in their school.

There are a number of things teachers and senior leaders can do to get to grips with behaviour issues in school:

Re-establish expectations

Simon Tanner, director of SEND at the Bohunt Education Trust says the most important thing on returning to school has been trying to re-establish the expectations of behaviour. “We have seen a number of uniform infringements, including students not wearing masks, but we are mindful of our community. Some parents have lost their jobs and may have genuinely struggled to get new school uniforms. We are trying to stick to our school’s standards and expectations but at the same time our number one priority is getting pupils back in the classroom safely.” 

Use the structures already in place in your school

Tanner says getting the pastoral system right, using heads of house and heads of year, is the way to make sure you know your students and their individual circumstances.

Meanwhile, having a seating plan, using it effectively to separate persistent instigators of disruption and referring to it to monitor pupil progress to maximise learning opportunities is a straightforward way to get better control of the classroom.

Use technology where appropriate

There are tools and systems out there to help teachers keep track of what’s going on the classroom. For example, Class Charts from Tes suggests seating plans based on information provided by teachers – such as positive achievements or negative behaviours– to help make the classroom as disruption-free as possible.

Be flexible and tailor your approach

Advice from the Education Endowment Foundation published pre-pandemic suggests “school leaders should ensure the school behaviour policy is clear and consistently applied”, but it’s important to be flexible and tailor your approach, particularly for pupils with more challenging behaviour. As John Gibson says, “For the return to school on the 8 March, the pupils who we identified as having issues received a one-to-one return to school pathway specific to their needs. This was started online before coming back to school, before we held interviews with pupils and parents by specific, trained members of staff. Since returning to school, this mentor pathway has continued with regular catch-up sessions, all of which has been recorded on our fully online and easy-to-use system.”

Communicate with the parents

Research shows parental engagement has a bigger influence on children’s attainment than other social, economic and family background factors. At a time when pupils, parents and teachers are nervous about the pandemic and the restrictions in place, keeping in regular touch with them is a way to set minds at ease. But don’t just talk about bad behaviour: it’s also important to tell pupils’ families about positive achievements.

As Ofsted say, “It is crucial for parents to work positively with the school to support its behaviour policy and ensure good behaviour of their child when they are at school. Parents reinforcing agreed school-based rewards and sanctions makes it easier for staff to apply the policy and for children to accept the consequences of their behaviour.”

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