What can Australia learn from Ofsted’s school behaviour research?

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Ofsted is the body tasked with inspecting schools in England. One of its roles is to report on behaviour in classrooms and around the school and for much of its history, it’s been pretty bad at that.

Ofsted rarely arrive without notice and so there was always a clear game to play during any inspection. Members of senior staff who rarely left their office would suddenly become visible around the school. Litter and uniform now mattered. A concerted effort was made to contain students who were known to be disruptive.

This was a problem for the teaching profession in England because it led to the vast majority of schools being rated as good or outstanding in terms of their behaviour with inspections instead focusing on meeting academic targets. Teachers knew that this was not accurate, but those commentators who, for ideological reasons, wished to avoid any discussion of behaviour would point to this evidence. It is also the case that, over the years, behaviour problems have been constructed by many academics and schools leaders as being the result of teaching that is not engaging enough or that is not suitably differentiated to different students’ needs and so teachers are uncomfortable volunteering that they have problems managing behaviour. Added together, this situation allowed for the kind of denial about school discipline that is still an issue in Australia today.

This began to change in England when Michael Wilshaw was made Chief Inspector of Schools in 2012. Wilshaw had previously been head of Mossbourne Academy, built on the site of the failed Hackney Downs school. We would now probably describe his style as ‘warm strict‘ and Mossbourne was certainly a trailblazing school when its came to taking behaviour seriously. During his time in charge of Ofsted, the organisation published a report on ‘low-level disruption‘ and this seemed to be the first clear indication that Ofsted were becoming dissatisfied with playing their part in the inspection behaviour game.

This month, under Wilshaw’s successor, Amanda Spielman, the UK government have published a summary of all the behaviour research Ofsted have conducted so far. It is an interesting read. A key theme throughout is that teachers frequently feel unsupported by school leaders in managing behaviour. Reading between the lines, it seems that Ofsted have been trying to address this issue through their inspection regime. It is fairly obvious that a school leader who tells their staff, either verbally or in the form of a written policy, that they must all do X but then does not do X himself or herself or who undermines a teacher who does X, will create a poor environment for behaviour management. Yet this continues to be a recurring motif of many schools.

So what does a better approach look like? It’s very simple. It should be school-wide and consistent and bolstered by effective routines that reduce the need for constant direction. Students need to be actively taught the behaviours that are required of them because it is the students who are most likely to present a challenge who are the ones who are least likely to work this out for themselves. Although the vast majority of students will respond positively to a school-wide system, a small proportion will struggle and they need specific support. This is obviously quite different to suspending the rules for these students. It involves a clear intervention. I would suggest Response to Intervention as a model.

Effective schools also embed their approach to behaviour in values and ethos. It is not a bolt-on. In the phrase used by Katharine Birbalsingh and Michaela, it becomes, “Who we are.”

Clearly, this is just one avenue of largely qualitative research. You may dismiss it if you feel the ideological need to do so. However, if you are school leader looking for guidance in an area in which it is difficult to do experimental research, Ofsted’s body of research may give you some leads.

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5 thoughts on “What can Australia learn from Ofsted’s school behaviour research?

  1. Tom Burkard says:

    I will be far more interested in the second phrase of this research–what works in real, existing schools. Dylan Wiliam suggests

    “…the establishment of school-based teacher learning communities. In monthly meetings, of around 75 minutes duration, teachers report back to their colleagues about what they have done in their classrooms to improve their practice, get the support of their colleagues for persisting with these difficult changes, hear about new ideas for improving practice, and commit themselves to specific improvements in their practice for the coming month. Schools that have embraced this kind of structure have seen significant improvements both in practice, as observed in classrooms, and in GCSE results”.

    There’s a certain irony here, as Wiliam explicitly rejects the CPD model of school improvement. However, I can think of few better ways to ensure that change is ecologically valid and sitmulates an attitude of continuing improvement.

  2. Jay Jam says:

    Sorry, there’s no link I’m aware of. It’s only anecdotal but from a well-placed source. I imagine that’s the main point of the RP push.

  3. The concept of teaching behaviour is a simple one but can be under utilised. Being explicit in your expectations, consistent in their application and positive by praising those who engage in the right behaviour will help prevent a lot of minor misbehaviours before they even get a chance to arise. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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