Towards ‘Impeccable Behaviour’. Together

In my discussions with my new colleagues at Highbury Grove we’ve talked about the need to ensure that the teaching and learning agenda is put at the centre of all we do – in terms of CPD, ethos and our overall improvement strategy it is the most important thing. But we’ve also agreed that getting behaviour right is the first priority.  That’s not a contradiction; both are inter-related but one is the platform for the other.  We’re planning to implement a process leading to a school-wide step-change in the behaviour standards, raising expectations significantly and putting the necessary enforcement and support structures in place.

Although standards of behaviour are generally very good and the school feels like a relaxed and happy place, most people express the sense that they  expend too much energy in mopping up behaviour issues day-to-day, reinforcing basic standards  in lessons and the corridors ; staff definitely feel there is another level to reach.

I was very interested to read the OfSTED guidance published for September 2014.  The language used in the Outstanding descriptor is extremely aspirational. I like it – even though it presents a challenge:

The Outstanding Behaviour criteria.
The Outstanding Behaviour criteria.

Although I’m sceptical that an OfSTED inspection is sophisticated enough to evaluate a school against these criteria in an accurate manner, the descriptors are helpful for internal purposes.  What matters is that behaviour meets these standards on any and every given day ( ie when no-one is looking).

These are the stand-out phrases:

  • Pupils consistently display a thirst for knowledge
  • Pupil’s behaviour outside lessons is impeccable
  • [There is] an exceptionally positive climate for learning

We are going to be on a mission to create a culture where those three statements are a genuine description of standards in the school.  It won’t happen instantly but it can be done.

The Process:
We’re planning a transition process that other schools I know have followed.  Some have used the ‘Behaviour for Learning’ template developed at Ninestiles school in Birmingham. Others have taken their own unique approach.  We’ll be drawing on all the ideas we can find to create something distinctive for Highbury Grove.  The transition will take up the first half-term in the first instance.  We’ve already planned two additional half-day closures in September so that staff can address this issue in full.  This is a rough outline of the thinking so far:

Stage 1.  Establishing the principles

In our first half-day session we’ll consider the principles of excellent behaviour management.  I will be suggesting that we consider some of the following: (NB these are my early thoughts only – it’s open to discussion).

  • Our rationale for creating a system that leads to a highly disciplined school is that it enables us to focus on learning to the greatest extent possible;  the system is not an end on itself – we need it so that learning can flourish.
  • We need to re-affirm a shared belief that every student is capable of meeting very high expectations of behaviour, albeit with support in some cases.  We do not do any student a favour by expecting less of them than we do of others or by allowing the challenges in their lives to lower our expectations of them.
  • High standards of behaviour and uniform are entirely compatible with a friendly, happy, relaxed school and form the platform for high expectations of academic achievement. Compliance is not a negative; it is a positive as this frees us to focus on learning and positive relationships; compliance helps us to channel energy into productive learning and appropriate means for expressing views.  Student Voice matters; but it needs to be formalised such that learning and order have priority.
  • Staff-student interactions need to be characterised by a blend of ‘unconditional positive regard’ (to borrow from Vic Goddard) and assertive authority.  Teachers should be assertive without being autocratic; teachers should not say or do anything that actively harms students’ self-esteem: no sarcasm, no put-downs; no public humiliation.  We should seek to resolve conflict where it arises and repair and rebuild relationships where they break down.
  • All staff are involved in the system without exception; students should be expected to cooperate with any staff member regardless of their job role or perceived status.  Similarly, all members of staff need to follow the agreed protocols; actions that undermine the system or run counter to the school ethos will put unacceptable pressure on those staff members with the least confidence and experience. We’ll act as a team, supporting each other.
  • Individual teachers need to continually develop the skills of classroom management as the first line of enforcement, with a focus on building positive relationships and establishing firm boundaries.  The school system must  support teachers but the most effective learning will happen where teachers are able to enforce standards independently to the greatest degree possible. Where teachers need support to do this, they should receive it without prejudice; we don’t all have the same skills but we are all in it together.  We need both strong system and strong teachers.

(I will be promoting the superb Bill Rogers material as profiled on my blog and some of the ideas promoted by Tom Bennett as he describes in this excellent TES video series.  )

  • The sanctions system should be presented and enforced so that, to the greatest extent possible, students are making clear choices if and when they breach the agreed rules and teachers are simply issuing sanctions based on students’ choices; it’s not a personal decision they make.  Action A leads to consequence B; it is a choice students know is theirs to make – or not make.  Some rules will require automatic sanctions in order to be effective.  eg, if the uniform rules are broken, it is a deliberate choice leading to an automatic sanction, not a matter for negotiation.  Other rules, particularly those in classroom, need to be enforced through a clear warnings system which teachers use to lever the improved standards we’re looking for.  Students know they will receive warnings but that repeat offending will be met with a sanction regardless of who the teacher is.  The goal is that everyone knows the rules, the mechanics of the system and what will happen in any given circumstance.
  • The sanctions need to be delivered in a fashion that generates a significant disincentive for students to repeat their transgressions. Detentions should be long, silent and boring; not opportunities to catch up on work or talk.  Isolation days should be tough; a hard day with minimal contact with others;  a day that you do not want to experience again in a hurry.
  • Inclusion does not mean that we are afraid of exclusion where it is necessary.  A bottom line is that no student can be allowed to disrupt the learning of others.  The needs of the majority outweigh any challenges an individual may have in meeting our expectations where their actions impede the learning of others.  At the same time, we need to anticipate that there will be small number of students who will find the new system very challenging and will need pre-emptive support to prepare them.
  • Rewards associated with behaviour are problematic; the rewards need to intrinsic – through the affirmation of teachers and peers or the positive experience of learning and being able to participate.  We can’t get into rewarding students through extrinsic rewards simply for doing what is expected .

I’m thinking aloud here but that list captures my perspective.

Stage 2.  Agreeing the details.

After considering the principles, we will look to define a set of rules that are simple to communicate and to enforce. They need to focus on  behaviour in lessons; behaviour in corridors and around the school; behaviour outside the school.   We need to  agree the aspects of uniform that will be enforced by automatic sanctions, what we mean by ‘late’, what we expect in terms of personal equipment, use of electronic devices, noise levels,  movement in and between lessons and the extent to which  homework can or should be included among the other issues.

We need to agree to the details of the sanctions: a first level of warnings; a second level of routine after-school detentions with higher level sanctions including days spent in isolation, Saturday detentions and formal exclusions.  At my daughter’s school, for example, arriving late to a lesson results in an automatic detention the next day. The consequence: the majority of students are not late to lessons.  At KEGS, students have an automatic lunchtime detention if they break the uniform rules; shirt un-tucked or top button undone = detention. Consequence: 99% of students wear the uniform correctly at all times.  That’s what we are after – a system where students know for certain that a consequence will follow such that they change their behaviour in the direction of compliance. They know where they stand.

A major part of our second half-day session will be to walk through all the possible scenarios that staff can imagine. If X happens, what will follow? What should be said and done by the staff member and  how is this reported and recorded? It’s vital that everyone understands who does what and what are the follow-up actions will be.

In parallel with discussions among staff, we will be holding consultation meetings with parents and tutor-time sessions with students.  This is partly to build buy-in to the changes that will occur but also to factor in a range of perspectives about the way sanctions operate.  Everyone expects clarity, consistency, fairness and justice and, when the bar is going to be raised significantly, it will be important for everyone in the community to see this coming before it happens and to have had input into the system.

Stage 3.  The Launch

A key decision will be to decide a date for the change to occur. On an agreed date the new rules and sanctions will be introduced – a step-change will be made. We need to balance a the desire to implement the change as early as possible with giving ourselves the time to get everyone ready for it: students, staff and parents.

Ahead of the launch date, we’ll run assemblies and tutor-time sessions where the details are explained, stressing that the consequences will be enforced and that students have the choice to meet them or go through the hierarchy of consequences.

I expect that, in the first phase, there will be a lot detentions and isolations as students learn where the new boundaries lie.  Each teacher will be getting used to using the agreed language for the sanctions and it will take a while for everyone just to fully understand how it all works in practice.  Gradually, as the system kicks in and students adjust, the numbers will fall and we’ll get into a routine.

Stage 4.  The long haul: monitoring and adapting.

After the launch phase, we’ll be in it for the long haul.  We’ll need to be responsive, adjusting rules and sanctions depending on how well things are working. Individual teachers will need support, some more than others.  Students, parents and teachers will be asked to give feedback each term and then each year as to how they feel the system could be improved so that we’re continually ramping up the standards and getting ever closer to that impeccable behaviour and exceptionally positive climate for learning.

Uniform: A symbol of the balance point where expectations and enforcement
Uniform: A symbol of the balance point where expectations and enforcement meet.

Finding a New Equilibrium:

One of the ways I think about the change we’ll be undertaking is to think about equilibrium.  A relaxed and happy school is in equilibrium where the majority of students meet the school’s expectations and the need for conflict and challenge is relatively low. However, the level of expectations in that scenario can be low or high.   Consider uniform as an example; I always think that uniform is a reasonable indicator of a school’s expectations.  Of course there are a few great schools with no uniform at all (that’s a different debate) and there’s the clip-on tie veneer issue (another debate!)  – but there aren’t many great schools with a uniform that looks terrible. That’s because, in a great school, the school’s expectations are high and are met.

Let’s take Waterloo Road for example. (Not a real school, I do realise.)  Plenty of schools have the Waterloo Road look and this tells you something about expectations.  Within certain parameters, the students don’t expect to be challenged or sanctioned over the way they are dressed – it is just how things are; uniform is negotiable.   On the right, the school uniform is impeccable.  The students appear to expect to have to dress that way – it’s their normality, no arguments; they accept the boundaries and live happily within them.  In both scenarios, the students appear relaxed and happy; there is an equilibrium – but the difference in expectations is clear.  The boundaries are different.

At Waterloo Road some teachers will believe that  it isn’t realistic for students to dress smartly; it won’t be worth the energy to enforce it; it would risk the happy atmosphere to introduce more challenge.  Some parents may agree.  On the other hand, they may be desperate to change things but  feel the systems just don’t work – everyone is working alone and the students just bounce from one to another, flaunting the rules without sanction.  To secure a transition to a smart school look, Waterloo Road would have to address all of these concerns: Yes, it can be done; yes, it is worth it; yes, the system will support everyone in enforcing the expectations and yes, once we’ve finished, the school will remain a relaxed and happy place.  And, of course, there will need to be a big shift in peer group attitudes.  If you have a bit of self-belief and high aspirations, it isn’t actually that cool to go a school where everyone looks a bit rough in their uniform.

Does this translate in an analogous manner to attitudes to learning?  I’d argue that it does.  If you can’t challenge over a top button, will you challenge over standards of work, concentration and respect for the learning of others? It may not be a direct link ( a smart student may be disruptive in lessons and a scruffy student a delight to teach ) but, school-wide, there’s certainly a link in my view – and my new colleagues seem to concur.  The challenge, then, is to move from one equilibrium position to another. Just as in lighting a match to activate a chemical reaction or opening a parachute to undertake a terminal velocity transition, we need to engineer a system change that will get us to where we want to be. That will be a period of some turmoil and pain requiring significant energy, but the prize will be a relaxed and happy school with very high standards – impeccable standards!

Watch this space – I’ll let you know how it goes.



  1. I have worked in a tough school that worked with Ninestiles to implement BFL – it worked! Low level disruption reduced but I will share my reflections of that time
    1. As a staff hours were spent discussing and working in teams to establish rules and routines relevant to subject
    2. The initial term was tough with hundreds of students doing detentions expect this and don’t give up.
    3. There is a need to act quickly and decisively if students do not attend detention or who behave badly in detention
    4. Decide in advance what to do if a student has a backlog of detentions because they have earned more than can be served
    5. Not all parents liked it and some students with CP issues were not allowedc to attend detentions which caused resentment
    6. Someone needs to be in place to resolve detentions that are seen as unfair without undermining staff
    7. Vital to get the experienced skilled staff on board especially if they have been managing behaviour despite a lack of school policy.
    8. The detention rota was good as all staff were involved and incidents became less personalised
    9. Some of the most damaged and troubled young people will never succeed within the system decide in advance the strategy so staff and students don’t think they are getting away with things.

    Good luck I have worked in schools with challenging behaviou for most of my career and BFL turned it round fastest but is phase 1 perhaps in the journey to outstanding.


  2. We introduced a new behaviour for learning system from Easter last year and I am heartened that much of what we have tried to do is also in your blog; and for very similar reasons. The most important, and sometimes hardest, part is that there are no chinks in the armour; the whole team works together to the same end and agreed sanctions are carried every time. We are not there yet but hopefully with a new intake (students and several staff) who know no different it will get a bit easier this year. The majority of students are not affected as they ‘get it right’ nearly all of the time but we cannot allow the few to rule the many with constant low level disruption to learning. if we crack this, standards across the board MUST improve. I will be following your progress with interest and sharing your blog with colleagues. Thank you – yet again.


  3. It’s interesting that you haven’t discussed where the increased workload will fall. The biggest factor I’ve seen in effective whole school discipline is the level at which the sanctions are organised. If challenging behaviour creates hours of work for a teacher with little effect then they won’t do it; often it is simply impossible. Where behaviour is good it is usually the case that it is easy for a teacher to enforce the rules. Where behaviour is bad it is usually the case that it is difficult for the teachers to enforce the rules. Where behaviour is terrible, managers are usually working to prevent teachers enforcing the rules. For a behaviour management system to work there has to be capacity to deal with everything that arises and only SMT have the power to create that capacity.


    • That’s a really important point. I haven’t gone into details yet because I don’t want to pre-empt the discussions we’ll have. However, I envisage a system where all the detentions are run by SLT and senior post-holders with teachers contributing occasionally on a rota – once every few weeks. The teachers’ main role is to use the system effectively within their lessons and then to log the sanctions issued; the rest is done by admin staff and SLT. Hopefully the logging process isn’t too onerous.


      • I think that is really important. Key things that will make a difference though are:

        1) Capacity (both raw numbers and keeping those who attend in check). I have seen such systems fail because there were too many students in detention or because those who were supervising them had insufficient power or authority to do so effectively. The Ninestiles approach of an SMT member (supported by other teachers) all in the hall with kids sat in silence is the most efficient I’ve seen, but it requires a lot of effort to ensure it always happens and that disruption in detention is dealt with. The quickest way I’ve seen schools overload their behaviour system is to make missing homework part of it.

        2) What happens when students don’t attend. I have seen such systems break down because in the event of non-attendance it was up to the class teacher to chase up and reset and there was no increased sanction. This is even worse if the class teachers are in charge of scheduling the detentions or if kids are used to arguing the toss over detentions. I’ve seen schools where it was well known that non-attendance at whole school detentions was the best strategy and teachers would rarely even know if detentions had been sat or not.

        3) Response to escalation. The worst failures of whole school detention systems I’ve seen are ones where the schools did not deal adequately with serious incidents such as swearing at a teacher or walking out of lessons. Students came to realise that when faced with the prospect of a detention (for instance having got one or two warnings in a three warning system) it was safer to walk out of the classroom or swear at the teacher than to get a detention. A behaviour system is only as good as its response to the most serious incidents.

        4) Response to system failure. These systems usually have teething troubles. Perhaps some perverse consequences, perhaps a loophole, perhaps somebody not doing their job, or most likely a bottleneck which means somebody somewhere suddenly has more work than they could possibly do. What happens when these problems occur is absolutely vital. If people try to deal with it by getting those below them to generate less work (i.e. set less detentions, enforce fewer rules) or by losing the paperwork then the system will fail. There has to be an understanding that problems can be referred upwards without blame. Broken behaviour systems usually break the moment somebody in the system will not support classroom teachers who are setting a lot of detentions or dealing with a lot of serious incidents either by telling them to stop confronting poor behaviour, or by not following through on that teachers’ paperwork.

        It is fairly easy to get to a point where the behaviour system is “good enough”, where all SMT, HoDs and the most established teachers have enough support not to have to worry about behaviour. I think that is the equilibrium the average school ends up with; poor behaviour is endemic but not universal. It is far harder to get a school to the point where good behaviour is expected in every lesson and around the site. In fact I think that’s why behaviour in schools is often so poor, because those with power settled for the “good enough” option, with the blame for the remaining poor behaviour being placed with those with least power to change it.

        Hope you don’t mind me giving advice on this. I have a lot of experience of schools with failing discipline systems and it is remarkable how much they have in common. Invariably responsibility for behaviour has been pushed down the chain, (serious incidents are dealt with by middle managers, detentions and contact with parents by individual teachers) with the worst schools having managers who see their responsibility as punishing those teachers who don’t cooperate with concealing the bad behaviour.


      • Thanks Andrew. This is all very helpful. I know the Ninestiles system quite well so that will be the key model we’ll be following. I know they didn’t include homework or uniform – because of the overload factor. We’ll see how that goes – for me, homework shouldn’t be dealt with in that way so that’s unlikely to happen. I’m aware of the ‘good enough’ syndrome and I’m determined to go as far as possible to get standards to be as high as possible. Let’s see! Thanks for the constructive comments. Much appreciated.


  4. This all sounds great, and I’d love to have a system like this at my school, but what do you plan to do about homework and uniform? I understand with homework that keeping them in a detention in silence won’t actually get the work done, but if pupils see that they don’t have to do the work because the school values other things more (hence applying to detentions for other things) then will you be left with large rates of non-compliance and therefore pupils falling behind?

    I think the same applies to uniform – if the pupils see that the school values it but don’t enforce it, is it worth them complying? I’m sure you’ve thought about these things, or you’re including them in your discussions, but it’d be interesting to hear what you thought.


  5. Good luck Tom. Having worked at Ninestiles I know it can be done. Hard work & consistency as you’ll know are the keys to success.


  6. Thanks Tom I am always inspired by your blogs and in my new role as Head of Student Support I want to improve the BFL. I am really interested in your ideas for the preemptive support for those students who will find such expectations challenging. Have you got any suggestions. Thanks and good luck


  7. It’s great that you plan for SLT to shoulder the tough stuff, but I think it works when EVERYBODY is willing to play their part because otherwise students may see conflict with junior members of staff as unimportant and wait for being really in trouble with SLT.


    • I agree. We need to get that balance right. Teachers need to use the systems to empower themselves – knowing that the SLT folk will deliver the response they are promising, because that’s how it all works.


  8. Interesting reflections Tom, the key issues and methodology you describe here are not dissimilar to the line we took 4/5 years ago. It was never a driver to meet the Ofsted standards but absolutely as you describe to create the environment we all wanted to work and learn in. However, it is always nice to be validated when the judgement comes, whilst accepting it is simply their view in that snapshot of time it does seem to be the consensus of opinion that the sentences more or less (“best fit”) describe life at the school on most days.
    I agree with a lot of the subsequent posts. Consistency and eliminating the remaining limiting factors (staff, students and systems) is the ongoing work that never ends. The cohort and staff change all the time, creating a critical mass, ethos and culture that self perpetuates is worth the effort.


  9. Consistency between staff and maintained over time is one of the most influential aspects of successful behaviour management (BM), as you have mentioned here. Oliver et al. (2015) researched the impact of high levels of implementation of BM and consequences, and found when teachers monitored and recorded their responses to both positive behaviour and poor behaviour, consistency was increased and improved the classroom learning environment. From my experience, children appreciate unwavering expectations, being certain of the behaviours they are required to demonstrate and the sure consequences if they do not meet the expectations.

    Oliver, R. M., Wehby, J. H. and Nelson, J. R. (2015) ‘Helping Teachers Maintain Classroom Management Practices Using a Self-monitoring Checklist’, Teaching and Teacher Education, 51, pp. 113-120.

    Liked by 1 person

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