Towards Impeccable Behaviour: Phase 2.


It’s now exactly a year since we launched our original Behaviour for Learning System. I described the principles and the details of the system in these posts:  Towards Impeccable Behaviour. Together  and Towards Impeccable Behaviour. Ready for Launch. 

A year on, after another round of reviews and consultations, we’re about to re-launch the system with some significant changes.  The details are described in this guide:  BfL Guide Final

Why are we changing the system? 

We’ve made major strides in improving behaviour.  If you walk around the school during lessons, there is a calm learning atmosphere and, overall, standards of uniform, punctuality and general behaviour have improved significantly.  I get lots of positive feedback from parents.  However, we’re not at ‘Impeccable’ yet.  There’s always been a tension between our mission to challenge behaviour that is below expectations whilst maintaining the warm, friendly, relaxed atmosphere that many students, teachers and families value.  No-one wants the school to feel oppressive.  Whilst we may think we’ve done a reasonable job with this, it’s not been quite right.

There were several flaws in the original model that needed to be addressed:

A C3 – one hour detention is a strong sanction and, increasingly, it felt uncomfortable for staff to issue C3s for certain issues – odd bits of equipment missing, minor uniform deviations, being just a little bit late etc.  As a first wave improvement, the automatic C3 has helped us to lever up standards but we’ve more or less reached a plateau with it now.  The students who get C3s for the more minor infringements are very often the same; for them, it doesn’t serve as a preventative measure, only a retrospective punishment.  There’s a cohort of students for whom the C3 system hasn’t supported them to self-regulate.   I find teachers, myself included, are often  reluctant to give one of these students a one-hour detention for something small when there are actually much bigger issues to address.

The in-class sanctions with C1, C2 warnings and a C3 detention left students in a classroom having been given a detention – very often they would continue to be difficult, with added grumpiness to make things worse.  A C3 hasn’t been a strong enough deterrent to moderate in-class behaviours for too many students.  The next step – a C4 – would be given after sending them out leading to a whole day in our isolation room.  The aim was to create such a strong deterrent that students would self-regulate in class but it hasn’t worked as well as we’d like.  Here the consequence has been too harsh for a sending out. Teachers have been less comfortable with going that far and because of the repeat offenders factor, the same students have been missing too many lessons sat in the isolation room.  Again, awareness of the consequences does not lead to improved behaviour for too many students (a good 10%); they live in the moment- and what happens later is just what happens later.  The gap between C3 (too weak) and C4 (too harsh) has been problematic.

The neatness of a one-size-fits-all central detention has increasingly felt too unsophisticated.  A hard-working well-disciplined student who had a shirt hanging out sitting next to a student who had disrupted learning in a lesson sitting side by side in the hall? It’s been too crudely black and white. It’s not a binary world.

The next-day consequence has been problematic.  Very often, with so many separate issues leading to a C3, students would sit in the hall unable to identify exactly why they had been given that particular detention. Of course we’d have told them and their parents but, too often, for the repeat offenders it was all a blur.  In addition, they have had too much protest time.  For some students a default response to getting an in-class C3 has been to try to negotiate out of it.

Above all, the system has not empowered staff enough in the most important area: securing impeccable behaviour in the classroom, every lesson, every day.

How is it changing? 

Earlier this term I visited Central Foundation Boys School in Islington – run by the super-impressive Headteacher Jamie Brownhill. At his school they run a system of same-day detentions that focus exclusively on lesson behaviour.  Students are sent out of lessons for misbehaving and sit a Protecting Learning detention the same day.  We explored the details and felt that this system would dovetail really well with ours, addressing most of the issues cited above.

The key elements of the changes are as follows:

A Basic 8 or B8 lunchtime detention served at lunchtimes for 30 minutes. These detentions will be given for not meeting the 8 basic standards as shown in the diagram – uniform, lateness, equipment and so on. This is a more proportionate sanction; teachers will give B8s more freely and students will accept them more readily.  We think this will tighten up the basic standards because more students will be given B8 detentions rather than being let off with a quiet word.  The Bus Lane Fine effect will still hold and will seen as much more fair. Already students have expressed warm support for this change.

A C3 Protecting Learning detention served the same day, for up to 90 minutes.  These will be given following a similar system to Central Foundation.  Teachers will issue C1 warnings and C2 final warnings in class.  The rules are very simple:

  • Respond promptly to the signal for attention
  • Follow instructions from teaching staff when given
  • Remain on task as directed
  • Listen when others are speaking

If students can’t keep to these rules after the final warning, the next step, a C3, will be given leading directly to students being sent to our Exit Room.  The consequence will be a same-day detention where they will be required to work for up to 90 minutes. Students who complete a good amount of work or reading will leave after an hour; those who don’t will stay for 90 minutes so they have a very strong incentive to use their first hour productively. We’re putting the onus on students to continue the work from the lesson they’ve missed with some general work available for those that don’t have any.   As at Central, if students fail to attend a C3, parents will be called to attend an early morning meeting the next day.

So, our in-class consequences are much stronger and more immediate than the old C3, but less severe than the C4 isolation day. It’s a much better balance with the big bonus effect that student who disrupt learning are always removed. Warning, Final Warning, Exit. That’s going to help students self-regulate to a far higher degree, helping teachers to teach and student to learn with great consistency.  The same-day effect will remove the possibility of negotiation or parental intervention.  We’ve said that students are not allowed to call home to get their parents involved in a protest; we need parents to trust us to make decisions and to back us up.

The C4 Isolation.  This will now be reserved for much more serious issues. A six hour day in the Isolation room is gruelling and we need to be sure that this is given only when the behaviour warrants it: defiance, aggressive behaviour and so on.  Our Behaviour Support Centre has been very successful in providing a buffer zone before permanent exclusion and we will continue to develop that.  Already several students have had a successful reintegration after making fundamental shifts in their attitudes to behaviour and learning.

We’re prepared for quite a lot of students to be Exited every lesson in the first phase of the new system as they learn where the boundaries lie.  I want staff to set the bar very high.  We need the warnings to be given very clearly but no teacher should tolerate low level disruption at any point.  It’s in the classroom where impeccable behaviour is the most crucial.  Time will tell how it works out but I’m much more confident that this system will address the issues we face fairly, proportionately and effectively.


  1. Like it. Where does homework failed to be submitted fitted in? Currently we are trying to do as follows:
    Student fails to submit on time once: personal tutor speaks to them in tutorial.
    Student fails to submit homework twice consecutively: student gets a letter home and stage 1 disciplinary with personal tutor, head of learning and curriculum manager.
    What would you do? Any better ideas?
    Don’t forget I’m in FE with 16-19 year olds.


  2. An excellent post to such a complex issue. I like your practical approach, clear & simple. Who runs the detentions though?



  3. I like the clear flow with this behaviour policy that enables the classroom teachers to take action and also escalate as necessary.

    My query is what would happen if say a student got a B8 in a number of different lessons on the same day?


    • Hi Ross. They would serve them on consecutive days until they’ve all been cleared. Sometimes, if students have a pile up, we roll them into one long one on a Saturday and/or have a parental meeting to agree a way forward.


  4. What about being mean to another student? Where does that fit? I’m in primary and probably most discipline is for that?


    • Punishment is fine for situations where there’s no big problem* , but your 10% living in the moment for whom punishment doesn’t lead to good behaviour and those going on to Behaviour Support Centre could be taught how to change using the approach that has been my stock in trade for many years working specifically with this group. It’s an inquiry approach to a problem where the student has agency and engagement in making the change – different to the reward/punishment theory that provides the basis of you well-developed system. I’d be delighted to help you with this as it’ll most likely be new to you and is a highly structured way of helping the refractive minority of students who do not improve with punishment. (I’d like to refer you to Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’ for a good explanation of this, related to intrinsic motivation, the thing these students seem to lack.)


  5. I was wondering where you see the use of motivators fitting into this approach? I read on one of your previous blogs about your preference not to use extrinsic rewards, but I was wondering whether you do have any ‘carrots’ (perhaps learning based, intrinsic ones) to balance out the focus on consequences and to ensure that teachers focus on the positive first?


    • We have a range of rewards for achievement and participation; students might be motivated by teacher approval, positive relationships and to some extent by behaviour grades on reports. But we don’t want to teach students to behave well in return for points and prizes.


      • Thanks for the rely, Tom. Could I ask how you would feel about teachers creating their own motivation systems in their departments or classrooms? I’m very interested in the idea of consistency and whether it is only consequences that need to be consistent, and not rewards. I’ve seen some very interesting and creative approaches to motivation on my travels around schools, often not what you would recognise as ‘extrinsic rewards’ at all.

        I can see what you mean about not teaching them to behave well in return for something, but in essence they are being taught to behave well to avoid something, so it’s kind of the ‘reward’ of the ‘avoided sanction’, if that makes any sense. Human motivation is such a complex and fascinating area!


      • Hi Sue. There are many layers and stages involved – not all captured in detail in my post or the attached guide. As with safe driving, we follow rules for many reasons; mostly we recognise the intrinsic value of driving safely but, occasionally we need the rules to be reinforced. No-one drives within the rules to seek rewards – beyond staying safe and, perhaps, feeling good about being a good driver. That’s the same for most students and behaviour; they need clear boundaries but, ultimately, the majority get the idea that good behaviour is a pre-requisite for good learning. Compliance, in that context, is a good thing; not oppressive or limiting. However, clearly there are some students who need more support to recognise boundaries and to learn how their behaviour affects others. That’s what our learning support and behaviour support teams work on with individuals. The tricky part is that there is a limit to how much lee-way you can give students who might have a detrimental affect on others. Like dangerous drivers – they need to learn to improve off-road somewhere or under close supervision. Some students have motivators that are beyond the scope of any school behaviour system; sometimes they are damaged by neglect, insecurity, inconsistent parenting. We explore all these factors and, despite many successes, sometimes we have to accept that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of an individual and, if they can’t function within the parameters of behaviour needed to safeguard the learning of others, we need to provide or find an alternative space for them. For the most part, a simple set of consequences does the trick and the value of intrinsic rewards are well understood.

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  6. In 2003 I became a consultant with the Behaviour and Attendance Strand of the National Strategy, by which time I had spent about 30 years teaching in ‘challenging schools’. I really like Tom’s algorithm at addressing behaviour concerns since it helps many staff see some logic and bigger picture. However as both Dr. Geoffrey James and Sue Cowley point out the ‘motivation’ for the behaviour is key (N.B. Daniel Pink -Drive) and the most important point is to realise that ‘behaviour’ is an outcome or symptom, identifying the cause is the most important part. I realised in the seventies that (like me) students misbehave for key reasons, which indicate key problems/difficulties in development (I now know they are key skills poorly developed). Tom’s algorithm will help to identify the skill development difficulties so should be applauded accordingly.


    • Keef – your reply leads to a very interesting place for me. Sue Cowley’s comments and the detailed structure that Tom has been kind enough to publish demonstrate the high level of dominance of the reward/punishment approach – it’s taken as read that this is the only way to approach behaviour support and you confirm this with your comment that identifying the cause of poor behaviour is the most important part. The approach I have been taking and have written in ‘Transforming behaviour in the classroom – a solution-focused guide for new teachers’ (due out in Feb ’16 by Sage) takes the idea that identifying the solution to a problem, not its cause, is a possible stating point and leads to rapid change and away from the pathway to exclusion in a very doable and reliable way. It connects directly with Pink’s ‘Third Drive’ and relies entirely on intrinsic reward – no stickers, no advice, no praise, just identifying a best hope and working towards it. I’m using Tom’s work as the basis for a post i’m working on now, provisionally titled ‘Behaviour in detail – all-round action’. Thanks for your thinking Keef.


  7. Hi tom

    I am intrigued by how you manage a system? Do the students record punishments in their planners or do you have a centralised method of data capture. What happens when a student achieves too many b8s and how do you know?


  8. Tom, what about the staff? What support/training do they receive in understanding their own intrinsic motivators and triggers that lead to the way they perceive and respond to the communication (after all behaviour in its myriad forms is communication) the young people in their classrooms use. At present engaged in a lot of work in our secondaries around building a secure base, reflection before action (granted can be difficult in the moment) and crucially systemic processes that promote restorative and solution orientated thinking and practices (as already mentioned by contributors above). This has led to other initiatives such as support with understanding and responding to anxiety and stress and Mindfulness for staff.

    Like your blogs by the way, find your honesty refreshing!


  9. […] Behaviour for Learning:  We’re continually reviewing this system. The devil is in the detail.  The imperfections in our first system were too great to persist with. Mark II is much much better and, already, the impact of same-day detentions is significant.  Staff feedback has been vital in this process. The problem remains the issue of students missing their lunchtime detentions and what we do if they don’t attend – pitching the level of severity right.  Meanwhile, we’ve also had to examine our positive-negative message balance.  A focus on behaviour risks giving less emphasis to a celebration of achievement in the minds of some students; it’s an issue we’re addressing.  Feedback from parents and students has been critical here; we’ve needed to listen closely. As ever, there is a range of views that all need to be heard. […]


  10. Hi Tom

    I really appreciate the systems and rationale behind them that you’ve shared. It gives me the clarity I need in designing my own management plan.

    RE a rule for Protecting Learning ‘Listen when others are speaking’, has that rule been rephrased since its conception to deal with situations such as:
    “Tom, Dave, you have a C1 each for not listening while I’m addressing the class”
    “But Sir, Tom was talking to me and the rule is that I should listen when others are speaking”?

    Would it be better rephrased as:
    “If the teacher is speaking or has asked someone else to speak, the class must listen.”

    Or would your staff deal with that scenario when introducting and modelling the rules?




    • I will soon be 65, I began teaching in 1974 in Romford where the most important things in teaching was DISCIPLINE DISCIPLINE DISCIPLINE. Although my expertise is clearly in the Science of Learning I worked for the Behaviour Strategy for almost 10 years. Creating an environment/school in which good behaviour is simple -but not easy since it relies on a systemic approach, the reluctance of the leadership in schools to engage with the Behaviour Strategy was the biggest mistake for most schools. If you study the resources they are SUPERB!!!!

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