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Schools: Bad Behaviour

Volume 753: debated on Tuesday 25 March 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what policies they promote to prevent bad behaviour in schools, apart from punishment.

My Lords, we recently updated our Behaviour and Discipline in Schools advice. This stresses the need for schools to have a behaviour policy that both rewards and reinforces good behaviour and sanctions poor behaviour. We have also published a series of case studies which highlight the range of ways in which schools can foster good behaviour.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Does he agree that many schools in challenging areas with challenging pupils nevertheless have good behaviour and good discipline? Why does he think that is? Does he also agree that positive strategies in schools, rather than punitive ones such as picking up litter or writing lines, are more effective in combating bad behaviour?

I agree entirely with the noble Baroness. Schools have good discipline where they have high standards and expectations across the board and a whole- school behaviour policy that is clearly communicated and consistently applied. For instance, when we took over at Pimlico Academy, behaviour was pretty awful. We used an approach that we had seen in the States, where they start with the pupils’ breaking the rules and getting into trouble and then move them slowly to a position where they behave because they want an orderly society and realise that that is the only way in which they can learn. I believe that behaviour policy should be at the core of all good schools. The noble Baroness is certainly right that rewards and incentives for attendance, behaviour, improvement and effort are all very important in promoting good behaviour.

My Lords, the Minister may be aware that in Wales every secondary pupil has access to counselling services, and that independent empirical research has shown that there has been an 80% reduction in behavioural issues. He will also be aware that in Northern Ireland we fund independent counselling for young people, for obvious reasons. Does he think that there is a case for counselling in English schools? Should we look at a programme to develop such a provision?

I know that my noble friend is very experienced in this area from his role as a primary school head in Liverpool for 20 years. Counselling is very important and there are some excellent counselling organisations, such as Place2Be. Our advice is clear that schools should be aware that when counselling is needed or mental health services need to be involved, they should involve other agencies. Counselling of course links with mentoring, for instance, when pupils at risk of being involved in gangs are mentored and counselled by particular types of people.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House what role school governors and councils should play in promoting high standards of behaviour in schools? Equally, do the Government believe that pupils themselves should have a role? In one group of schools, as I understand it, a slightly older pupil is given responsibility for settling in a new student and afterwards given “brownie” points on how effective the result has been. Can the Minister expand on other ideas for pupil involvement that the Government might be advocating?

I agree entirely with the noble Baroness. A governor’s main role is to set the ethos and vision of the school. We would expect all governing bodies to accept such an ethos that had very high expectations for behaviour and to be very interested in the school’s behaviour-management policy. School councils and pupil feedback are essential. I recently visited Wickersley Academy in Rotherham, where every year-group elects two pupils to a school council. I said to one of the boys that that seemed to generate a certain amount of change every year. He said, “Not a bit of it. I make sure that I’m elected every year”. I look forward to seeing him in the other place shortly. Older pupils mentoring younger pupils, or acting as guardians in their early days, is very important both for the younger pupils and often for the older pupils for taking responsibility.

The noble Lord’s department has very creditably funded four organisations to reduce bullying in schools. Can he say what success they have had in the case of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children for whom bullying is so substantial a cause of their dropping out at secondary school level?

The noble Baroness is quite right: we have indeed funded BeatBullying, the Diana Award, Kidscape and the National Children’s Bureau to deliver training for schools to prevent and tackle all types of bullying based on prejudice and intolerance. Tackling all types of bullying is one of our top priorities. Each of the projects will be evaluated to measure the impact of the training on reducing bullying overall. Due to the relatively small numbers involved, it is unlikely that these evaluations will measure the impact on specific groups of children but we believe that the programme should, for instance, have a significant impact on reducing any bullying of Gypsy, Roma or Traveller children.

My Lords, in view of the Minister’s clear endorsement of the policy of positive reinforcement of good behaviour, does he agree that we should be doing much more to promote a culture of mutual respect more widely in society so that the benefit of the positive work of many schools is not lost when our children step out of the school gate?

I agree entirely with the right reverend Prelate. I know that the church has a particularly strong record of promoting community cohesion across its schools. A culture of mutual respect and of respecting other races and religions is essential to a modern school.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that much of the behaviour in schools would improve if all teachers felt that when they were eating in the school they should eat with the children at the tables and take a real part in the conversation, rather than sitting on one side and leaving less suitable people to supervise meals?

I agree entirely with my noble friend: eating is an extremely civilised way for pupils to learn. I recently visited Dixons Trinity free school in Bradford, which was rated as outstanding shortly after it opened and which I strongly recommend any noble Lord to visit. It has a scheme of family dining whereby pupils eat in eights, teachers join them and one pupil collects the food and serves it to the other pupils. I talked to the pupils about this and they felt that it was extremely valuable.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a strong PSHE programme is essential to inculcating good behaviour both in and out of school? Is it not another good reason why the Government should put a much stronger emphasis now on PSHE and require all schools to prioritise and improve their PSHE teaching?

As the noble Baroness knows, we feel that strong PSHE teaching is at the core of all schools—we just do not think that we should legislate specifically for it, as we have discussed on many occasions in this House. We feel we should leave head teachers to adapt the particular pastoral care that they have in their schools. However, we have commissioned the PSHE Association to produce a series of case studies, and Ofsted also has produced a range of key characteristics. We are also establishing a PSHE expert group chaired by Joe Hayman, chief executive of the PSHE Association, to ensure that teachers have the support and resources to deliver high-quality PSHE teaching.

My Lords, what progress is being made in the historic overrepresentation of boys from African-Caribbean communities who are excluded?

Exclusion rates are very low across the piece. Certainly most academy groups that I know are very anti-exclusion. We have no evidence that any one group is particularly focused upon. All pupils have the same regime attached to them and exclusion should be a last resort.

My Lords, a lot of research has shown that exposure to music and drama in young children tempers behaviour. I wonder whether the Government would like to commit to supporting music and drama in schools and, indeed, increasing it?

We fully support music and drama in all schools; it can be a very calming influence. When we took over in my own school they had a bell which sounded like a submarine, which I thought was very uncalming. We now have a piece of piano music, the noble Lord may be delighted to hear. An active music/drama programme should be central to every school’s curriculum.