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An open letter to Tom Bennett – ‘cracking down on low level disruption’.

Dear Tom


Congratulations on your appointment as the government’s new behaviour…um….er….chap.


Since you don’t like the word ‘Tsar’ we’re going to need another word for you. ‘Guru’ appears in the title of your book but that moniker isn’t without its problems; since Cherie Blair hired Carole Chaplin the concept has lost some of its appeal in Whitehall. I’ll make do with behaviour ‘man’ I think.


Seriously, I’m very pleased about your appointment. Your column in the TES is full of good, practical advice and I’m sure you’ll come up with many sensible ideas. I’m glad that you are going to put together a working group and I’ll be very keen to see who you find for it.


I used to be a teacher myself but for the last four years I’ve made a living as a behaviour trainer and consultant. This means I get to work with teachers who are struggling with ‘difficult’ groups and they look to me for good advice. Sometimes I roll up my sleeves and model it for them too.


I came across news of your appointment when I clicked on a news link that said ‘New government crackdown on low level disruption’. I groaned audibly at the word ‘crackdown’. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you Tom that  ‘crackdowns’ don’t work. It’s not your fault that some journalist used that word. I’m hoping that you and your working group will be clear why they don’t work.


There’s one simple reason. Whisper it – it’s the behaviour of the teacher that needs to change in most cases, if we want pupil behaviour to improve.


Please let me be clear; I am talking about low-level disruption. Not the serious in your face aggressive/abusive stuff. Where that’s routinely happening there are bigger issues to sort out. But if we’re talking about the ‘dripping tap’ of silly, disruptive, unfocused behaviour that includes shouting out, passing notes, swinging on chairs and so on, it is in the power of the teacher to change things, not by calling on bigger and heavier weapons but through some basic common sense good practice.


Staff I work with often comment: “It’s quite basic this, isn’t it?” to which I always reply that yes, it’s not complicated….but it is difficult, because it’s about habits. When teachers change their habits, pupil behaviour changes with them. And the beauty of this is, the teacher gets to feel (sorry for the crap word) empowered. Taking responsibility is painful because you have to stop blaming the kids. But once you accept that is comes from you – you now have the power to change things. I regularly see smiles creep across teachers’ frowning faces as the penny drops – and then the classroom is transformed.


Here are just five of the good habits that I help teachers to get into. This stuff works with low-level disruption:


  1. Look like you expect good things to happen. Smile! You need to look like you’re anticipating a great lesson. It’s acting of course, but you have to pretend that there’s nowhere you would rather be. If you appear to find being in the company of young people a chore, they will make it a chore!
  2. Use routines. Meet and greet, a formal register, a routine for getting their attention and routine by which they get yours. Use these routines to teach behaviour.
  3. Tell them what behaviour you want. Set a behaviour objective at the start. ‘You’re going to work in pairs today – how will I know you are getting it right? What will I see you doing/hear you saying?’ (Dare I say it Tom, I sometimes see staff using SEAL objectives to do this e.g. ‘I want to see you manage your feelings by speaking at the right time’.)
  4. When you see the behaviour you want, highlight it. Instead of ‘There are still some people talking’ say ‘Thank you Abdul for listening, thank you Carol for listening’ etc. It’s much more effective.
  5. Use a least-intrusive scale of responses to the inappropriate behaviour of kids (and remember they are kids, so don’t be surprised if they misbehave.) This ‘least intrusive’ stuff can be found in the works of Bill Rogers and all the other published behaviour ‘gurus’. It is amazing to me that so many staff are surprised and thrilled when I set out these responses in CPD sessions, since the ideas have been out there for so long.



Yes Tom, I’ll be honest. I’d love Nicky Morgan to give me a job promoting this stuff. But meantime, I’m having a great time out and about in schools and the pay off is fantastic when I see those pennies drop. I don’t win with everybody but we get somewhere with most.


With all this talk of crackdowns I just had to get in touch and say please let teachers know – if they are willing to take the unnerving step of assuming responsibility for behaviour, it is amazing how much difference they can make, to their own lives and to the learning of their pupils.


I wish you all the best in your new role.





Why should you hire me?

Here are some of the issues that I can help you sort: If the answers to any of the issues to the right is yes then get in touch – you have found the man you are looking for!

But you don't need to take it from me, have a look at my testimonials page.

If you have:

  • Some of your staff keep getting into unnecessary confrontations with pupils?
  • Some staff struggle to deal with social chatter?
  • Subject leaders who don’t take the lead on behaviour for learning
  • Head of house/year who are buried in the reactive and want to be proactive?

If you want to:

  • Improve attendance?
  • Improve behaviour?
  • Deliver SEAL whole school
  • Get help with the behaviour and safety SEF?
  • Have better behaviour and attendance data?
  • Get PLTS embedded?
  • Get pupil voice working?

And also:

Do you want the best whole staff behaviour CPD at an affordable cost?

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