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Wilshaw Slams Heads

Wilshaw to blame head teachers for poor behaviour

According to the Sunday Times, Sir Michael Wilshaw will this week lay the blame for poor behaviour in our schools at the feet of head teachers. His forthcoming speech was reported yesterday under the headline ‘Ofsted Chief Slams Lax heads’.

He will say, apparently, that they are ‘lax’ for casually accepting lower standards of behaviour than they should and that this failure to deal strictly and consistently with inappropriate behaviour is “preventing England’s school systems from competing with the best jurisdictions in the world.”

It is easy to see why heads should feel affronted by this; they spend interminable hours arranging external support and/or alternative provision for children whose extreme behaviours are the symptoms of complex needs. They divert large parts of the school budget to create internal ‘inclusion’ facilities where those who will not respond to mainstream classes can be managed and on a good day, led, by dedicated staff. They look to recruit ‘strong’ staff and they encourage the sharing of experiences and strategies amongst staff to increase the overall effectiveness of the adult team.

However, there is more than a grain of truth in this statement of Sir Michael’s:

“Too many teachers have come to accept…low level disruption as an inevitable part of everyday life in the classroom”

As a freelance consultant working in schools I have become accustomed to this picture. A number of teachers on every working day of the year walk into classrooms where they are ignored, interrupted and mocked by a small minority of pupils. This is damaging to their morale and health, does no good to the perpetrators and is exceedingly frustrating for the silent majority who want to work.

There was an example in last nights’ episode of ‘Educating the East End’. (Yes it’s edited, get over it.) It confirmed what I see in school each week:  adults struggling to control children’s behaviour and addressing them as “guys”. Why do they do it? I teach supply myself. The last thing I want to do is give pupils the impression that I am desperate to be their friend. Mostly, they have enough friends.

The kids need the grown-ups to be grown-up; and that means setting boundaries. Calling your class “guys” is asking for the wrong relationship.

Another key failing is many school behaviour support systems is that it is too easy for staff to send pupils out of the classroom. As a result, they behave poorly in order to trigger this.

Even when it has been necessary, the teacher who experienced the problem often isn’t involved in the ‘repair and rebuild’ conversation with the young person, as it’s all done by (well-meaning and hard-working) pastoral staff. Since the teacher didn’t get involved, didn’t get to know the youngster any better and so the situation re-occurs the very next lesson because resentments are still there on each side. Teachers have to be supported to engage, for their own good, with those who cause them problems.

What head teachers are not so good at doing is addressing the consistency issue.  I recently delivered a half-day training event on the subject to the teaching staff of a school in the North West. I was delighted to receive a round of applause from staff at the end of the morning, having stirred the pot pretty firmly with some challenging questions about their own practice. When I rang the following week to arrange some follow up I was told it would not be happening, “We’ll follow it up internally.” Now I might be wrong but my suspicion is that under the pressure of an Ofsted re-inspection looming, they won’t. It will be all about lists of pupils who’ve made three and four levels of progress, as if nothing else mattered. The irony is this: If pupils are to make those levels of progress they need to be motivated by excellent relationships with consistent adults.

If teachers are to be strict and consistent they need a number of things:

  • A behaviour policy that makes the ethos of the school crystal clear, in particular the understanding that learning takes place within relationships and that those relationships have to be characterised by mutual respect, a recognition that every child matters, that we are the adults and every day is a fresh beginning.


  • As part of the policy review process, staff attitudes and values need to be voiced and tested. If staff believe they are there only to teach their subjects and/or that the school population can be classified into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ kids, they need to be given the choice: learn and develop or be moved on, fast. (The adults need ‘the big picture’ just like the youngsters do.)


  • Simple, clear rules and expectations that are easy to remember and possible to justify.


  • Staff need high quality CPD where they can discuss and develop their grasp of what ‘strict’ is, why it necessary and how it is possible to be both strict and likeable!


In my consultancy I work in classrooms, holding up a (metaphorical!) mirror to staff, showing them the signals they are giving off. Once in control of those signals it is amazing how quickly they make progress. In particular once teachers are fully aware of how they gain pupil attention and how pupils gain theirs, the amount of time freed up for learning is remarkable.


Where head teachers can tighten up is by taking responsibility for the behaviour of their staff. I know some excellent head teachers whose only visible flaw is knowing that Mr Gradgrind in maths is a shouter and doing nothing effective about it. The shouters’ discipline isn’t any better than those who call pupils “guys”. In my experience, it’s usually worse.

Devote the CPD time to surface the beliefs, value and principles that underpin the school ethos and use this to show staff why they are asked to do the things they are. Hold them to account for acting in ways that undermine it.


It is terribly ironic that ‘SEAL’ (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning)  which was derided by some as somehow ‘soft’ contained exactly the right prescription if applied whole- school. What is more disciplined than the staff taking full responsibility for the following?

  • Demonstrating self –awareness
  • Managing their feelings
  • Demonstrating appropriate empathy
  • Behaving an a way that motivates and also reflects their own strong motivation
  • Exemplifying excellent social skills in their teaching and their behaviour leadership.

The few sentences cherry picked by The Sunday Times make it appear that Sir Michael is provocative in his tone, which he may be, as I suspect he wishes to stimulate a vigorous debate. We’ll have to see the whole report. In the meantime I will be chairing Optimus Education’s London Conference tomorrow on ‘Achieving and Evidencing Outstanding Behaviour’. It will be one very interesting day and it what looks like being an interesting week!



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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