Bad behaviour? All you need is ……..

My first full-time teaching job was at a private 5 to 16 residential special school for children with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. The year was 1995, I was 45 and taken on to teach Key Stage 3 and 4 science. When I first read the job advert I didn’t know this type of school existed but I soon found out. ‘EBD’ meant ‘too difficult for mainstream school to manage’, with all the children statemented for their special needs. ‘Private’ meant no unions or national rates of pay and run as a profit centre. ‘Residential’ meant the children lived there, a home from their home which might be hundreds of miles away. ‘Special’, as a teacher, meant you turned up and did what you could. As a child ‘Special’ meant getting much the same as you’d got in school before, but in smaller classes with tighter control and no running home to tell Mum.

The man who owned and ran the school told me that he’d trained as a teacher but given it up when he discovered that it would take him years to get paid a decent whack. So he gave up teaching and turned to selling second-hand cars instead. He bought land and also got hold of a big old rectory where he put his new business, a special school. After a few years the school had outgrown the rectory and he applied for planning permission on forty acres of his farmland and built what was designed to be developed as a village, with terraced housing for the school and luxury detached houses for staff. It has a grand opening by a member of the Royal family. I saw her photo on the wall, prominently displayed in the foyer, when I turned up for my interview.

I asked him one day what gave him the most satisfaction about his school. He said ‘Getting planning permission on forty acres of agricultural land’, with a knowing smile. I remember it like it was yesterday. No mention of children or happiness.

….. experience?

I was surprised to find that there was no specialist training for me on how best to teach these needy and noisy children and how to interact with them. A lot of the owner’s family worked there because they were …. family. Teaching staff had their everyday experience to guide them and that was that. The children were coerced and controlled by the staff, who were doing the best they could.
I moved on to another job. Later I saw in the press that managers of the school were being investigated for historical child abuse that had been alleged to be going on at the old rectory. With all their experience to go on the school leaders had figured out ways to manage the behaviour of their students. They went down the route of reward and punishment and lost their moral compass on the way. Making a child stand outside at night on an upturned bucket if he wet his bed should help him to learn, apparently. The boss was found guilty but died of a heart attack the day before he was due to go to prison.

My new post was for a local authority, 50% teaching science in a 11-16 pupil referral unit (PRU) and 50% behaviour outreach for schools as a specialist support teacher. When I took the job I asked the same old question; ‘What’s the induction?’

There wasn’t any, I was just supposed to get on with the job, like the owner/managers of the special school had done I suppose.

In my research I traced the history of the PRU and found people doing their best with little to go on but their own experience with the notable exception of onetime head of the PRU Dr. Tom Logan who had worked in Laurence Stenhouse’s progressive Centre for Applied Research in Education at UEA and combined knowledge with wisdom.

……. love?

Cruelty or kindness? It’s up to you. But should it be? Should some institutions be encouraged to be intentionally cruel in the interests of the broad market we’re supposed to want? There is a moral dimension here.

The G4 report on the Medway centre yesterday. The recent report of a school using punishment of children to enforce financial discipline on parents. Thousands of children permanently excluded every year. They reveal nothing new, it’s the result of common practice, varying only in degree. The recently and quietly released findings of the 2016 working group on Initial Teacher Training for managing behaviour offers nothing new. Same old, same old. The juggernaut of behaviour modification rolls on in the face of the evidence of sustained failure.


It’s not good enough to expect people to do this work without training and it’s not good enough to look at the delivery of training as the endpoint, the marker of success. It takes time and sustained support for training to emerge as improved performance and what matters are the educational outcomes produced by performance. Most current behaviour management training is no more than the recapitulation of a limited approach that ultimately ends in failure – a process that specifically selects children with additional needs and when it runs out of steam knocks them off the assembly line as imperfect rejects.

’What are the intended learning outcomes of teaching children how to be at their best?’ Easy answer – engagement, resilience, focus, an inquiring mind, kindness, self-knowledge ……. It’s not a management question. It’s a key educational question that gives structure to good teaching across the whole range of the curriculum and keeps our attention as educators focused on the prime educational purpose of what we do. But we don’t demand it of what we call behaviour management.

We need to broaden the way we view behaviour.

Looking through the lens of kindness is an excellent start and some of us already on the move, aren’t we?