6+1 Common Mistakes In School Behaviour Policies

6+1 Common Mistakes In School Behaviour Policies

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Want to know which 6 mistakes hold back behaviour policies from having the whole-school impact school leaders are looking for? So your school can finally get the whole school consistency that really drives improvements in behaviour?

In this episode, based on our experience of looking at hundreds of policies, we talk through what makes a good behaviour policy, highlight the pitfalls that undo many schools, and explain how to get your policy right first time.

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Show notes / transcription

Emma Shackleton  0:01  

Go back to your purpose are your teachers are your parents going to understand what is being said? If there's any doubt that it's not clear, teachers won't be able to understand it, parents won't be able to understand it so it won't be a working policy.

Simon Currigan  0:18  

Welcome to Episode Seven of the school behaviour secrets podcast. And today, we're going to look at six plus one common mistakes we see in school behaviour policies.

Emma Shackleton  1:07  

But before we go any further, just to remind you that we've got a really exciting competition to tell you about where you can win over 100 pounds worth of behaviour goodies. And I'll let you know more about that later in the programme. So keep on listening. And if you're new to this show, welcome. And after listening to this episode, we recommend that you go back to episode one and start at the beginning. Because we've already looked at issues like how to be assertive and attachment styles. Plus, we've interviewed some really interesting guests like Stuart Shanker and Sara Hagel, on the subjects of self regulation and restorative justice.

Simon Currigan  1:45  

So let's start by licking the sugar off that freshly fried donut we call behaviour and get to the substance of the episode, which is what is the purpose of a behaviour policy. So I think the behaviour policy has got a number of purposes, but I think is key one is to set out simply, this is what we as a school believe about education. So we encourage positive behaviour this way, and we manage negative behaviour another way it's a guide for teachers, it's a guide for parents, about your philosophy and how you manage behaviour in school in a practical way.

Emma Shackleton  2:22  

And I like what you said about simply there because not all policies are simple. But the more simple they are, the better. Because one of the key roles of the behaviour policy, the key functions, if you like is getting consistency of approach in your school. So if you've got a really clear and concise policy that everybody understands, you've got a much better chance of getting consistent behaviour management from all of the adults in your school.

Simon Currigan  2:49  

Of course, people can't execute what they don't understand. So if you want that consistency, that about how your policies are supposed to bring your teachers, they need to be able to read it, understand it and digest it easily and then walk away knowing exactly what you want them to do as a school leader. Do all behaviour policies do this.

Emma Shackleton  3:06  

In my experience, it really varies. I think people try very hard to be explicit in their expectations. And they like to cover all eventualities. But unfortunately, that can mean that sometimes the policy is just too long. I've seen behaviour policies on websites that are you know, 14, 15, 16, maybe more pages long. And even if I do read all that, I'm probably not going to remember all of it, there is a balance between adding in everything that needs to be there. But also making sure that it's not so long that people just you know, lose the will to live before they get to the end of it.

Simon Currigan  3:45  

For my money behaviour policy shouldn't be more than five pages long, including the cover page. I remember my kids school they sent home their behaviour policy once their primary school is about 21 pages long. And as someone who's interested in this sort of thing, even I couldn't be bothered to read it. Oh, keep it to no more than five pages, including the cover page, we have a nice picture of your logo on the front. There's a trick you can use here, really, if this stuff that you want to hold on to that stuff should really be bunged in the appendices also see lots of policies that include what I call boilerplate, it goes back to Victorian times when they used to make these big steam boilers. And there would be a plate with the same text on it that never changed. And you would see the same plate reused in every steam engine produced by that manufacturer. And what you can see in lots of policies is boilerplate. So someone's written a policy somewhere on the internet and you see text copied and pasted from elsewhere that no one's going to read that are very, very dry, but look very clever. We've really got a question, do we actually need that text?

Emma Shackleton  4:47  

I think that's a good way to do it. Isn't it start with putting things in and then really closely scrutinise and say, do we really need it? Do we really need it? Keep coming back to that question, if we do kind of need it, but we Don't need it here. As Simon said, pop it in the appendix. I've seen policies that include people's job descriptions or roles and responsibilities. That kind of stuff really can go in an appendix. As long as there's a reference in your policy. If you want people to link those two things together, and it's very clear where to find those things, then that's fine, but don't feel the need to list everything in your policy.

Simon Currigan  5:25  

So our first mistake is policies that are too long. And the truth is being concise, being clear, takes time as a great quote from Blaise Pascal in the 1600s, he was writing to a friend and he said, If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter being short takes effort takes time, but it's worth the effort because people will absorb what you're saying and be able to execute on it in the classroom, which is what the policy is really there for.

Emma Shackleton  5:51  

Okay, so point one is, don't let the policy be too long. Point two is looking at clarity or lack of clarity. Sometimes policies are written with lots of very fancy language kind of written in legalese. Again, go back to your purpose are your teachers are your parents going to understand what is being said, if there's any doubt that it's not clear, take it out, teachers won't be able to understand it, parents won't be able to understand it. So it won't be a working policy, it will be a very fancy looking piece of paper that actually doesn't serve a function.

Simon Currigan  6:29  

There's another good quote here from George Orwell. And he describes good writing being like a window pane with truth behind it. And if you use really clear language, real simple, clear language, what you're enabling the reader to do is read through the window, which is your words to the true meaning behind if you're using too much fancy language, too much professional language. It's like you're kind of obscuring the window, you're making the window blurry, and it's hiding the meaning beneath.

Emma Shackleton  6:55  

I really like that analogy. Actually, it makes sense, doesn't it? Sometimes we feel like we have to put complicated phrases in or put bigger words in to make it sound more impressive. But at the end of the day, it needs to be understood. So use short sentences, clear simple words, most people are going to be skimming through this policy for key bits of information when they need it, rather than reading it from cover to cover. So cut out any unnecessary language adverbs, adjectives, and just keep it down to really basic clear information. 

Simon Currigan  7:28  

Ask yourself the question, were 10 parents who don't have experience of working with school? Would they pick up this document and read it? And then would they all understand and agree exactly what you meant? Or would they walk away with slightly different interpretations of it?

Emma Shackleton  7:43  

And your policy is your backup isn't it so it's very important that everybody does understand and it does mean the same to everybody. Because often policies come into play when there's a problem. And that's the time when we do really need clarity. So we've got to make sure that parents and even supply teachers, they might be coming into your school to work short term, they need to be able to pick up the policy see the nuts and bolts understand it and crack on with using it straightaway.

Simon Currigan  8:09  

Mistake number three is that the policy falls foul of the Disability Discrimination Act DDA Now, if you're listening to this in the UK, or at least England and Wales certainly the DDA will apply to you, if you're listening somewhere else in the world, you will probably have something like the Disability Discrimination Act. The mistake here is if your policy is very mechanistic, if it says if child does behaviour x, then consequence y will always happen. That means your policy is not fit for purpose, because you're not leaving room to offer a level playing field, you're not looking at a child's individual needs. And saying, Well actually, it's unreasonable for a child with condition Zed to be able to do behaviour x, like everybody else, if you've got a child with ADHD, they may have difficulty with shouting out or impulsive behaviour, what we have to do is look at the behaviours that we're after. But also think about what support strategies will go in place to help put a level playing field in place in your school. And if you're saying when a child always shouts out, then they always lose some playtime, then your policy is not fit for purpose. It's falling foul of the Disability Discrimination Act. And a parent could actually take you to court over that.

Emma Shackleton  9:17  

I think that is a point that's really difficult for people to get their head around. Because we're saying be clear, we're saying be concise. In an ideal world, we would have a very clear, staged approach, if you like that says When this happens, then this is the consequence. But as you've just mentioned, their life isn't like that and your classroom isn't like that. And the children in front of you are not like that. They are not all the same. So being fair is not about treating everybody the same is it's being fair to them as individuals. So if your policy says on the first offence, the child gets a fixed term for one day on the second offence, they get a fixed term for two days and it ranks up like that. Some pupils are going to fail really quickly and could actually end up coming to the end of the line in that school in a very short space of time. And actually assignments already mentioned, it might be because they've got an underlying condition or an underlying reason why at the moment, they are unable to conform to your ideal behaviour policy. And that does need to be taken into account.

Simon Currigan  10:23  

So what are policies need is a short section that talks about how the school identifies and supports kids with additional needs. And really, we have to recognise that our behaviour policies are really aimed at sort of the 98% when you're looking at the whole class stuff, and you're looking at whole school systems and routines there for the 98% of the children who can manage those routines and have the skills in place and the emotional skills in place to engage with them. The remaining 2% we have to acknowledge that they're going to need additional support and some flexibility in order to be able to survive in school and work with the policy. 

Emma Shackleton  12:25  

So on Tip number four, which is policies that include too much detail about when the head teacher will exclude I think schools do this because they are highly aware that an exclusion is a serious consequence. And they're hoping not to have to get there. But they know that their policy is going to be needed to back them up when they make that decision. So the trap that schools sometimes fall into is having a huge long list of every possible permutation that could happen that leads a child to exclusion, what happens there is your policy becomes very unbalanced. And the majority of it is taken up with talk about what's going to happen when things go wrong. And you end up with a very tiny section on what happens in our schools when children are behaving well. So when somebody picks up that policy, it's got a really negative slant, all you need there is a general statement about serious incidents. And that's kind of a coverall. And again, that gives you that discretion as a head and as a school to look at individual cases and doesn't lead you to be tied into something that you've written in policy, which then actually doesn't fit your purpose.

Simon Currigan  13:39  

I have actually seen a parent look at one of those long lists when their child got fixed term and threatened to take the head teacher to appeal because the behaviour that her son had engaged in, wasn't on the list. And she said, Well, this isn't in your policy, you're now excluding for completely different reasons.

Emma Shackleton  13:56  

It sets you up to failed, isn't it?

Simon Currigan  13:58  

So that's Mistake number four Mistake number five is you don't link your why or your school's values to your systems for managing behaviour. So what we want to do is set people up so they understand your philosophy of education, what are your values? Do you have values of kind of like respect for each other? Do you have values of hard work? This is going to be individual to each school, and they have to decide what's important to them and what they believe about education and then we need to take those values the school's reason for being there why but on top of that, it becomes obvious then about how we want them to manage behaviour. So if you've got a value about telling the truth, but doing it kindly, that means you don't lay into someone who's made mistakes in their work. What we do is we speak the truth but we do it in a kind way. When you don't link what you believe about education and your values to these systems. Then what you end up with is pages and pages and pages of if you see behaviour a give consequence B if you see behaviour see give consequence D That means that staff can't take on all that information, what we need is just to simplify that and take that away, because that's impossible to implement. If your staff understand what your general values are, they should be able to interpret that into the way they manage behaviour in the classroom using generalised principles.

Emma Shackleton  15:17  

So just thinking back to Episode Four, where Simon interviewed Sara Hagel, if you're looking at a relationships based policy, when she talks about using restorative practice, then this is your opportunity to link those ideas to the actions that people should take. A lot of this needs to be formulated through discussion, but then you'll have some key points in your policy which guide your staff in the way that you'd like them to manage situations,

Simon Currigan  15:45  

Pre-defined values are going to give your staff guidelines by which to manage behaviour, and then they can use their own judgement, understanding your school's values, and where you want to take the score. If you give them wrong lists of behaviour, there's always going to be something that you miss out, or there's going to be a behaviour that sort of falls between the cracks.

Emma Shackleton  16:02  

So bringing us on to mistake number six, then is where the policy is written by a couple of key members of staff, maybe leadership team or the head and the pastor will lead for example, and then just handed out to the rest of the staff without including them. And staff are told, here's the new policy, this is what we're doing from the first of September, everybody get on with it, that isn't going to work. I think it's really, really important with the behaviour policy, probably more than any other policy, somebody might correct me. But I think with your behaviour policy, when you're going to expect people to manage behaviour in a particular way linked to values, as we've already spoken about, I think it's really, really important to spend some time with the whole staff, team, everybody on your staff team, helping them to help you formulate your policy. So guiding them in shaping this policy into what you all want it to be and what you all believe in, if you can get people to buy in and invest in the policy in this formative stage, they are much more likely to use and implement that policy in the way that you intend them to. If you just hand it over and say right, you know from and they get stuck in, some will look at it and interpret it in one way, some will look at the same policy and interpret it in a different way. And that's why I think it's really important to have those discussions and invest the time with staff don't just do that once make the policy happen, put it into place, come back and revisit. When I first started teaching many, many years ago, I was really lucky to be right in the middle of an open plan base where I'd got experienced teachers either side of me. So I was in a year one base, and they very cleverly stuck me in the middle. And what that did for me was allow me to observe throughout every day and listen in on the way that those experienced teachers were managing their classes. And I picked up so much information from their experience. And that really, really helped me and gave me a great start. In my teaching career. Many of the teachers that I work with now are in closed classroom environments, they're behind their door, doing their best hoping that they're getting it right. So if we want something to be consistent across the school, we have to give staff time to discuss what's going on and to check in with each other. Is this what we still mean? Is this policy still fit for purpose? Is this what you do in your class, don't assume that everybody else knows what's going on across the whole school.

Simon Currigan  18:40  

I think that's a really good point. Because as well as wage behaviour management is a skill. It's not something you get from reading a 510 page document behaviour management is all about the coaching. It's all about people helping you and working together and looking at each other's practice and learning from each other. It's something that you learn over time, if you're moving from a traditional behaviour policy based on rewards and consequences and moving towards something like a relationships based policy, you can't move faster than the staff. So you have to make sure they've got the right skills to implement your vision. Those are our six key points. 

But now we've got our plus one mistake is a little bit controversial. So you can take this one or leave some skills on moving towards renaming their behaviour policy to something else. Some are calling it relationships policy. I think that is a mistake. Because a) parents can't find it. When they look on your website. They will be looking for a behaviour policy to understand how your school works with children with social and emotional needs. Or they'll be looking to find out what should happen when their child hands in their homework should they get a sticker or a water or whatever if they can't find the behaviour policy because it's called something else that's going to create confusion. Ofsted inspectors when they're looking to do an inspection of your school, especially nowadays will go on the website first and they will download some key policies. If they can't find your behaviour policy. Then when they come into school you remember mediately on the backfoot explaining why you don't have a behaviour policy on the website, or it looks like you don't have a behaviour policy in school.

Emma Shackleton  20:08  

I kind of like the idea of moving towards a relationships policy. But you're right, it needs to be labelled as something familiar. So perhaps the answer is simply to call it a behaviour and relationships policy instead.

Simon Currigan  20:20  

That sounds good to me, then people can find it. But it also shows that your vision is to move away from something a bit more Victorian. So to sum up, our six most common behaviour policy mistakes are number one, they're too long aim for five pages, including the cover page, no cheating with the font.

Emma Shackleton  20:36  

Number two, they're not clear. So remember, use simple concise language. And number three, they might violate the Disability Discrimination legislation by not accounting for kids with additional needs.

Simon Currigan  20:50  

Number four, they include too much detail about what their head teacher will exclude. And number five, they don't clearly link your why or your values to your systems for managing behaviour.

Emma Shackleton  20:59  

Number six is that the policy is written by a small number of staff and handed out to everybody else instead of getting their investments. And our bonus strategy then is maybe the policy has got the wrong title. So think carefully about what you're going to call it. 

If you want to know more about supporting pupils with additional needs, we've got a completely free download called the graduated SEMH framework. So that's going to do four things for you. The first is it will give you all the behaviour plans and risk assessments, you need to make sure you're approaching behaviour issues in the right way. By focusing on causes and tackling those.

Simon Currigan  21:38  

It's going to give you clarity on what behaviours you're going to focus on what strategies you're going to use, and how you measure your success. And it's going to help you collect evidence to prove you've acted in that graduated proportional way, which is really important if you're in the UK, and your pupil may need an EHCP assessment for their SEMH needs. The framework also comes with a video guiding you through how to use all the paperwork and the process it's completely free. And I'll put a direct link in the show description or you can download it by going to beaconschoolsupport.co.uk clicking on the free resources button at the top and scrolling down to the free graduated smh framework picture near the top.

Emma Shackleton  22:19  

And don't forget to enter our competition we've got just shy of 100 pounds worth of books about behaviour in schools to give away including running the room by Tom Bennett assertive discipline by Lee Canter and when the adults change everything changes by Paul Dix. We're also going to throw in a three month subscription of our own inner circle online programme containing over 20 videos and resources about successful behaviour management in schools. And that's worth almost 40 pounds.

Simon Currigan  22:50  

Once a win all you've got to do is give this podcast an honest rating and review on Apple podcasts and email a screenshot to Simon at beaconschoolsupport.co.uk. And we will pick one lucky winner at random one entry per person, no purchase necessary get your entries into me before February the 28th 2021. And remember, we can only accept screenshots from Apple podcasts.

Emma Shackleton  23:13  

So in the next episode, we're going to be interviewing Catherine Young, who's developed an evidence based approach to supporting children with attachment issues called M-MAT. The core to Catherine's technique is helping the child and parents repair the attachment injury that's causing difficulties with the child's emotions and behaviour. Her approach is incredibly practical, structured in a step by step fashion, and she's going to talk you through the map process next week.

Simon Currigan  23:40  

First of all, if you like what you've heard, open your podcast app now and hit the subscribe button that will tell your podcast app to download the next episode of school behaviour secrets each week when it's released on a Tuesday without you even having to think about it. Thanks for listening. Have a great week and we look forward to seeing you in the next episode.

Emma Shackleton  23:57  

Bye now.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)