Good schools help children behave

Schools need to teach behaviour, or the most disadvantaged suffer twice
This is a tale of two students. The first student is lucky. She comes from a close extended family, two affluent parents with spare income and time to invest in their child. She is read to on a daily basis, and reads to her parents and other family members. Because her family has time (and the inclination to do so), she is carefully taught millions of micro-behaviours that comprise the messy field of positive social interactions- she is taught how to speak confidently to adults, how to resolve disputes without aggression, how interact with her peers, and so on. When she misbehaves, she is patiently retaught what she should have done. By the time she gets to school she has already acquired a huge amount of cultural and social capital. She is already in the top quarter of the class for reading, writing, comprehension, arithmetic, and so on. She rarely gets into trouble because she understands the habits of formal gro…

Perfect isolation. Why the hysteria about removal rooms misses the point.

Every now and again a story about schools finds legs and I have to read it twice to understand if I’ve missed anything. Recently you might have seen a minor uproar as it was announced that ‘’schools are using isolation rooms to punish pupils as young as five years old’ and that this practice (‘dubbed barbaric’) is used ‘across the country.’ I’m certainly glad I was sitting down to read that ‘youngsters can remain there for up to one day,’ and I gasped to read that it was a ‘sign of an institution giving up.’(1)

I felt like I was taking crazy pills reading it, which was then picked u across a few more outlets, before exploding onto social media in a glorious firework display of ill-temper and scalp collecting.

Because using isolation booths is a perfectly normal, useful and compassionate strategy that is so common across the school sector that anyone expressing shock to discover it has, I can only assume, sent very little time actually working in a school. I can only imagine what they…

Why the Education Select Committee got exclusions completely wrong

When the Education Select Committee released its misguided report on school exclusions, I was already writing my response. The Guardian asked me if I would write a short piece for them, so I cut a slice from the body of it, which appears here.
This is the rest of my that piece. I think that some of the points the report makes deserve further rebuttal. This is a serious topic and goes to the heart of how we educate children. If we get this wrong- and frequently we do, and the Committee sadly has- then we make schools harder to run, classrooms less safe, teachers’ jobs much harder, and the lives of countless children made a misery. 

Children across the world will be familiar with the Just Because Fallacy, commonly expressed as, ‘Because I said so!’ It’s not a great argument, but parents can get often away with it. House of Commons Select Committees should not, and the recent publication of Forgotten children: alternative provision and the scandal of ever increasing exclusions is a case in…

White lines, don’t do it? Behind the media spin, Spielman’s misquoted comments on behaviour are cause for celebration

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Brace yourself: Tom Brown’s School Days are about to make a comeback. According to recent headlines, Ofsted have indicated they’ll soon be expecting schools to make like Bash Street and get medieval on their classes: 
‘Ofsted backs return to old-school punishments’ thundered the Times. ‘Ofsted boss: give pupils lines, community service and detention for misbehaviour,’ gasped iNews. The Daily Mail, sensing blood in the water, put gas in the tank with ‘Ban phones in schools and bring back old-fashioned punishments like lines and litter picking, Ofsted chief demands,’ and it wasn’t clear if this made them happy it was happening or sad that it didn’t go far enough. 
That was nothing. Half an hour before the Chief Inspector of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman delivered a keynote speech at the Wellington Festival of Education this week, I appeared on a radio talk show. The host opened with, ‘So, Ofsted wants to bring back old punishments like the cane and the belt. Tom Bennet…

The Rubik’s Cube of school behaviour - why exclusions are needed to make complex systems work

The Rubik’s Cube of school behaviour - why exclusions are needed to make complex systems work

Boys and girls of a certain age will recall the Rubik’s cube, the craze that, like many others, conquered the world and then vanished forever. Everyone thought they could have a crack at solving it, but few could. Most could get one side completed. But the problem was that when you started on the next, you ended up spoiling the perfection of the first one. The world was full, at one point, of cubes with one side solved, left in frustration in waiting rooms everywhere. 
Schools are like that: complex systems, hard to solve, easy to mess up the bit you got right.There are two problems:
1. You can focus on one aspect- like punctuality, or equipment, or homework, but in a system with finite resources, shifting focus from one thing often means neglecting another. 
2. Another problem is the law of unintended consequences. Sometimes what seems like the right thing to pursue, is only part of a larger pro…