“The Better Behaviour Guide – Overview”


The Better Behaviour Guide is addressed to every teacher in every school, primary or secondary, mainstream or special. Whatever the type of school you may work in, all teachers are concerned to promote better behaviour and provide their pupils with the personal and interpersonal skills to become more effective learners and citizens. At one end of the behaviour spectrum you may be looking for techniques and skills to establish sufficient good order in your lessons so that you can get on with the prime business of teaching. At the other end your interests in ‘better behaviour’ may be to teach your pupils the social skills implicit in good working relationships, whether they be for more effective learning or for developing greater personal effectiveness.

The approach we take in this guide is that the management of difficult behaviour in our schools must be integrated into the general programme of discipline that runs throughout the school. That means it must start with the behaviour management skills of every teacher. For all sorts of reasons, the problems of behaviour management are probably far more demanding than in previous generations. The chances are, however, that few teachers will have received adequate preparation to feel confident in managing these demands. Schools therefore have to look for ways of developing these skills among staff in a culture where teachers can safely acknowledge the reality of these problems, and in an atmosphere where they feel supported to address these issues of professional development positively.  We have to work out a variety of strategies for managing student behaviour. Ignoring the problem early on can often lead to an escalation of problems where we are only left with exclusion as our response to difficult students.

The articles and checklists contained in this guide are designed to support your school planning and staff professional development for promoting better behaviour. We will take account of the skills required from the whole class management of behaviour to the support for individuals with significant behavioural and emotional problems. In the course of this we will consider these key factors –

  • how your school behaviour policy accommodates the different levels of behaviour challenge and the different resources of teachers to cope
  • what the ‘bottom line’ standard for managing behaviour in every classroom should be, and the key skills required
  • approaches to managing more challenging behaviour in the classroom and individual behaviour planning across the school
  • how you support teachers in these tasks and develop their skills

Undoubtedly, and notwithstanding all our very best efforts, we will still face students for whom we can do little else to help them. There are going to be times when exclusion has to be the final option. Yet, despite the impression one might get from media coverage of discipline issues, exclusion is not the only response we can make in school to the problems posed by our difficult students. We have to look first at what goes on in every classroom to see if we can create more positive conditions for classroom management. We need a systematic approach to behaviour problems, one that picks up on unresolved problems as part of a staged response to behaviour difficulties throughout the school.

Our approaches to promoting better behaviour, then, require a stance in which your efforts are proactive rather than reactive, where interventions are systematically deployed, and where the support for better behaviour is integral to the quality of teaching. These are three key themes that run throughout this guide.


We’ll be talking about how best to prepare and plan ahead for the problems and difficulties that teachers often have to face in the area of behaviour. We will describe how you can develop a plan to deal with the wide range of student behaviour in your school, from mild to severe problems. ‘Person skills’ will be particularly important in this. If we are to raise our personal effectiveness when dealing with behaviour problems we need to be aware of our own natural reactions to misbehaviour. We are trying to avoid the reactive response, taking action only when the problem confronts us, with a hastily thought out ‘knee jerk’ reaction. Reactive responses will rarely produce good outcomes. Yet because the thinking about problem behaviour is emotionally uncomfortable for us, quite apart from when we actually have to face it, we find we are loathe to spend the time in preparing to deal with it. We have to plan for how we will overcome our own resistance to change, our wish often to avoid rather than confront the thinking that needs to be invested in advance of the situation itself.


We will make use of a staged approach to difficult students. We will expect that every teacher will be using agreed strategies for supporting positive and correcting unacceptable behaviour in every lesson. Then we have to be clear about the different responsibilities of teachers for different levels of student difficulty. ‘Organisational factors’ will certainly be part of the picture here, of course. We will need a system for deploying our resources within school based upon a framework for sequencing our interventions from less to more severe disruptive behaviour. The place of these and other ‘systems’ within the school for managing behaviour will often be to act as a safety net, to provide back up for staff, and perhaps to provide for more extended behaviour management than is available in the classroom for some of our pupils.


The efforts we put into supporting difficult pupils and resolving their problems must be tested by the effects these approaches have on behaviour back in the classroom. Where they are used, individual behaviour plans must relate realistically to what happens to the student throughout the school day. Our approach to behaviour problems must therefore be integrated with everyday teacher practice. The management of pupil behaviour must be integrated with the management of learning. Discipline policies and classroom management plans that are appendages to existing practices rarely survive for long.

Not all the ideas and concepts we will be describing will be new to practising teachers, but on the other hand not all of them will be familiar either. The process of initiating, developing and maintaining good behaviour in your school will take time and effort. Of course all of this has implications for a school’s development or improvement planning and, within that, for the continuing professional development of its staff.

The national scene

In our schools we know that today every teacher, in order to be an effective educator, needs to know just that much more about behaviour management and has to work that much harder to put it into practice than would have been the case in the past. Schools now need to adopt approaches and practices once considered to be the province of the ‘specialist’ coming in from outside. This guide therefore describes the basic classroom management skills that every teacher needs to know and practise, and is a guide to more advanced behavioural skills for specialist teachers like behaviour co-ordinators, guidance and pastoral staff, as well as senior and middle managers.

In recent years stories about ‘pupil misbehaviour’ have achieved headline coverage in the papers. ‘Bad news’ about what goes on in our schools certainly seems to be ‘good news’ for some quarters of the press. Shock stories about disruptive behaviour in our schools may be good news for the media, but are of doubtful value for any rational analysis of what is going on. What we read and hear about, of course, is often only a very superficial picture of what is really happening in any one school, a gloss put on what are often complex and sometimes conflicting issues – such as the special needs of a few disturbed and disturbing pupils against the needs of the whole school. In those schools pilloried for the poor behaviour of their pupils what we rarely get to hear is how matters got to such a state. In the unruly school what action has been taken to establish a workable school discipline policy? With the excluded pupils, what action had been taken at the earlier stages to deal with their challenging behaviour? These are the concerns that, through this guide to better behaviour, you will want to address within your own school.

Certainly the effective management of behaviour in our schools has increasingly become a priority target with governments in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over the last twenty years or more now. We have seen the quest for ‘better behaviour’ in our schools prompt almost a deluge of initiatives. Beginning in England and Wales, the Elton Report on Discipline in Schools of 1989 proved the stimulus for several schemes – in particular with the first introduction of whole school approaches to behaviour through the Assertive Discipline programme launched in those countries in 1990.

Thus by 1997 the government white paper “Excellence in Schools” (in its section on ‘Helping Pupils Achieve’) was now able to state that appropriate whole school and effective classroom behaviour management is necessary to promote the proper conditions for learning. It went on to expressly recommend Assertive Discipline as an approach which, when carefully introduced, could help schools create those conditions (page 56). Subsequently the DfEE again endorsed Assertive Discipline in its Special Education Green Paper “Excellence for All Children” (page 81).  As further encouragement to schools to develop this programme for classroom management, Assertive Discipline was even specifically identified for Standards Funding in 1998-9 (Circular 13/97 section 15, page 46)!

But since then government, certainly in England, has taken an increasingly interventionist role for itself in our schools concerning behaviour management. Initiative has followed upon initiative, and increasingly with the promotion of these state schemes, less and less account is taken of the origins of many of these ideas i.e. the Assertive Discipline method itself. Indeed, our own experience of late is that government representatives in both England and Scotland are ready to disregard, indeed deride, this system.

Like many a name for the first of its kind (such as ‘Biro’ and ‘Hoover’) ‘Assertive Discipline’ through its common usage is in danger of becoming a generic label for any sort of programmed approach to school or classroom behaviour management. It seemed to us that it was about time we got back to the basics of what this method really means and how it can be used assertively and positively not only to promote better behaviour, but also to reduce the emotional stress upon teachers trying to achieve that goal. So in this guide we will be showing how the basic ideas of Assertive Discipline can be developed to fit the needs of schools in the UK, and how teachers can take those core precepts further by developing approaches that borrow from current ideas about ‘emotional intelligence’, teaching children an awareness of their own actions and how to regulate their own behaviour.

We know that schools can differ considerably in the sort of discipline and behaviour patterns of their pupils; for some it will be easier than others to meet the standards that respective governments will have set. Obviously pupil behaviour is influenced by a wide range of factors, some of which originate outside the school itself, and are based in the attitudes and culture of the family, of the community, of the peer group, all outside the teacher’s direct control. While these are important factors they are not the only ones, and teachers need to be able to focus on those influence upon pupil behaviour that are within their control in school. When schools look at the levels of disruptive and disturbed behaviour among their pupils, they need also to look at how their own organisation is geared to promote positive behaviour across the whole school. That means looking at the expectations of academic and social achievement we have for every pupil, in a context where teachers provide good models of behaviour, lessons are well organised and conducted, pupils are given more incentives and rewards for their achievements, and given more responsibility.

Media attention will always focus on examples of the most disruptive and antisocial behaviour, but the focus of a school’s discipline policy, at the outset, should be on helping teachers manage those most frequently occurring types of behaviour problems that can inhibit effective learning for all children. It is the cumulative effects of frequent minor disruptions that lead to teacher stress and to pupil under achievement. Major behaviour outbursts in class are undoubtedly upsetting but they are much less frequent than the daily hassles. In classes where pupils freely argue with each other, wander about the classroom, gossip instead of work, call out, are reluctant to respond to teacher’s directions, show little respect for their teacher or each other, then the teacher will be worn down and the quality of teaching and learning will be seriously impaired. Not only that, such unruly classes can provide the springboard for more disruptive behaviour. Better managed classes provide the opportunity for teachers to build up positive relationships with disaffected pupils and to improve the quality of learning that takes place.


So we see that, for a variety of reasons, the advancement of better behaviour, of responsible behaviour, should take a prominent part in the management activities of any school. We have to note, however, that at the present this is still not the case in every school. Despite being such a key issue in determining its success, not every head teacher takes a prominent and visible lead in the promotion of positive behaviour. We know from the studies that have been carried out that the quality of leadership shown by the head teacher is the one most important factor in determining school effectiveness.

In many schools the actual delineation of what is and what is not part of the ‘better behaviour’ brief can be less than precise. Sometimes we hear school managers talking about the ‘pastoral system’, ‘the discipline system’ and the ‘special needs system’ as if they are independent or unrelated entities, without distinguishing between their roles within the management of pupil behaviour. If the management of discipline throughout the school is to be effectively organised, then every member of staff has to be clear about their individual responsibilities within the overall support for better behaviour. This means that not only all staff, but also all pupils and parents are clear about the policy and its practice.

The view we take is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to make academic distinctions between “special needs ebd issues” separate from “discipline issues” (the old idea of “mad or bad”!). Sure, there will be a range of factors that influence pupil behaviour for good or ill, some seemingly more under the pupil’s control than others. We have to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of pathologising all forms of misbehaviour any more than we want to assume that all problems of behaviour arise from a social context. However most of them do, and it makes sense to begin your school strategy by considering the environmental factors within the school and classroom that are more likely to encourage responsible behaviour or, conversely, work against it.

You will be aware that not all your pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties will exhibit disruptive behaviour. The overreactive, emotionally labile pupil will certainly draw attention to their needs through the acting out nature of their behaviour, but sometimes the underreactive pupil’s needs may be missed. They rarely figure as concerns within the context of a ‘discipline policy’ because their withdrawn, depressed behaviour presents no overt social challenge to the good order of the school. However you will need to be alert to the needs of these pupils. Sometimes these needs may be met through individual counselling approaches, sometimes through social skills group work. You will certainly be looking to support specialists within your local authority to help and advise on these matters.

Inevitably, despite all your efforts there will be times when you also have to make the decision that a pupil’s needs cannot be met, not just in this school, but in any well run school. We have to accept that within the context of the regular mainstream school we may not be able to meet the needs of every child. What we are aiming to do, however, is to maximise the chances of success through a systematic and proactive approach to behaviour problems. In the short term this will take time and energy to accomplish. In the long run it should work to the advantage of pupils and staff alike.

When school managers decide that their school needs to spend some time on revisiting their discipline policy and practice, the temptation may be, with all the other pressures on the agenda, to go for the ‘quick fix’. The process we are describing will take time to develop within a school. Often we are looking for a significant shift in the attitudes as well as skills of a number of staff. Managers need to take a long term perspective, and see this sort of work as part of the ongoing programme of school development planning.

Within the context of school development planning we will also need to consider the place of training to meet professional development needs. Training in behaviour management should fit into and be an accepted part of the wider context of the school’s approaches for developing teacher competence and pupil self esteem.  Because the management of pupil behaviour makes demands not only of our professional competence but also of our personal skills, much of the continuing professional development in this area should relate to the development of personal effectiveness.

This is not something that has so far has been readily taken on board in educational thinking, either at the level of teacher training or at the level of government policy. The powers that be often seem to assume that good curriculum alone will overcome the problems of disaffection and low self esteem among pupils in our schools. Naturally our goal is to create the conditions where the management of pupil behaviour provides every opportunity for teachers to get on with the job of teaching, and so enhance the quality of learning. We know, however, that all too often this first requires teachers to establish a positive climate within their lessons. Creating that in a positive way and not responding negatively to the provocation of disruptive pupils can really stretch our own personal resources, and so we will particularly look at the issue of teacher personal effectiveness in the next section at chapter three.