Whole school issues and pupil behaviour

Good behaviour and order in classrooms and schools are the products of a great many factors and influences.  When they break down though, there tends to be an almost instinctive, but over simplified, response to ‘sort out the troublemakers'.  This can even occur at a national level.  For instance, in March 1988 a Committee of Enquiry, chaired by Lord Elton, was set up in the United Kingdom following a media outcry over reports of teachers being physically attacked by pupils and about ‘indiscipline in schools today'.  Wisely, the Elton Committee took a balanced and wide ranging view of the issues involved and this is reflected in their report (DES, 1989).  As the report stated:

The behaviour of pupils in a school is influenced by every aspect of the way in which it is run and how it relates to the community it serves.  It is the combination of all these factors which gives a school its character and identity.  Together, they can produce an orderly and successful school in a difficult catchment area; equally, they can produce an unsuccessful school in what should be much easier circumstances.  (DES, 1989, p. 8)

The report went on to emphasize the importance of having clearly stated boundaries of acceptable behaviour, of teachers responding promptly and firmly to those who test boundaries, of motivating pupils to learn, of providing a stimulating and appropriately differentiated curriculum, of managing groups skilfully, of creating a positive school atmosphere based on a sense of community and shared values, of achieving the highest possible degree of consensus about standards of behaviour among staff, pupils and parents, of promoting values of mutual respect, self discipline and social responsibility.  Furthermore, it drew attention to the role of governors, local education authorities, training organizations and government in supporting teachers.

The holistic approach of the Elton Committee is well founded and the issues to which they drew attention are considered thoroughly in the chapters of Reflective Teaching. School and classroom misbehaviour should, above all, be pre empted where purposeful communities of people exist; with teachers acting sensitively, skilfully and authoritatively to maintain the values, rules, expectations and activities which provide an infrastructure for high quality education.

There is no place for complacency and it must be recognized, in particular, that many of the skills which lead to competence in classroom management can only be developed through extensive practice with children in classrooms.  In doing this it is advisable for the trainee teacher to move gradually from working with small groups, to larger groups and on to taking the whole class. The support and advice of an experienced mentor or colleague is likely to be invaluable. 

The Elton Report includes a statement of eleven ‘principles of classroom management' (DES, 1989, p.71) that reflect much good sense and experience. We include them in the Checklist below, in the form of questions for use in planning, undertaking and reflecting on classroom practice.


Aim: To reflect on classroom management and discipline using the Elton Report's ‘principles of classroom management'. 

Can we say that we:

1. Know our pupils as individuals – names, personalities, interests, friendship groups?
2. Plan and organize both the classroom and the lesson to keep pupils interested and minimize the opportunities for disruption – furniture layout, pupil grouping, matching of work, pacing lessons, enthusiasm, humour?
3. Involve pupils in establishing the rules for classroom behaviour and routinely reinforce why they are necessary?
4. Act flexibly to take advantage of unexpected events rather than being thrown by them?
5. Continually observe or ‘scan' the behaviour of the class?
6. Remain aware of, and control, our own behaviour, including stance and tone of voice?
7. Model the standards of courtesy that I expect from pupils?
8. Emphasize the positive, including praise for good behaviour as well as good work?
9. Make sparing and consistent use of reprimands – being firm not aggressive, targetting the right pupil, using private not public reprimands, being fair and consistent, avoiding sarcasm and idle threats?
10. Make sparing and consistent use of punishments – avoiding whole group punishment and pupil humiliation which breed resentment?
11. Analyse our own classroom management performance and learn from it?

As the Elton Committee concluded, the final point about reflection on one's practice is ‘the most important message of all'.