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Shannon O'Sullivan


  • Experienced Senior Leader and Primary Teacher
  • Specialises in data, Leadership, English, Maths and Curriculum design
Key Stage,Curriculum

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Improving Behaviour and Attitudes

Is your school’s behaviour policy up to date? Does it meet the needs of your current cohort of children? Now is a particularly good time because of Ofsted’s framework changes, which place new significance on behaviour, development, and attitudes.

A good behaviour policy focuses on the development and fostering of positive relationships with their children, teaching them how to handle situations with their peers, and developing attitudes to learning to make them much more successful in school and later in life.

Any good behaviour policy should consider approaches on three time-scales:

  1. What to do in the long term (to nurture children and help them develop into kind, respectful, resilient people)
  2. What to do in the medium term (with bullying, friendship break-ups and personality clashes, settling-in, etc)
  3. What to do in the very short term (playground disagreements, fights, tantrums and so on). Let’s look at each in turn.

Did you know?

Ofsted’s new Pupil Development judgement is outlined by the handbook as “developing pupils’ character... so that they reflect wisely, learn eagerly, behave with integrity and cooperate consistently well with others.”

Long-term approaches

  • From a behaviour-focus we might think about long-term interventions for children who struggle with some of these: Art for Talking, Lego Therapy, wordless book discussion groups for emotional literacy development, Thrive interventions and so on.
  • Whole-class approaches might include the English Speaking Board for confidence; Duke of Cambridge awards for collaboration, resilience and citizenship; intelligent sport provision; how you use your assembly time; and the kindness lesson plans that you can download for free from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. Remember that impact is crucial, so you need to buy, borrow or create some kind of measurement system to show how all children – or intervention children – are developing into kinder and more tolerant people.


Medium-term approaches

At the medium-term level (i.e. weeks or months) we need to address individual or small group issues that arise. The new framework marks a key shift in Ofsted’s approach here: instead of just tallying up the number of ‘bullying’ incidents, inspectors will now start with the assumption that bullying does exist and ask how you address it.

Your behaviour policy needs to be clear about what you do for the children who ‘bully’. Do you put them on a report card with incentives to be kinder? Do you punish, or isolate/segregate for safety reasons? Psychology tells us that both ‘carrot’ and ‘stick’ approaches could be problematic for the bully’s own emotional development, and the new Ofsted framework makes it clear that children’s opportunities are a key consideration in bullying approaches.

You also need to consider how your treatment of the bully impacts on the actual victim – for instance are they in even more danger when their tormentor comes out of isolation, and once the teachers’ backs are turned? It is important that your school thinks this through, and that you have a clear and easily accessed paper trail for incidents, ready for Ofsted’s investigations.

A second thing to consider is those situations where the ‘bully’ is no such thing; where the word is bandied about by alleged victim, or parents, for something that is simply a fall-out, or a misunderstanding. Sledgehammers should not be used to crack nuts, so high-handed responses will not be appropriate here. Instead, a more considered group-  or whole-cohort teaching model might be useful: teach children the language they will need to resolve disputes, to explain when they’ve changed their mind and no longer want to play that rough game – before it descends into violence or misunderstandings. In effect this is about teaching children about consent; i.e. how do you say or express the idea of “no”, the idea that you’ve changed your mind? Brainstorm the words and phrases, learn to recognize the noises and body language. Make it explicit that each child has an obligation to continually check whether their friend still wants to play.


Short-term approaches

In this short-term context, your policy should outline your approach towards safe-holding and other touching, detentions and red cards and other penalties, praise and incentives, and rough play. Are your staff aware of all children in the school who may need a different behaviour approach, so that they don’t respond inappropriately to an unfamiliar child on playground duty? Very often our linguistic habits conflate a child’s behaviour with their sense of identity, but behaviour resolution is much easier if we (and they) make a clear distinction between the two (e.g. “that was an unkind action - I was surprised to see that in my playground”: instead of “you were really naughty when you did that”).

You should also outline a policy for the location and body language that teachers should use in conflict-resolution discussions (i.e. does an already-humiliated child look vertically upwards into the intimidating and angry face of a fully-grown teacher?) The policy should also include instructions on language. Do you shush? Do you shout?

How do you deal with resolving conflict?




Find out more

For more information on how to discover effective approaches to improve pupil behaviour in your classroom and across the whole school, book a place on our Challenging Pupil Behaviour and How to Overcome It course to help you identify why children often react in particular ways, and how to support them to become reflective, happy learners who work together within the whole-school vision.