Tom Bennett’s report on behaviour misses the opportunity to talk about how edtech can help schools to manage behaviour, says John Roberts

Tom Bennett’s behaviour review is spot-on in many ways. Not least his insistence on a strongly defined school “culture and ethos”.

Leaders must define a clear behaviour policy that is communicated to the whole staff, and staff must know that leaders will back them up.

However, it is essential that the school team understand the reasoning behind a policy and follow it consistently. They need to know that going “off-piste” can have a damaging effect – and that if they do, pupils will take advantage. Lone wolf behaviour can undermine the rest of the staff.

Overall Bennett has made a valuable contribution to the behaviour management debate. However, he missed the opportunity to talk in his report about how edtech can help schools to manage behaviour. This seems to stem from a conflation of two entirely different parts of edtech: learning technologies, and workflow or management information technologies.

Lone wolf behaviour can undermine the rest of the staff

It comes on page 50, where he deals with the entire topic of technology in schools in a page and a half.

He mentions that schools have found technology that provides “opportunities for more efficient home communication” and “better systems of tracking, collating and analysing behaviour incidents”, but then segues into a discussion of in-class technology and pupil mobile phone use, never to return to the above. Yet such technologies can be used to great effect: to set out the defined behaviour policy for both staff and pupils, to communicate issues across the school and to parents, and to standardise and analyse behaviour issues in real time and historically.

Bennett lays out an entirely reasonable discussion of the perils and benefits of the use of personal devices, which roughly boil down to the recommendation that “smartphones should only be used in circumstances where the teacher has clearly defined a specific learning need they can satisfy”. Fine.

But his silence on behaviour tracking and management technologies, a key component of his report, is strange. These technologies are often mentioned in the case studies that accompany the report, and are known to be used in the schools in question, but little mention is made of their benefit.

I understand Bennett may wish to remain neutral on the many providers of the software available to track behaviours. However, to fail to reference their use and instead provide an old-fashioned survey as an appendix, administered via traditional methods, seems to miss a trick.

It makes me wonder if Bennett believes all technology in schools is a problem. Which, if true, makes about as much sense as saying: “running in corridors is disruptive” therefore “all running is bad”.

It makes me wonder if Bennett believes all technology in schools is a problem

I am not an unreflective advocate of technology – I am in favour of schools setting behaviour policies around uses of mobile devices and, while I believe there are some great learning tools, others are gimmicky or have no impact either on learning or workload.

To conflate personal devices with technology that aids back-office functions is to miss a trick. The quickest wins for the edtech sector are in relieving teacher workload, increasing the time they have to teach students. Having concrete, individualised data to hand at any point in the term, to facilitate hard conversations with parents around pastoral issues is invaluable.

While I agree that standardised audit data from both teachers and pupils would be an effective monitoring tool, the use of a traditional survey to record teacher feedback on behaviour is inefficient, adds to workload and could be subject to both bias and poor memory. This is especially true when much of this data can be easily reported by technology tools.

Well-designed, workload-friendly behaviour management systems can issue automatic alerts, as well as analyse and track trends. If disrespect is a big focus for the year, for example, schools can assign meta-tags to classify certain specific behaviours as “disrespect” and track whole-school or whole-year improvements across those categories, following targeted interventions.

Behaviour is absolutely down to school leaders, but they don’t have to go it alone –technology can be a school leader’s friend, not just a distraction.

 

John Roberts is Chief Executive of Edapt