Beyond behaviour: A roadmap to practices for social betterment

A new programme aims to navigate schools out of the dead-end behaviour debate and towards a holistic approach to pro-social attitudes

A new programme aims to navigate schools out of the dead-end behaviour debate and towards a holistic approach to pro-social attitudes

5 May 2024, 5:00

The age-old debate about behaviour management is a key battlefield in the polarised culture war waged across professional publications, school staffrooms and the media. On one side are those who espouse the central importance of sanctions; on the other, those who promote personal development and a strong school ethos. Now, a new and growing evidence base suggests that the latter are right to be sceptical of ‘draconian’ punishment regimes and an over-reliance on controls.

Cutting-edge research evidence pioneered by the Centre for Analytic Criminology at the University of Cambridge shows that pro-social and rule-following behaviour is driven primarily by the strong moral rules of individuals. Further, it shows that these are developed and adhered to in strong moral contexts.

Moreover, related research in schools is increasingly showing that controls like supervision, sanctions and deterrents are only conditionally relevant. They are relegated to a failsafe in situations when individuals are forced to deliberate about their actions.

But such deliberation only occurs following conflict between actors’ own moral rules and those of their immediate context, ie. when the moral rules of either the individual or the school context (such as classrooms, corridors and the people in them) are weak.

Thus, when students with strong pro-social values are in school settings that are also pro-social, sanctions and deterrents are simply not relevant to their behaviour.

This internationally growing evidence base is counter to the majority of prior academic and pedagogical approaches that identify controls to be the most fundamental contributor to rule-following. Instead, research findings strongly suggest that effective behaviour management should be built on a comprehensive strategy for personal moral development within a strong moral context.

Importantly, this new evidence base is grounded in theory that provides strong and specific recommendations not just for school behaviour policies, but also for guidance about school moral climate and targeted morality-strengthening interventions.

Morality is inseparable from behaviour management

Now, through the collaboration of researchers and practitioners, this theory and evidence base is being translated into a wide-ranging programme of changes to policy and practice that can be adopted by individual schools under the guidance of those who have developed it.

The overall programme is called SATNAV, which consists of components that target individuals (SATNAV: Compass) and various, long-term and sustainable school-wide changes (SATNAV: Global).

Some students will at times need a system of supervision, rewards and sanctions to ensure good behaviour. The SATNAV programme aims to complement these systems by supporting schools to develop a more holistic approach to influencing young people’s behavioural outcomes. Its aim is to positively affect their long-term development and the in-the-moment processes leading to their choices and actions.

SATNAV is founded on three fundamental principles. First, that schools can and should influence both short-term behavioural and long-term developmental outcomes. Second, that ‘good behaviour’ means both the absence of disruptive behaviour and also positive engagement with learning and personal development. And third, that education is about preparing young people to show this good behaviour not only at school but outside of it and beyond into adulthood.

Under the programme, the personal development of students within an inclusive, pro-social school climate is inseparable from behaviour management. In contrast to reactive and punitive controls in schools, the SATNAV programme aims to support schools to develop empowered young people who will continue to make the right behavioural choices after 3pm each day, and also post-16 when we aren’t there to supervise them.

Affecting this change is about guidance more than it is about control. Importantly, such guidance must not just be a reaction to poor behaviour when it arises. It also needs to be reflected through the school’s curriculum and culture. Nor must such guidance be delivered only to individuals who transgress the rules. It is also delivered to the whole community through explicit teaching and learning about the moral basis of codes of behaviour.

The SATNAV programme is now being trialled in three English schools including The Commonweal School, which has been instrumental in its development. Academic researchers are evaluating the impact of the various changes, and we look forward to reporting back on our progress.

To find out more or to trial SATNAV, or SATNAV Compass, contact Dr Beth Hardie or Dr Neema Trivedi-Bateman

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One comment

  1. Angeline Tyler

    This is a wonderful, wonderful article. I was part of the recovery teams that recovered 2 separate out of control boys’ schools in special measures. Many colleagues thought we were mad to take a ‘consent not control’ approach but it was the first thing that made a difference in decades. I hope these ideas get traction. They are desperately needed for our young people’s (and colleagues’) well-being.