New behaviour panel has more people called John than women

Last weekend, there was much criticism of gender representation in the shadow cabinet. Meanwhile, I was getting worked up over the selectivity of a different line-up.

Last Sunday, schools minister Nick Gibb announced eight behaviour experts that will be assisting Tom Bennett in his review of teacher training to deal with student behaviour.

As teachers know, “student behaviour” ranges from mental ill-health and complex learning needs to low level disruption and disengagement, exacerbated by low aspirations.

So how well equipped are these experts to discuss these issues? And how representative are they of best practice in the country? Well, there are more people on the panel named John than there are women. But it’s not just on gender that this panel is skewed…

1. Ofsted rating

Of the six headteachers on the panel, five lead outstanding schools (the sixth is good). On first appearances this seems quite right: don’t we want outstanding leaders sharing their insights on excellent behaviour for learning?

The issue is that managing behaviour in an already outstanding school (or one you have set up from scratch) is different from changing culture in a school coming out of special measures or requiring improvement.

For starters, outstanding schools find it far easier to recruit.

Effective behaviour systems are harder to construct with incomplete or inconsistent staff team. And outstanding schools are not just privileged in their ability to choose staff; they are more likely to have the pick of local students too.

They are also more likely to be oversubscribed, they don’t have to contend with many pupils arriving mid-year, as unpopular schools do. Oversubscribed schools can argue they don’t have space to take on pupils excluded from neighbouring schools, following extreme behaviour.

2. Geography

Five panellists work in greater London schools. This seems unfair, given that London schools outperform others’, operating in a very different context.

Recent studies have attributed some of London’s educational success to migrant communities. The theory is that migrant parents seeking a better life for their children are mindful of the value of school, as are their children.

Ofsted and others have said the demographic underperforming nationally are white working class pupils, particularly in rural and coastal areas where monoculturalism and economic decline limit pupil aspiration.

Now, I’ve done my homework and there are two panellists representing schools serving predominantly white British communities. However, the schools’ demographics do not appear to fit the bill in terms of behavioural challenge. Neither have a high number of pupil premium eligible students and in terms of pupils with SEN both schools are below the national average.

3. Pedagogy

There are two mainstream schools with particularly disadvantaged and vulnerable intakes. While both schools achieve incredible results with their pupils, their approaches to behaviour management are not uncontroversial.

Influenced by the KIPP schools in America, there are strict rules prescribing pupil conduct and an emphasis on routinised behaviour intended to maximise learning efficiency. For example, pupils can be reprimanded for turning their heads away from the teacher during class (as part of SLANT), or for other behaviour infringements which many outstanding headteachers would not recognise as warranting formal sanction.

The premise of free schools and academies has been to allow innovation and variety into the system. However, when half of the panellists represent start-up academies with similar pedagogy, it does not feel like we have captured the full breadth of the country’s education system. In fact it smacks once again of favouritism.

4. Seniority

I wrote last week that too often the profession is represented by those distanced from reality on the ground – especially executive heads, for whom five period Friday with 9×5 are a distant memory.

Mercifully, two heads on the panel make effort to teach regular classes. But on Radio 4 in June, Tom Bennett described the two-tier system in most schools with SLT experiencing behaviour very differently to lower status beginner teachers. If that is true, where are the teachers on this panel, illuminating the problems and potential solutions?

This panel is skewed in favour of outstanding London schools with the minister’s favoured pedagogy. In his press release, Gibb told us he’d given teachers more power. Gibb over!

See this week’s Schools Week for a four-page guide to expert panels.

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  1. Like so much in education this panel has been selected for political purposes driven by ideology in order to “prove” that, for example, free schools and academies do things better. It has nothing to do with serious research or serious academic study.