Review by Robert Gasson

CEO, Wave Multi Academy Trust

1 Jul 2023, 5:00


The Conversation – with Robert Gasson

A behaviour deep dive

In this heartfelt, intelligent and personal piece, PRUsAP president, Sarah Johnson takes us through a short journey through the approaches to behaviour that appear to polarise so many on Twitter and elsewhere. 

There is undoubtedly a move to a certain style of behaviour management in many mainstream secondary schools that is designed to create order so that pupils can just get on with learning. One of its consequences would appear to be a growing number of pupils for whom school isn’t working.

What Johnson does here is to describe some harrowing personal experiences that unfortunately are still common among the pupils I come across in my settings.

Her description of a child’s apparent violent outbursts and uncooperative behaviours contrasts sharply with the harrowing reasons she gives for each one. It reads as a deeply revelatory account, and a call to rethink our priorities that is impossible to ignore.

While others were seizing on Seerut Chawla’ tweet (below) to justify unbending behaviour policies and call for cooling the profession’s keen adoption of trauma-informed practice, Johnson’s final plea seems to me to perfectly encapsulate why it matters so much.

“Make school a real safe place,” she writes, not one that just appears so on the surface, “disguised by quiet corridors.”

Trauma isn’t everywhere, but it isn’t always evident where it is. More flexibility in our policies is unlikely to do harm, but is likely to do a lot of good.

The worst time to strike

Meanwhile, debate over the NEU’s planned strike action continues. Fiona Atherton did justice to the various views of the profession in last week’s column, and a Schools Week article went on to give a great analysis of what it all means for schools’ planned summer events, including transition days, sports days, residentials and performances.

So I won’t tread over that old ground, but the political commentary that has followed bears a closer look.

First, Gillian Keegan gave an interview to The Times (paywalled) in which she claimed teachers “couldn’t pick a worse time to strike”. Citing the damage caused by Covid, she deplored the damage further school closures and missed opportunities would cause.

Which is true, but disruption is rather the point of strike days, and Keegan’s argument omits a fair few other damaging things for children’s prospects. To say nothing of crumbling mental health and other support services, as mentioned so eloquently by Keziah Featherstone in these pages last week, Vic Goddard summarises the key problem with Keegan’s reasoning eloquently and passionately here.

Nevertheless, the decision to support the next two days of action will be tough, and the view in the staffroom for most of this week was that this could be a tactical mistake from the NEU.

Defeat from the jaws of victory

One thing alone seemed likely to bring the profession back together, and the prime minister duly obliged: at the time of writing, Rishi Sunak is said to be likely to overrule the ‘independent’ pay review bodies, including the STRB’s recommendation to raise teacher pay by 6.5 per cent.

Easy pickings for the NEU, and Kevin Courtney’s quick take was all that was needed to show the dissonance in the government’s pay negotiations, such as they are.

Arguably, one way to neutralise the leadership unions’ concerns over unfunded pay rises is to get rid of pay rises altogether. But come the autumn, when recruitment and retention continue to prove impossible challenges, it’s unlikely that they will feel any differently about continued and more significant industrial action.

In the end, if Covid has taught us anything, it is to re-schedule and re-invent important events at the drop of a hat and with our hands tied behind our backs. Disruption to sports days will be long forgotten by September, while the stark unfairness of public sector pay restraint will continue to be very much a live issue.

This, in a week when ONS figures revealed the unabated wage growth of the top 10 per cent of earners has been a prime driver of an inflation that will see everyone else’s mortgages become unsustainable – teachers and headteachers included.

More Reviews

The Conversation – with Zara Simpson

A whole host of blogs, podcasts and resources to plan for transitions - this summer and beyond

Find out more

Young lives, big ambitions: Transforming life chances for vulnerable children and teens

Its recommendations for education may be under-developed but the overall effect is highly motivating nonetheless

Find out more

The Conversation – with Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell

Better meetings, the interconnectedness of inequality, defining professionalism and buildng belonging

Find out more

How Learning Happens: Seminal works in educational psychology and what they mean in practice (second edition)

With many useful and in-depth additions, this second edition is a must-read - but with care

Find out more

The Conversation – with Shekeila Scarlett

Wellbeing around exams, swallowing the frog as a leadership mantra, and a research-informed book by year 5 and 6...

Find out more

The Conversation – with Frances Akinde

This week's conversation covers neurodiversity narratives in the run-up to elections and a pay gap that too often goes...

Find out more

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *