Reflections on Behaviour and Culture: A Focus for 2024/5

Some reflections from Maria, SAfE’s CEO about why behaviour and culture is a focus for 2024/5

Children in school uniform in corridoor

“We can see a clear increase in concerns about behaviour affecting learning in both primary and secondary, with the number of you replying ‘not concerned at all’ in secondary dropping from 64% reported in February 2019 down to 52% now”.

Teacher Tapp

Our classrooms are busier than ever, with an increasing number of pupils presenting with a variety of complex needs as well as difficulties arising from trauma, adversity and SEMH needs.

The recent Teacher Tapp survey (March 24) shows that there is a clear increase in concerns about behaviour affecting learning, both in primary and secondary schools. The number of respondents that replied ‘not concerned at all’ in secondary has dropped from 64% reported in February 2019 down to 52% now. In primary, that drop is even higher with only 44% of teachers saying that they were not concerned at all, compared to 60% before the lockdowns.

These results reflect what we are hearing from schools, many who are struggling with increased needs in schools and finding that strategies that they used before the pandemic are now not working.

Schools involved in authoritative school climate research

It was therefore interesting to see in the last couple of weeks that the DfE have published tools to help schools assess their behaviour culture, recognise good practice and identify areas that need attention. The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) also invited secondary schools to participate in a school survey to support the scoping phase of research. The intention was to increase understanding around the use and impact of behavioural policies that enable an authoritative school climate, for instance by taking a punitive or a more restorative and supportive approach.

High expectations

Equity in behaviour policies means having consistently high expectations of all pupils, ensuring that all pupils can learn in a calm, supportive environment. But it’s also about remembering that pupils are individuals with individual needs. Some behavioural policies can disadvantage pupils from certain backgrounds or those with additional needs and take little account of the systemic bias that sadly exists in our school system.

Smart, relational approaches are crucial

All pupils have a right to learn in a safe and purposeful environment. All teachers have the right to teach in a safe and purposeful environment. But it’s simplistic to think that anything other than smart, relational approaches that seek to listen and understand pupil starting points and needs when teaching will achieve this.

Developing a culture where relationships sit at the heart of everything can make a fundamental difference to children’s ability to thrive in school and feel that they belong.

Dr Pooky Knightsbridge considers that there are small steps we can take straight away that will make a difference. Whilst approaches used consistently by all staff give the most impact even a small shift in the right direction will yield results. She outlines a number of simple ideas to try.

This is one of the reasons why we are thrilled that Dr Pooky will be a key speaker at the Primary Heads Conference with Primary Phase Council in early July. She will help us take a fresh perspective on behaviour that concerns, distresses or challenges by stepping into the shoes of the child and learning how to respond calmly during crisis moments and exploring ‘what-next strategies’.

Behaviour is a focus for the year

Supporting schools with behaviour that concerns or challenges is a key focus for us over the next year. We are working closely with colleagues from schools, the Inclusion Innovation WG, colleagues from the local authority and experts in the field to ensure that we can support you. We now have 100 schools starting on our Surrey Nurturing School Programme with Nurture UK. A whole-school nurture approach has been proven to significantly improve behaviour, attendance and academic achievement, particularly in learners facing these type of challenges. We look forward to hearing case studies from schools that are on this programme.

When we put relationships at the heart of everything we do, everyone benefits – vulnerable children, their peers, and the adults working with them


Maria Dawes, CEO for SAfE & Surrey Teaching School Network

Schools Alliance For Excellence (SAfE) supports inclusivity and excellence

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