By Olivia Rudgard
British children have a behaviour problem because teachers think telling them what to do is “oppressive”, the Government’s behaviour tsar has warned.
Former teacher and behaviour expert Tom Bennett, who was appointed by the Government in 2015 to examined behaviour in schools in England, said that there is a “national problem” with pupil behaviour which is not being taken seriously enough.
In a report he said teachers were afraid that telling pupils what to do would curtail their freedom.
Students must become “compliant” in order to be free, he said, and teachers’ worries that telling them what to do would be oppressive was an “impediment” to better behaviour.
Under a section titled “Is expecting good behaviour oppressive?”, he said: “The belief that directing student behaviour is harmful to their development is a serious attitudinal impediment to developing schools with better behaviour cultures”.
He added that pupils had to be taught “self-restraint or self-regulation” in order to be “truly free”.
In the report he said: “To be in control of one’s own immediate inclinations or desires and fancies, is a liberty far more valuable than the absence of restraint.
“Compliance is only one of several rungs on a behavioural ladder we hope all our students will climb, but it is a necessary one to achieve first.”
Quoting Russian-born philosopher Isaiah Berlin, he added that schools should not simply discourage bad behaviour but encourage “good habits of study, or reasoning, or interacting with adults, coping with adversity, or intellectual challenges”.
The report suggested that behavioural issues in schools were more serious than the Government realised because Ofsted reports and headteachers’ views did not accurately represent the scale of the problem.
Compliance is only one of several rungs on a behavioural ladder we hope all our students will climb, but it is a necessary one to achieve first
In the most recent survey just one in five classroom teachers thought behaviour was “very good”, compared to almost half of senior staff.
Mr Bennett said that school leaders were afraid to report behavioural problems because they wanted a “positive interpretation” of their school to be presented publicly.
In an interview Mr Bennett said that some headteachers put a “spin” on data because of “perverse incentives” which mean they are desperate to put their school in a good light.
He also said that some schools do not record incidents such as lateness as misbehaviour, while others do, meaning behavioural data can be “misleading”.
“I’m sure that in some circumstances yes, there probably are some headteachers who are perhaps a bit more conscious of the fact of putting spin on data,” he said.
But he added: “I think the vast majority of headteachers try to be as honest and straightforward and play a straight bat as they can.”
Mr Bennett said that the Government should introduce a nationally standardised survey to record behavioural issues in schools and provide schools with more guidance on how to deal with the most disruptive pupils.
In response to the report Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, said that the Government would be reviewing its guidance on mental health and behaviour in schools.
An Ofsted spokesman said: “Good behaviour and effective behaviour management are essential for learning, pupils’ personal development and well-being, and for keeping pupils safe in schools.
“We will discuss with the Department for Education matters identified for government which are relevant to Ofsted and consider in detail the recommendations for inspection.”