Britain’s Biggest Behaviour Debate: Lose The Booths

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Lose The Booths Fragile Behaviour


In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account through which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday...
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How has the behaviour become polarised, and why do some have the interests of some pupils at heart, not all?

Behaviour in schools is ‘good or better’ and has been fairly stable at 70-76 per cent over the last 10 years, EEF, June 2019.

The Education Endowment Foundation and their behaviour research published in June 2019, supports my recent work in schools across the U.K.; that 23 per cent of teachers and school leaders feel they lack confidence when it comes to managing behaviour and exclusions.

Isolation? Yes, and what then?

Having taught in challenging secondary school environments my entire career, the success of teaching and learning was impossible without consistent behaviour management, good leadership and management; a curriculum that met the needs of pupils, rather than policymakers and on occasion, an isolation room to safeguard pupils for behavioural events in and outside the classroom. For the record (as it will be important to a small minority reading this), I’ve excluded pupils, sent them to isolation rooms as a teacher AND as a school leader. I’ve also escorted thousands to and from isolation rooms throughout my entire career and believe that some schools do need this important resource as a tool to make the school functional. However, I do wonder if there is another way?

What external factors are at play which drive challenging behaviours in our young people, with teachers picking up the slack in our classrooms because schools lack the funding, the training and our local authorities have been stripped of all the services they once could offer our young people. With these challenges, our school leaders have to consider all those pressures and navigate the logistics and mechanisms of school life to enable all pupils to succeed and provide a place in which all their teachers can teach, and safely. My current focus on pupils as well as the needs of teachers makes teaching and learning an interesting field in which to work. On an interesting note, behaviour which is judged by Ofsted to be inadequate overall, the behaviour in most classrooms is not inadequate. As the EEF suggests: “This should be treated as good news: even if behaviour is an urgent priority in your school.”

So, it is a genuine question from me: Do we have a behaviour crisis, or do we just have challenging behaviours to manage which all teachers face, but in some cases, some teachers lack confidence (or support)?

A fragile topic…

Today, I attended the #LoseTheBooths event for educators in Leeds. I travelled for 4.5 hours each way from London to reach the event, speaking freely and offering my knowledge in a short, 40-minute workshop. I selected my presentation image carefully. The intention was to highlight that this is a ‘fragile’ topic for all concerned, particularly for our young people; 40 pupils are permanently excluded every day in our English education system. Of those, over 75 per cent of them have SEND and those with ADHD, are 100 times more likely to be excluded than others.

The facts

  1. From 2006 to 2013, exclusions decreased, rising again in 2013, increasing every year; there was 40 per cent rise between 2013-17. (Gill et al., 2017)
  2. The main reason for exclusion is persistent disruptive behaviour. (Gill et al., 2017)
  3. Students who had SEN or eligible for FSM form 78% of all permanent exclusions! (DfE, 2019e)
  4. In special schools, the greatest reason for exclusion between 2016/17 was a physical assault against an adult. (DfE, 2018h).
  5. In 2015–16, only 7% of KS4 students permanently excluded and 18% of those who received multiple FTEs went on to achieve good passes in English and maths GCSEs (DfE, 2019e).
  6. Although the exclusion rate remains low – government figures show the exclusion rate for 2016/17 was 0.1 per cent of all student enrolments – this still means that around 40 children are being excluded per day (DfE, 2019e)

The topic which created the Lose The Booths event itself was about long-term isolation in schools and extreme use of furniture, and for some, the core purpose was lost with some discussing furniture instead of curriculum and mental health; the bigger picture on the day highlighted reasons for exclusion, isolation, psychological factors and practical strategies for teachers, leaders and parents. The day was so vast and complex, it is impossible to capture the discussions here and one which is being picked up by the press. In comparison to Twitter, where the debate is stark and polarised (see social media analysis below), some are showing a much stronger interest in the topic than others. I was pleased to see and hear a wide range of views and educators in the room in face to face conversation. There certainly was not a consensus view, despite social media perceptions…

A fair share of exclusions…

I’ve never considered behaviour a passion of mine, but after 25 years in the classroom, I’ve done my fair-share of exclusions, fights, and policy-decisions than most, impacting on hundreds and hundreds of pupils. In this particular area, my experience has made behaviour-management an accidental-forte and in my opinion, my thoughts are divided between the theory and practice. As an experienced teacher and beginning academic, I am curious to discover why there is little or no robust studies on zero-tolerance, banning mobile phones and its correlation to attainment, and the use of isolation rooms.

Yet, with the 40 pupils per day, representing 0.1 of the entire pupil population, some will argue that these pupils must be separated from the majority of other pupils who do want to learn. I’m not going to get into the details of this particular topic, but what I do want you to take note of, is despite the teaching profession being obsessed with the current explosion of research, there appears to be few who want to accept that in these particular areas mentioned earlier, some choose to ignore this evidence and accept that the rigour is lacking.

Visiting 170+ schools over the last 2 years, my perspective has widened. Choices which schools make are autonomous and in a period of time where austerity is at breaking point for our schools, with a crowded curriculum and improving PISA rankings, one could argue that our teachers are doing a remarkable job with their backs against the wall! I suspect our government ministers are pleased with their policies in that respect…

Is there another way?

My presentation today was to share my research from Just Great Teaching and to share the challenges and successes of our schools, as well as the important work of the Education Endowment Foundation – despite their research including only 9 UK sources from a sample of 54 literature reviews (narrowed down from 1,116 sources). It is easy to see why American policy is influencing our English education system E.g. ‘zero tolerance’.

Education Endowment Foundation


We must find a better way. I attended the event because I was curious. I surveyed those attending on teacher workload and the influences that make teaching a difficult job to do, and you can see those responses below – note, behaviour has rarely featured as a key issue – from the 20,000 teachers I have surveyed, but it did today.

Lose The Booths


Today, my perspective sits between both those teachers who need support, and those pupils and parents who need a collective responsibility from you and me, to make our teaching profession the best it can be, for ALL pupils. If standards are rising, and exclusions are at its highest levels since 2013 with 40 pupils being excluded every day, we have to start to question why we are not doing more to ensure the comprehensive education is an option for everyone, not just ship them off to PRUs and APs as a ‘last chance saloon.’

You can download my slides, read a sample from my book which focuses on my research on behaviour and exclusions, with an alternative provision school as a case study, or read my research in full. This isn’t an easy discussion for us all to have, but it is one that is needed and one that is overdue.

Lose The Booths Slides by @TeacherToolkit

It is yours and my responsibility to have this behaviour conversation in a professional manner, looking carefully at the influences and the research in the best interests of all the pupils we serve.

4 thoughts on “Britain’s Biggest Behaviour Debate: Lose The Booths

  1. Good to air this topic in a reasoned rather than hysterical way

    The student teachers I work with are quick to point out the irony that that these exclusion or isolation rooms are frequently referred to as “inclusion rooms”. Surely a great example of the double-think common in our education system. Orwellian in the true sense of the word.

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