Inspections Clinic: Behaviour in the classroom

The government has unveiled plans to tackle unruly behaviour in schools. Ofsted’s Daniel Muijs explains to Jo Stephenson that a consistent approach and good-quality training are key to a good inspection outcome.

Ofsted expects school behaviour policies to have due consideration for the needs of pupils with complex needs. Picture: Monkey Business/Adobe Stock
Ofsted expects school behaviour policies to have due consideration for the needs of pupils with complex needs. Picture: Monkey Business/Adobe Stock

Behaviour in schools continues to be a key concern for teachers and is an issue the government has pledged to tackle.

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a new programme to improve discipline which will see schools that are doing well work alongside those struggling to tackle poor behaviour (see below).

“Pupils learn best in an environment where there are no excuses for bad behaviour and high expectations are set for all pupils,” said Williamson. “Poor discipline disrupts lessons, holds children back and has a profound effect on teachers.”

However, concerns have been raised by some in the children’s sector who fear a tougher stance on discipline will inevitably lead to more exclusions of vulnerable children.

Through its routine inspection of schools and inspection of initial teacher training, Ofsted is at the forefront of the debate on behaviour management and recently published new research.

Low-level disruption

This looked at progress made since its 2014 Below the Radar report on low-level disruption in schools and included analysis of school behaviour policies, interviews with head teachers and pastoral leads and visits to schools, including four primaries, 14 secondaries, two pupil referral units and two special schools.

One key message from the new research was the importance of a consistent approach to managing behaviour for both children and teachers, explains Daniel Muijs, Ofsted’s deputy director for research and evaluation.

“What’s really important is that it is supported by leadership so when teachers apply the school’s behaviour policies the leaders support them in doing that,” he says.

“Those kind of consistent approaches need to be underpinned by a shared ethos and values so it is not just about policies and doing things but also about what ‘we’ – as a school – believe in, the values we promote and the way we feel we should interact with children and young people.”

Another key message was the need to explicitly teach children what good behaviour looks like.

“You can’t just assume pupils coming into a school know what good behaviour is and that if you just tell them what the rules are then that is going to work,” says Muijs.

Need for consistency

There had been some positive developments since the 2014 research including greater understanding of the need for consistency and “whole-school” approaches to behaviour management, he explains.

“What we didn’t find is there was one particular strategy or form of behaviour management that is definitively more effective than others,” he adds.

One thing that is clear is the role of head teachers and school leaders is central in shaping and driving a school’s approach and ensuring school staff have the right training and professional development because “staff training really matters”, says Muijs.

It is important that initial training prepares teachers for the day-to-day challenges of working in schools. Behaviour management is a key part of that, says Muijs, and something inspectors will look at when visiting training providers and assessing them against a new Initial Teacher Education Framework, out for consultation until 3 April.

Ofsted’s recent research on the initial teacher training curriculum found trainees were generally “pretty positive” about the training on behaviour management they received but that “does not mean the job is done, by any means”.

This is why continuing professional development tailored to the context of individual schools is vital.

Ofsted’s new inspection framework for schools – launched in September last year – introduced a separate judgment for behaviour and attitudes – an acknowledgement of the importance of behaviour management for both pupils’ learning and staff wellbeing.

“In the framework we have made a number of statements about what we’re looking for,” says Muijs. “Things like making sure that pupils’ attitudes to education are positive, that they have high attendance and are punctual, that the school creates a positive environment and bullying and discrimination are dealt with.

“We are looking at this in a slightly different way from previously in the sense that we have asked inspectors to focus very much on what the school is actually doing and how this is being implemented.”

When it comes to children with complex needs, Ofsted’s research found schools were making reasonable adjustments.

“It is important that schools make the necessary adjustments to be able to include a broad range of pupils and also those with complex needs who may find traditional behaviour management approaches difficult,” says Muijs.

“In the research we found schools did make those adjustments as appropriate and there was flexibility where required.”

He says Ofsted is acutely aware of concerns about the greater exclusion of SEND pupils.

“We do not hold the view that exclusions should never be part of a school’s repertoire but they should be a last resort and very carefully considered and we would expect due consideration to be made for the needs of individual pupils,” he says.


The inspectorate has made it clear that the practice of “off-rolling” – where schools attempt to move challenging pupils in a bid to improve their league table position – is “unacceptable”.

Where pre-inspection data flags up “abnormal amounts of pupil movement” then inspectors will want to discuss that to “find out what lies beneath”, he explains. “We have a number of occasions now where inspection judgments have been significantly affected by what we did or did not find around those kind of off-rolling behaviours,” Muijs adds.

The regulator’s work with schools ties in with other work including joint area inspections of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) services.

“We have found that at times it can be challenging for local authorities, schools, clinical commissioning groups and other providers to work together in the most effective way and that is another area we’re looking into as we review the findings from our local area SEND inspections and further research we’re doing in that area,” says Muijs.

In a bid to identify what really works when it comes to managing behaviour in schools Ofsted is embarking on a second phase of research that will take place this academic year with a report due this autumn.

This will include looking at schools that have successfully turned around behaviour problems. “We want to do that in a range of different contexts because we can’t just assume what works in Sunderland, for example, will work equally well in Winchester,” says Muijs. “We also want to use what we find to inform our inspection methodology.”


The government’s new £10m “behaviour hubs” programme was among key pledges on education in the Conservative election manifesto.

More details were announced at the end of February this year including the creation of a team of experts to oversee the programme, led by Department for Education behaviour adviser Tom Bennett.

The idea is that schools and multi-academy trusts (MATs) with an excellent track record on behaviour will support those that are struggling.

The programme aims to recruit up to 20 lead schools and two to three MATs in the first round with plans to support at least 500 schools over the three-year programme.

The first wave of lead schools will be matched up with partner schools and begin work in September.

Support through the programme is open to schools judged “requires improvement” by Ofsted and may include training, mentoring, advice and support to develop and implement an action plan.


Schools have been given an extra year by Ofsted to work on plans for their curriculum. The move follows the introduction of a new education inspection framework in September with a new focus on the quality of the curriculum. Ofsted said it had decided to extend a transition period from one to two academic years up to July 2021 after listening to concerns from school leaders and head teachers who said they needed more time to hone their plans.

Providing visible leadership and having high ambitions for children were among key factors identified by children’s home managers as part of research on what makes successful residential care. Ofsted interviewed eight managers and responsible individuals at children’s homes consistently judged “good” or “outstanding”. Other keys to success flagged up by interviewees included a strong sense of ownership of the home’s “statement of purpose” by the manager and staff, thorough admissions processes involving the manager, and good support, supervision and training for staff.

Ofsted has published new guidance for early years and childcare settings on what happens to those judged “inadequate” or found not to be meeting registration requirements. It makes it clear settings could face enforcement action if they do not address concerns raised by inspectors. The guidance also emphasises the need to keep parents informed at all stages and provide copies of inspection reports.

A troubled young offender institution is to receive intensive support as part of a new government prison improvement programme for “challenging” secure settings. Feltham A, which houses 15- to 18-year-olds, will join five adult prisons on the Prison Performance Support Programme, which replaces special measures status. Prisons minister Lucy Frazer said the programme would offer a “significant package” of tailored support including additional staff and training.

Children with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) are “particularly negatively affected” by ongoing financial pressures in schools, a report by Ofsted has found. Research by the inspectorate found 80 per cent of primary school head teachers and 72 per cent of secondary school head teachers who responded to a survey said changes to SEND provision had been made due to financial pressure. Of these, 41 per cent of primary heads and 27 per cent of secondary heads said changes were “major”.

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