Solving the 10% for the benefit of the 90%. How to tackle the challenging child behaviours in your school.

I recently had a very interesting conversation with my baby brother. My ‘baby’ brother who is actually 41 years old, over 6-foot-tall, head of department in a Special School and father to my adorable niece and nephew. We were talking about extreme child behaviour and the fact that all behaviour in children is simply a form of communication. This is something that I have never really stopped and thought about before. I taught for over 20 years and even have two teenage children of my own, but I have never considered fully the reasons behind the behaviours I spent so many hours dealing with.

Very few children who display extremely challenging behaviour do so simply because they just want to. If we are happy we smile, we laugh, we may even sing and dance, we don’t shout. If we are in love we hug and kiss the person, we don’t hit them. If we have a child who is challenging everyone, surely we need to know why first before we try to control what appears to be their chosen method of communication? In this extreme situation you will need the support of other professionals in your school as well as the parents or guardians. Parents / guardians, SENCO and class teacher and TA working together are a formidable team and a formidable team will be needed!

So, what about the lower level disruptive behaviours in our classrooms that are more common? Are there things we can do here to reduce the instances of these and minimise their impact? Again, we need to think about why before we think about how.

Find the cause, solve the cause:

So, you have a class that is fidgety and there is low level disruption that is stopping progress and achievement. Go back to basics and think about what the behaviour is trying to communicate. Have they been sat for too long and lost concentration?  Is there something happening in the child’s life that is distracting them? Is the work too hard? Is the work too easy? Is your lesson not planned well enough? Is it not resourced well or, is your teaching simply quite dull? Is there something simple you could do to bring things back on track?

Brain breaks:

How long are the ‘lessons’ in your classroom? Traditionally a Key Stage Two Literacy lesson will last for about an hour. It will be split into distinct parts. Your children may well be completing word and sentence level work before magpieing ideas and composing their own piece of text but I am pretty sure they will be sat in the same chair in the same classroom for the full hour. As a rule of thumb and unsupported child can concentrate for the number of minutes that he is years old. A 5-year-old will concentrate fully for 5 minutes, and 11 year old for 11 minutes. If they are interested this will increase but they will still find it difficult to filter out distractions around them. Children need breaks. They need a change of scene and that distraction, even for 2 minutes, for them to then concentrate again on the learning. You may be frustrated by the fidget bums in your class, the wrigglers and movers who just cannot concentrate and complete their composition after 45 minutes. Maybe they just can’t. Maybe they need that break and once they have it they will be calmer and get on.

Ownership and responsibility:

As you may have realised from the length of my teaching experience and age of my kids, I was at Primary School back in the 80’s. This was a time when there wasn’t the same rigid National Curriculum for teachers to follow and almost all of my education seemed to be topic based. I can remember learning about birds of prey, the Scilly Isles, sewerage works and we even made a pond for the school newts. We all enjoyed school as we were in control of what we learnt and did. A friend brought in blackberries one day from the field so the whole class went to pick more and we made a pie whilst talking about seasons and life cycles of trees. I found a baby chick on the pavement on the way to school so the day was spent trying to keep it alive and researching what chicks needed and how to care for it. We were allowed to direct our own learning to some extent.

Going back to that 1 hour Literacy lesson, honestly, how many children have you taught who have been genuinely interested in writing their own poem about the Victorians with ideas magpie from Michael Rosen? Writing about the bird they found on the way to school or the pie they made with the school cook then maybe, they might see a purpose and they can write from experience, but the Victorians? Why not link your Victorians topic to non-fiction information writing and set up a museum to display your term’s work? Even better, give the class an overview of the topic and ask them what writing they might be able to get out of it? If children plan their work then they can have no come back when they later decide they don’t like it or aren’t interested. They have an idea, a purpose and end goal and a responsibility to get there. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than extrinsic.

Why is addressing the 10% so important?

Through our work at Inspired Playgrounds we regularly refer to the 10%. These are the number of children who we feel display challenging behaviours that will affect your school. But, why does this 10% matter? Over the past 10 years the Government and OFSTED have published several papers and pieces of research about child health, wellbeing and academic achievement.

In November 2012 we were told that children who have higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social and school wellbeing have higher levels of academic achievement and are more engaged in school. Children with better emotional wellbeing make better progress in school. Those children who display less troublesome behaviour make more progress. Not surprisingly, it was found that children who are bullied are less engaged. 

Two years later OFSTED told us that the average child loses 38 days of education a year through low level disruption in classrooms. This is an average of 1 hour a day. As a rough estimate, children are in class for 5 hours a day so this is 20% of their total time. This is a lot. Just imagine the progress that could be made if they actually worked in that extra 20%!

In a nutshell, a child’s emotional, behavioural, social and school wellbeing significantly correlates to their educational outcomes. We need to make sure that our children are happy and healthy for them to achieve.


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