Behaviour and discipline in schools: Guidance for governing bodies
In this blog, John Rees, an experienced teacher, trainer and consultant with more than 25 years of educational leadership experience, provides an expert overview of the DfE’s statutory guidance for governing bodies on behaviour and discipline in schools.
What is the behaviour and discipline in schools guidance?
The DfE’s ‘Behaviour and discipline in schools: guide for governing bodies’ provides statutory guidance for governing bodies of schools maintained by a local authority, and although this document is not compulsory for academies, it still offers pertinent information. The guidance explains:
- why all schools must have a behaviour policy
- what the behaviour policy must cover
- the role of the governing body and headteacher in shaping their school’s behaviour policy
Governors have a crucial role in promoting the good behaviour of pupils, as well as in ensuring that the staff code of conduct supports all the staff in the school, and enables them to create a positive and supporting learning ethos for every member of the school community.
A tale of two extremes: Behaviour policies
Managing the behaviour of pupils in schools has long been a source of debate and divided opinion, and is only increasing in importance. A quick google search on the topic yields 325 million results, which represent views across a broad range of perspectives from the ‘silent corridors, strict uniform, and punishment’ brigade to the more liberal, restorative and individual approaches. All points across the spectrum will provide passionate opinions, and sometimes evidence-informed or theory-informed approaches. However, as so frequently is the case, the best advice is probably somewhere in between the two extremes. The DfE is very clear that it is for individual schools to develop their own best practice for managing behaviour.
Personally, I’m taken with Dylan Wiliam’s comment that in education “everything works somewhere; nothing works everywhere”, if only to remind us that we cannot adopt wholesale approaches that seem to be popular elsewhere and impose them on our school without a clear vision, support and CPD for staff, engagement with ‘pupil voice’, and adaptation to local circumstances. Even the title of ‘behaviour and discipline’ is questioned by some expert colleagues, and a number of schools are now rewriting this to create ‘relationships’ policies.
Although this blog focuses on the crucial role of governors in creating and supporting policy, our behaviour management systems must also be clearly communicated to, and supported by, parents and carers if we are to avoid the “it’s like a military regime”-type headlines that crop up with surprising frequency in the media. Before governors ratify any significant changes to behaviour management – for example, around pupils’ use of, or access to, mobile phones – time should be spent explaining the ‘hows and whys’ to avoid parental outrage and distracting and often unhelpful media attention.
Despite the increasing evidence of a crisis in the mental ill-health of children and young people, the most recent guidance for governors of maintained schools was published by the DfE a decade ago and updated in 2015. In fairness, ‘Behaviour in schools: advice for headteachers and school staff’ and ‘Further guidance and resources for supporting behaviour in schools’ were both updated in September 2022.
The Education and Inspections Act 2006: The role of governors
In the complex world of education, there are many individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the smooth functioning of schools and the wellbeing of pupils. Among them, school governors play a pivotal role, often underappreciated, but nonetheless vital. ‘The Education and Inspections Act 2006’ (EIA) in England outlines specific responsibilities for governing bodies, emphasising their duty to promote good behaviour and discipline in schools.
In this blog post, we’ll delve into the role of school governors as detailed in Section 88 of the EIA and explore their responsibilities in maintaining discipline, ensuring the wellbeing of pupils and staff, safeguarding against discrimination, and promoting inclusion.
Section 88(1) of the EIA clearly explains that governing bodies must actively create, develop and maintain policies and practice that are designed to promote good behaviour and discipline among pupils in schools. These policies are fundamental in creating a conducive and safe learning environment, which is likely to be of benefit to all members of the school community.
Section 88(2) of the EIA places a specific responsibility on the governing body to provide guidance to the headteacher in the form of a written statement of general principles that promote good behaviour and discipline among pupils. Although the headteacher is the key person in implementing these policies, and the governing body must offer support by providing guidance, all members of staff (not just the teachers) must be clear about the purpose and implementation of any policy.
Before establishing these guiding principles, the governing body is required to consult with various stakeholders, including the headteacher, school staff, parents, and pupils.
This collaborative approach should ensure that the behaviour policy is well informed, well rounded, and considers the perspectives of those directly impacted by it. It is hard to understate the importance of ‘taking people with us’ to ensure engagement or ‘buy-in’ from staff, pupils and parents. This doesn’t mean that the formation of new policy reflects all of everyone’s thoughts, but it does mean that time in preparation and explanation, based on values, evidence where possible, and theory as appropriate, is seldom wasted.
The School Information (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 clarify that schools must publish their written statement of principles on their website. This transparency ensures that parents, pupils, and other stakeholders have access to the school’s behaviour policies, thereby promoting accountability.
Providing guidance for staff: The importance of clarity
One significant aspect of the governing body’s role is to provide clear advice and guidance to the headteacher on the powers teachers have to maintain discipline. This is particularly crucial when it comes to the powers of search, use of reasonable force, and disciplining pupils for misbehaviour outside school premises. Further details on these important and sensitive issues can be found in ‘Behaviour in schools: Advice for headteachers and school staff’.
Clear guidance is essential for teachers as they may be hesitant to use these powers due to concerns about potential challenges. This guidance ensures that teachers fully understand the extent of their powers and how to use them appropriately. It also reassures staff that they have the governing body’s support when they follow this guidance. These issues have important implications for staff, CPD, inductions and good practice.
While the specific principles may vary from one governing body to another, certain elements should always be covered in a school’s behaviour policy. These include screening and searching pupils, using reasonable force, disciplining pupils beyond the school gate, providing pastoral care for staff accused of misconduct, and considering multi-agency assessments for pupils displaying continuous disruptive behaviour.
It's essential to remind ourselves that the governing body should not seek to hinder teachers’ powers by implementing policies that prohibit searches or physical contact. It’s also crucial not to restrict teachers’ ability to discipline pupils for misbehaviour that happens outside of school, outside school hours and online.
Promoting safety through good behaviour
In addition to these responsibilities, governing bodies also have a broader role when it comes to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. This duty is outlined in Section 175 of the Education Act 2002, which requires governing bodies to make arrangements to ensure that their functions and actions make a positive contribution to the welfare of children. Under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, governing bodies are also obligated to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation. This includes addressing any sort of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexual violence or sexual harassment.
Guidance for searching and the use of force is available separately, from both ‘Behaviour in schools: Advice for headteachers and school staff’ and ‘Further guidance and resources for supporting behaviour in schools’, and governing bodies should draw on this to inform their guidance to the headteacher. The DfE suggests that these policies are essential for maintaining safety in the school environment.
Disciplining beyond the school gate covers any non-criminal misbehaviour or bullying that occurs off school premises but is witnessed by a staff member or reported to the school. This, of course, also involves the conduct of pupils online, including on social media. The governing body must ensure that the measures proposed by the headteacher are lawful and proportionate.
The headteacher must consider how the school should respond to disruptive behaviour, whether the child is participating in school-organised activities, if or when they are wearing school uniform, or engaging in actions that could impact the school's reputation. In some cases, it may be appropriate to involve the police or the anti-social behaviour coordinator of the local authority.
In conclusion, school governors play a pivotal role in maintaining good behaviour, discipline and relationships in schools. They provide guidance to the headteacher, ensure transparency in behaviour-based policies, and promote the welfare of pupils and staff. Moreover, they help to create and maintain a safe and inclusive learning environment by addressing various scenarios that may arise in social, interpersonal and online interactions.
While the work of the governing body and individual governors (and trustees) often goes unnoticed, it’s important to recognise and appreciate the dedication and hard work of such individuals in supporting school staff and helping to nurture the next generation.
If you’re concerned about keeping up to date with the latest education policy, practice and research, consider a membership with The National College. Not only does it provide access to thousands of professional development resources for all staff, but also enables leaders to create training programmes precisely tailored to individual and collective needs, to help ensure compliance and drive up standards.
DfE, ‘Behaviour and discipline in schools: Guidance for governing bodies’, 2015
Dylan William, ‘Creating the Schools Our Children Need’, Learning Sciences International, 2018
UK Government, ‘Education and Inspections Act 2006’, 2006 (Updated October 2023)
UK Government, ‘The School Information (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2012’, 2012
UK Government, ‘Equality Act 2010’, 2010 (Updated October 2023)
DfE, ‘Behaviour in Schools: Advice for Headteachers and School Staff’, 2022
DfE, ‘Further guidance and resources for supporting behaviour in schools’, 2022