Last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw revealed that secondary schools in England are failing in increasing numbers. The head of Ofsted acknowledged that while many schools are performing well, improvement has “plateaued” and the proportion of failing secondary schools has increased. Figures released in Ofsted’s annual report show that in one third of English local authorities fewer than 70% of secondary schools are ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, and in 13 areas children have a less than 50% chance of attending a good or outstanding school.
Wilshaw listed a catalogue of reasons to explain the decline:
They are failing because they haven’t got the essentials right: governance and oversight is weak, leadership is poor, misbehaviour goes unchallenged and teaching is indifferent.
While the number of failing secondaries remains relatively small, the report will nevertheless come as a shock after years of steady improvement, and may lead to renewed criticism of the academy programme. However, Wilshaw’s comments suggest that the structure of schools is not the underlying factor and that the reasons may be more basic. Failing secondaries exhibit fundamental problems – misbehaviour goes unchallenged and teaching is indifferent – whereas primary schools have thrived where headteachers focus on behaviour and the quality of teaching.
Mentor is currently trialling an innovative intervention which has been shown to have dramatic benefits on children’s behaviour in school and which, if proven to be effective in the English context, could have a long-term influence on the problems outlined in the Ofsted report. The Good Behaviour Game (GBG) is an approach to classroom management designed to improve children’s behaviour and concentration, while reducing disruptive behaviour. The approach has built up a substantial body of evidence from other countries indicating immediate and lasting improvements in pupil behaviour, as well as an increase in the numbers of students continuing to further education and a reduction in risk-taking behaviours in later life, such criminality and alcohol and drug dependence.
We are working in partnership with the Manchester Institute of Education to carry out what will be the first major trial of GBG in the UK. Over the next six months we will recruit 74 schools from South and West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester to take part in a two-year randomised controlled trial beginning in September 2015 and involving 146 teachers and over 4000 students. The trial will establish whether or not GBG has an impact on reading and behaviour after the two-year trial and subsequently.
The strength of existing international evidence for GBG makes this a very exciting project, one which could dramatically and positively impact on classroom management in primary schools in England, and enhance pupil’s behaviour and concentration throughout primary and secondary education. We are confident that this trial will return positive results; that these results might lead to greater recognition and uptake of approaches that build protective factors around school-age children; and, in turn, have a long-term benefit across all ages of the national school system for children and young people.