School leaders need more resources to manage poor behavior

School leaders are not exploring alternative approaches to behavior management.


Many children are excluded from school in England each year. Exclusion from school frequently results from an increasing cycle of problematic behavior and punitive responses. Despite this, alternate techniques to behavior control in schools need to be more utilized, with a persistent emphasis on incentive and punishment systems. This research investigates senior leaders’ perspectives on the obstacles to applying alternate approaches to school behavior management.

School administrators in England feel forced to continue employing a rising punitive system to manage student conduct, despite the fact that it fails some students.

This is due to a need for more resources, parental viewpoint, and time. Most schools in England have a ”behaviorist” approach to student discipline, praising positive behavior and instituting escalating consequences for recurrent misbehavior. 

The findings come from a qualitative study examining why more school leaders must experiment with different behavior control methods. It claims that resource limitations and other issues have imprisoned teachers within the current system of escalating sanctions. Every year, over a thousand kids are excluded, and almost 150,000 are suspended as a result of this.

Educators contacted for the study frequently recognized the potential benefits of alternative methods but considered they had little choice but to adhere to the established orthodoxy. Cost, resource limits, parental perception, and a lack of time were the most cited causes.

Students may receive a verbal warning for poor behavior, followed by mid-level sanctions such as detention. Those who persist may face suspension and exclusion from regular school.

The technique is helpful with many pupils. However, worries exist that it must still improve by a sizable percentage. Government statistics have consistently shown that persistent, disruptive behavior has been the leading cause of school suspensions or expulsions for many years. According to the most recent data, around 1,500 pupils are excluded, and 148,000 are suspended yearly.

Dr. Laura Oxley, whom the Faculty of Education is currently employed at the University of Cambridge, carried out the study using a technique known as Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. 

The new component uses Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to record extensive conversations with a small group of 14 school leaders in England. This was only a portion of the more comprehensive study, including interviews with instructors from other educational systems with various disciplinary policies and a survey of 84 behavior referral units in England.

The findings highlight a possible cycle that could influence England’s behavior management policy, with political and resource restrictions restricting schools’ ability to test out alternative strategies and producing scant proof of their effectiveness.

Before beginning her academic career, Oxley worked with families, senior school leaders, and children at risk of being suspended from school to help schools support students who displayed recurrent misbehavior with the right educational opportunities. She had positions in East Yorkshire as an Exclusions and Reintegration Officer and in Cambridgeshire as an Education Inclusion Officer.

Laura Oxley said, “This is not a call to scrap the existing system, but to consider ways to enhance it; for significant numbers of children, the current approach isn’t working.”

She added, “Fundamentally if a child persists with the same behavior despite multiple punishments, it’s unlikely that they don’tdon’t comprehend the consequences. Instead of escalating the punishment in those situations, we should ask why we aren’t trying something else. Unfortunately, even if school leaders are motivated to try a different approach, they often feel they have little choice. This means the same, standardized approach often prevails, even though it doesn’t suit every child.”

”Restorative practice” (RP) and ”collaborative and proactive solutions” (CPS) are two frequently mentioned alternative behavior management strategies. After a breakdown, RP focuses on mending healthy connections between students or between students and teachers. CPS entails discovering the causes of persistent bad behavior and jointly resolving them.

This supports the idea that the current model is the only one available. Before entering academia, Sarah Oxley worked with at-risk students, their families, and senior school administrators to help schools support students who displayed recurrent misbehavior by providing suitable educational opportunities. She had positions in East Yorkshire as an Exclusions and Reintegration Officer and in Cambridgeshire as an Education Inclusion Officer.

According to Oxley’s research, proactive and collaborative solutions (CPS) and restorative practice (RP) are effective alternatives to traditional behavior control methods. But because these options are typically labor-intensive and demand a significant cultural shift, school leaders noted cost, time, and resource limitations as obstacles to their implementation.

It was thought that issuing sanctions was more efficient, whereas offering room for private dialogues with challenging students was sometimes impossible. Training can influence teachers’ perceptions of dealing with difficult kids, but time and resources are constraints. Participants were also concerned about parental reactions to alternate techniques.

The most crucial elements in this letter are that one school head told Oxley that holding a restorative meeting is more difficult than missing their break time and that parents have been ” held to ransom” by parents requesting the exclusion of so-called “problem” students. 

According to Oxley, these forces have created a risk-averse culture in schools, limiting prospective reforms.

The study identifies a need for more promotion of alternate ways in existing government guidance, which favors a sanctions-based strategy. However, appropriate funding and time are required to improve teachers’ and parents’ comprehension of collaborative and restorative behavior management strategies to cultivate a “desire for change.” 

The researcher said, “At the moment, alternative approaches are often dismissed as unrealistic; this stems from a lack of large-scale evidence due to limited opportunities to explore them in schools. Education researchers must address that by studying real school experiences, moving beyond limited trials. This will empower more school leaders to see restorative practice and other methods as valuable and viable, generating momentum for change.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Laura Oxley, Identifying the barriers to alternative approaches for behavior management in schools. Psychology of Education Review. DOI: 10.53841/bpsper.2023.47.1.71
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