When did we start to see children as needy?

On Wednesday I wrote this.

In it I wondered when and how we ended up steeped in a rhetoric of need: ‘Children are needy, and all their needs must be met.’

People rattle off the words today without a thought as to what they mean.  Try asking the next person who uses those words what they mean by them.  I’ve done it a few times and the rambling conversations that ensue are remarkable, and often remarkably unhelpful.

Today, I chanced across this (Why Sir Alan Steer Should Stick his Stupid Lying Report up his Arse,) from Old Andrew’s back catalogue.

I remember reading the Steer Report as a part of my training.  I remember being taught to believe that if only my lessons were good enough, well-planned enough, engaging enough, then good behaviour would materialise.  The inverse was of course implied: that if poor behaviour manifests, it is because my lesson wasn’t good enough, well-planned enough, engaging enough.*

Rob Peal trained alongside me back in 2011, two years after the report was launched.  He describes pretty well what it felt like to have this as a part of your teacher training in Lies my teacher training taught me.

I saw this for the first time though (Unruly Pupils Need Support), and I started to get a hint as to how we got here; an upper bound, 2009, at least.  It’s a short video, 3 minutes, worth a watch.

Skip to 1:45 and you’ll get to here the old Behaviour Tsar utter the immortal words

“…so that children’s needs can be met…”

What needs?

‘Unruly pupils need social workers.’


This morning was a funny old trawl through some writing from before my time, and the early days of my teacher training.  There were references to the DCSF, an acronym that I’m so grateful I’ve never had to use myself, and even a reminder that the old Steer Report misquoted Plato (Old Andrew makes the point here, but Daisy Christodoulou really goes to town on it almost exactly three years later, here.)

And so flicking through Andrew’s old posts, and Daisy’s, and Rob’s, I was reminded of how much seems to have changed, in so short a time.  That Sir Alan is no longer the Behaviour Tsar, but Tom Bennett (long may he reign.)  That I don’t hear people denying poor behaviour in schools so much anymore, but wanting genuine systems to help teachers tackle it.

But I say seems, because, maybe I just got lucky.  For three years I’ve worked in a school that, despite challenging circumstances, has an excellent system for handling behaviour, with support from SLT.  Teachers still have a responsibility to use the system effectively, yes of course good lessons and relationships are considered important, but teachers are not left to feel disempowered as they are in schools where SLT refuse to take responsibility for pupil behaviour.

So are there still schools in which managers utter the refrain ‘Well-planned lessons lead to good behaviour’?  Are there still schools in which you’ll hear ‘You need to use your classroom management techniques,’ as a throw away solution the school’s poor culture?

Probably.  I hope the tide is changing. I hope we’re doing better.  But as Rob said four years ago: “Is it any wonder that half of new teachers leave the profession within five years?”

I’m not sure we’ve yet seen any hint of decline in that figure, and so I hope, at least, that we will do better.




*For anyone interested in logic and logical fallacies, this one is called Modus Tollens.  It follows this logical form:

if P then Q

not Q

therefore not P

“If you plan a good lesson, then there will be good behaviour.  There was not good behaviour.  Therefore you did not plan a good lesson.”

This is a valid logical inference; the conclusion is correct provided the premise is correct.  In other words, if you teach trainees to believe that ‘Good lessons lead to good behaviour’ you should expect them to naturally, and inevitably, conclude that any poor behaviour in their lessons is the sole consequence of their own poor planning.

What good comes of that.

The lie of the premise is supported by a logical fallacy, Commutation of the Conditionals.

if P then Q

therefore, if Q then P

“If you plan a good lesson, there will be good behaviour.  Therefore, if there is good behaviour, you must have planned a good lesson.”

To understand why the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise, consider the following:

“If it rains, the road will be wet.  Therefore, if the road is wet, it must be raining.”

Once a person buys into the lie that ‘good planning leads to good behaviour,’ it can be perpetuated by asserting that wherever good behaviour was seen, there was, of course, good planning.

About Kris Boulton

Teach First 2011 maths teacher, focussed on curriculum design.
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4 Responses to When did we start to see children as needy?

  1. suecowley says:

    I’m a bit suspicious of trying to totally disassociate behaviour from teaching because the two are intertwined – they are not completely separate entities. I certainly wouldn’t go along with the claim that children will automatically behave well if you teach well, as my own teaching experiences show me that’s not true. However, I do think that there is a link, certainly to the extent that children may be *more likely* to misbehave if the lesson is poor, or *more likely* to behave if the lesson is not. If I think about my own behaviour, if I’m in a boring session or lecture, or a badly run meeting, I am highly likely to start squirming, losing focus and whispering to my friends. I think it is probably wrong to link behaviour to *planning*, rather than to teaching, because obviously you can plan a great lesson but not actually teach it very well.

    Something else to bear in mind is that the way that you teach is one of the things that you can have a direct impact on, so that even if your SLT is not managing behaviour well, you can at least adapt what you do to try and take back control. (This is what I’ve done when I’ve taught in these kinds of situations.)

    Interestingly, in the ITT behaviour report that has just been published, there is a direct link between lesson planning and behaviour drawn, with the advice that teachers need to learn about memory in order to plan effective teaching sequences to ensure better behaviour. I’m not sure what memory has to do with behaviour myself, but I thought it was interesting that the link was still being made between the two.

    • Kris Boulton says:

      Yes, yes, of course. There is a link, but articulating that correctly is a complex mess of subtle. We get it wrong, and a trainee will hear that poor behaviour is their fault for poor planning or poor teaching. We get it wrong, and poor managers hide behind it as an excuse for abdicating their responsibility in building school culture and good discipline. We get it wrong the other way and we allow teachers to hide behind an excuse that says poor behaviour can never be their responsibility! (As you say, our own teaching is one of things in our locus of control.)

      I like Old Andrew’s distinction between ‘motivation’ to misbehave c.f. ‘opportunity’ to misbehave. If you’re stuck in a room you don’t want to be in, asked to do something you don’t want to do, or listening to something you don’t understand or don’t want to listen to, or you think the authority figure hates you, all of these will increase motivation to misbehave. However, at the least, school structures can minimise opportunity to misbehave, and opportunity to ‘enjoy’ the act of misbehaving on the part of the child.

      The moral argument is also important, though. For my part, if I’m stuck in a boring or poorly run meeting, as you suggested, I might struggle to maintain focus, but I try damned hard not to engage in any overt behaviours like whispering to others – simply because it’s rude! (I’m not saying I always get this right, but I am saying I wouldn’t make any excuses for when I get it wrong.) This is the part that worries me most – bad teaching might go same way to *explain* bad behaviour, but it should never *excuse* it.

      • suecowley says:

        I’d agree with all that. 🙂 In the end it’s being human that is usually the reason for it, and often the excuse that we use when we misbehave, even as adults. I don’t know about you, but I don’t behave perfectly all the time and definitely not in August. Hope you’re having a lovely summer Kris. It’s a fascinating subject, motivation. 🙂

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