Free article: Leading an ethos of positive behaviour and attendance

Published: Friday, 07 April 2017

 Steve Burnage discusses effective strategies to lead improvements in behaviour and attendance.


  • Senior leaders need to know what school’s current behaviour and attendance practice in order to establish a baseline from which to begin improvement.
  • Senior leaders need to have clearly designated responsibilities for behaviour and attendance alongside distributed responsibility across the school.
  • Good teaching promotes good behaviour and attendance.
  • Consistency is the key.
  • The most effective behaviour and attendance improvement strategies are implemented in partnership with parents and carers.
  • Data should be used to monitor the effectiveness of behaviour and attendance intervention strategies and, if the strategies don’t work, schools should try something else.

This article looks at the key roles and responsibilities of senior leaders in relation to behaviour and attendance improvement, and explores how the senior leadership team within your organisation manages and organises those responsibilities.

The big picture

One of the challenges of senior leadership in addressing any area of school development is that so much of it is dependent on the work of others. Most schools adopt a distributed leadership model, where colleagues adopt a range of roles and responsibilities that contribute to successful practice in improving behaviour and attendance.

As a starting point, it would be useful to establish a baseline evaluation of your school’s current practice by addressing these key questions:

  • What are the key roles and responsibilities of the senior leadership team in relation to behaviour and attendance?
  • What activities would these responsibilities create?
  • Which of these activities would you regard as positively promoting improvement in behaviour and attendance? Which are proactive?
  • Which of these activities would you regard as necessary responses to situations arising from behaviour and attendance issues? Which are reactive?
  • Roughly what proportion of time is spent on these two types of activity and what are the outcomes of these activities in relation to strategic developments in the organisation?

You can use the ‘Form – Senior leadership key activity grid’ in the Toolkit to record your answers.

The role of senior leaders

Having considered your current practice, you should now move on to explore the role of senior leadership in promoting positive behaviour and regular attendance. In most cases, the strategic lead for behaviour and attendance is a member of the school leadership team who may have responsibility for:

  • supporting, modelling and developing the shared values and ethos of the organisation, and ensuring consistent practice by all staff
  • implementing a coherent whole-school policy and improvement plan, and monitoring arrangements for behaviour and attendance and anti-bullying
  • supporting all staff to improve learning and teaching through improved confidence and skills in promoting positive behaviour and regular attendance, including responsibility for a programme of CPD to meet staff needs
  • managing collaborative partnerships with other local schools, the local community, parents and other providers of support for improving pupil behaviour and attendance through developing social and emotional awareness.

However, even though your school staff may know the allocation of roles and responsibilities for behaviour and attendance, how do you know whether these roles are being effective?

Department of Education data for permanent and fixed-term exclusions from 2011 to 2015 shows that the number of permanent exclusions in UK schools has changed little over the past five years. Although rates for secondary schools rose a little, up from 0.13% of pupil enrolments in 2010/11 to 0.15% in 2014/15, summary data for all schools nationally shows rates in 2010/11 at 0.07% of pupil enrolments and in 2014/15 at 0.07%.

For the same period, the number of fixed-term exclusions also remains remarkably consistent: secondary schools down from 8.34% of pupil enrolments in 2010/11 to 7.51% in 2014/2015, while summary data for all schools nationally shows a slight fall from 4.33% of pupil enrolments in 2010/11 to 3.88% in 2014/15.

Yet, it is also reported that the main cause of fixed-term and permanent exclusions remains persistent disruptive behaviour. So, what can school leaders do to lead improvements in behaviour and attendance?

Leadership strategies to improve behaviour and attendance

Effective leadership in schools is central to creating a climate of security and good order that supports pupils in managing their behaviour. Headteachers and governors have a critical role in identifying and developing values and expectations that are shared by pupils, parents and staff.

Headteachers and members of the school leadership team have a responsibility to ‘lead from the front’. However, leadership to support positive behaviour must be shared across the whole staff, including senior and subject leaders, pastoral staff, classroom teachers and support staff. Parents also have a responsibility to support the high expectations of the school.

In ensuring that behaviour and attendance are well led, senior leaders need to:

  • In partnership with parents, set high expectations for pupils and staff in all aspects of the school’s life and show how they are to be met.
  • Use opportunities such as assemblies to articulate their expectations, and reinforce them by their visibility around the building during the day.
  • Model the behaviour and social skills they want pupils and staff to emulate.
  • Ensure that staff are sufficiently trained and supported and know how to exercise their individual responsibility in the implementation of the school’s behaviour policy.
  • Ensure that senior staff have clearly identified the responsibilities and roles for behaviour improvement.
  • Establish practice where the emotional and behavioural skills pupils develop at primary school are reinforced and extended as pupils move through secondary schools.
  • Ensure that pupils experience good teaching – good teaching promotes good behaviour.
  • Establish strategies to manage pupil behaviour positively, which help pupils understand the school’s expectations.
  • Ensure that there is a clear range of rewards and sanctions, which are applied fairly and consistently by all staff.
  • Ensure that pupils are taught how to behave well.
  • Ensure that good behaviour is modelled by all staff all of the time in their interaction with pupils.

You could use the ‘Checklist – Senior leadership behaviour and attendance audit’ in the Toolkit to RAG (red, amber, green) monitor your current practice.

Consistency is the key

Good and outstanding schools model consistent practice in everything they do. Consistency is particularly important in the leadership of pupil behaviour because schools are trying to model clear expectations and clear and appropriate actions to learner behaviour.

Effective leaders support staff in tackling persistent poor behaviour and low-level disruption by doing the following:

  • Ensure that staff follow through issues with pupils, indicating what must be done to improve.
  • Ensure that staff discuss with parents the school’s concerns and agree a common way of working to help pupils make improvements to their behaviour.
  • Establish the best way of communicating with parents and providing regular feedback on the progress being made.
  • Ensure that all staff follow the learning and teaching policy and behaviour code and apply agreed procedures.
  • Monitor teaching to ensure that:
  1. lessons are planned well, using strategies appropriate to the ability of the pupils 
  2. teachers consistently use commonly agreed classroom management and behaviour strategies, such as a formal way to start lessons
  3.  pupils are offered the opportunity to take responsibility for aspects of their learning, working together in pairs, groups and as a whole class 
  4. assessment for learning techniques, such as peer and self-assessment, are used to increase pupils’ involvement in their learning and promote good behaviour
  5. data on pupils’ behaviour and learning is collected and used, for example, to plan future groupings and to target support on areas where pupils have the greatest difficulty
  6.  all teachers operate a classroom seating plan 
  7.  teachers build into their lessons opportunities to receive feedback from pupils on their progress and their future learning needs.
  • Recognise that pupils are knowledgeable about their school experience, and have views about what helps them learn and how others’ poor behaviour stops them from learning.
  • Have a wide range of appropriate rewards and sanctions and ensure that they are applied fairly and consistently by all staff.
  • Ensure that their systems identify which matters should be dealt with by classroom teachers and which require referral to a more senior member of staff.

Behaviour strategies and the teaching of good behaviour

The school’s policies on behaviour, and learning and teaching, will create an ordered school climate that is supported by clear rewards and sanctions. It is critical that these policies are communicated to all staff (particularly part-time, new and supply staff) and, of course, pupils and their parents. Senior leaders should do the following:

  • Ensure that all staff understand and use consistently the behaviour management strategies agreed by the governing body and school community.
  • Use pupil tracking systems to identify positive and negative behaviour; an effective policy and practice is based on accurate information.
  • Ensure that all staff joining the school (including supply teachers) are given clear guidance, use the school’s systems and comply with its expectations for behaviour.
  • Provide regular opportunities for all staff to share and develop their skills in promoting positive behaviour.
  • Monitor the effectiveness of the behaviour management techniques used by the school as part of the school performance management system.
  • Create opportunities for staff to learn from the expertise of those with responsibility for pupils whose behaviour is challenging.

Senior leaders’ role in promoting positive behaviour and good attendance is key to effective and consistent practice. However, for it to be effective, they need to distribute this responsibility across the school, involving all staff, parents, carers, governors and the learners themselves. It is by developing this distributed good, consistent practice that senior leaders will develop effective strategies to improve behaviour and attendance.


Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Steve Burnage has a breadth of experience leading challenging inner-city and urban secondary schools. He now works as a freelance trainer, consultant and author for senior and middle leadership, strategic development, performance management and coaching and mentoring. Steve may be contacted by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via his website

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