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A different approach to behaviour management

by Terry Freedman on October 5, 2018

Schools are constantly looking for ways in which they can enhance pupils’ attainment and reduce instances of poor behaviour. So it was interesting to read recently that the Headteacher of a school has banned energy drinks and mobile phones. Why? To improve behaviour and concentration.

Let’s take the mobile phones issue first. Banning mobile phones from the classroom certainly offers a quick win in terms of behaviour modification. Indeed, it was reported a few years ago that study by the London School of Economics found that phones are a distraction. Note the word ‘reported’ in that sentence. What the LSE researchers actually found was rather more nuanced:

“We find that mobile phone bans have very different effects on different types of students. Banning mobile phones improves outcomes for the low-achieving students the most and has no significant impact on high achievers.”

From Communication: Technology, Distraction & Student Performance 

Rather than ban phones outright or indefinitely, an alternative approach in the long run might be to look into how they could be used productively -- and also introduce rules governing their use.

For example, some schools have succeeded by making pupils place their phones on the desk in front of them. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you think about it, it’s difficult to fiddle with a phone covertly when it’s in full view of the teacher.

When you consider that a typical smartphone is really a miniature computer, it’s not a huge leap to see that phones can be used productively in the pursuit of learning. However, the culture of the school, the curriculum and schemes of work, and rules governing the use of phones must be in place. Certainly, if behaviour and achievement are considered too low, banning phones completely is probably a good idea, perhaps with the idea of reviewing the decision in a few months’ time.

When it comes to banning energy drinks, there is plenty of evidence that the sugar content of fizzy drinks, and of junk food in general, can not only lead to child obesity but lack of concentration and poor behaviour. The initial effect of consuming a huge dose of sugar is known as a ‘sugar high’. That feels like a big increase in energy and alertness. Unfortunately, it is rapidly followed by a sugar low, which makes you very tired. Neither state is especially conducive to good behaviour or achievement. See, for example, The effects of junk food on bad behaviour in children, and Junk food: convenient, but damaging to our children’s brains? According to the latter article, junk food can affect a child’s brain development such that:

“[they] may have difficulty with complex learning processes, lose their inhibitions, or become aggressive, childish or compulsive.”

Given these facts, the Headteacher who has banned energy drinks has probably not gone far enough. Banning crisps, sweets, burgers and chips would no doubt be even better -- though how to enforce such a ban would be challenging.

On the other hand, banning just one or two things at a time is more manageable. If you are thinking of doing something similar, you might wish to ban one or the other in different classes, but not both. Then, by tracking the data on achievement and behaviour, you should have a pretty good idea after a term about which has had the most impact. Having good evidence in the form of data, rather than mere anecdote, will hopefully be enough to convince even the most ‘anti’ pupil or parent that the policy is in the child’s best interests.