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An explicit behaviour curriculum will be introduced in all Australian schools. Pictured are students from Marsden Road Public School where it's already taught. Picture: NCA Newswire/David Swift

Explicit teaching push continues in new behaviour curriculum

Australian students will be taught old-school discipline – including how to line up, keep quiet and be still – in a bid to rid classrooms of the behaviour crisis that sees teachers routinely abused, attacked and children disrupted.

The new model of school discipline will be rolled out nationally this year, after a Senate inquiry heard tales of badly behaved students abusing teachers and disrupting their peers from learning and recommended a behaviour curriculum.

Australian students will be explicitly taught how to enter the classroom quietly, how to sit, how to listen properly and how to ask questions, with strategies varying from school to school. Skills on the agenda include:

  • Classroom and school routines and transitions, such as entering the classroom quietly and beginning an activity
  • Effective communication skills, including listening, expressing oneself clearly, and understanding non-verbal cues
  • Self-advocacy skills, like asking for help
  • Problem-solving strategies and conflict resolution techniques

Schools are also moving back to traditional classroom arrangements with desks lined up in rows facing the teacher.

Experts say children no longer come to school knowing how to behave and must be explicitly taught not to call out, talk among themselves and run around the classroom.

NSW teachers underwent a refresh of explicit teaching practices – where teachers clearly show students what to do and how to do it – after Marsden Road Public School outperformed its high-fee counterparts in NAPLAN results.

The school in south-west Sydney has now become the blueprint for the behaviour curriculum; a textbook example of a school where discipline and high expectations for students’ behaviour has translated into academic success.

In 2016, only 12.8 per cent of Marsden Road students achieved top marks in reading, increasing to over a third by 2022.

Some teachers view the explicit teaching style as 'militaristic' and discouraging of deeper learning practices, whilst shifting teacher focus too much towards standardised test results.

The new model is based on a behaviour curriculum in the UK which incorporates strategies including a red and yellow card system of warnings for disruptive children and “super walking,” which means adults leading lines of children single-file around the school.

Schools are also requiring students to pack up, stand behind their chairs and wait to be dismissed table by table at the end of classes.

It will be up to individual teachers in Australia which discipline elements they teach. The UK model has mandatory and legally enforceable guidelines.

It comes as the OECD recently found Australian classrooms have a disciplinary climate that is among the “least favourable” in the world, ranked 33 out of 37 countries.

Just seven per cent of students said they felt safe in the classroom due to violent outbursts from other students and a lack of respect for teachers, which sees them hit, punched, kicked and threatened.

One quarter of students said the environment in their school was not conducive to learning and one third do not listen to what teachers say.

The Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) is distributing evidence-based teaching material to education departments around the country outlining practical steps to teach children how to behave.

Teachers in NSW and Tasmania were first to receive the guidance with Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia to follow this year, with an expectation schools distribute the material to all teachers.

AERO chief executive Jenny Donovan said the key was to “treat behaviour like a curriculum and ensure it is explicitly taught”.

“We can’t assume students understand the expectations,” she said. “It’s really resonating with teachers and it’s what students say they want," she said.

"They want a sense of safety in the classroom, so they can learn without distraction.”

But some researchers warn using a curriculum model to teach kids how to behave is “taking us backwards”.

Melissa Close from Queensland University of Technology said the model ignored the fact that all students were different.

“Instead of using fear and consequences as motivators, we should focus on fostering connections, empathy, and relationships to guide behaviour,” she said.

Erin Leif from Monash University said while evidence showed the behaviour curriculum was applied with some success overseas, the long-term impact was less clear.

“Are they going to look back and think about being at a school where there were clear boundaries and expectations or are they going to say they were treated like a soldier?” she said.

The notion of a behaviour curriculum was a key finding from the Senate Inquiry in Disruption in Schools, chaired by Western Australian Liberal Senator Matt O’Sullivan.

He said the approach was about “establishing key habits of behaviour” adapted for each school environment.

“No child is born knowing how to behave and if you can learn it then you can teach it. It needs to be taught explicitly with clear expectations rather than a list of prohibited behaviour,” he said.

A number of Australian schools have already adopted a behaviour curriculum including Marsden Road Public School, Challis Community School and Dawson Park Primary School in WA.

The panel also wants an annual survey of behaviour in schools, school learning climate and frequency and impact of disruptive behaviour.

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  1. Any effective Principal or school leader already knows these explicitly taught student/teacher behaviours and routines are essential to classroom management. PBL – Positive Behaviour for Learning and TLAC – Teach Like A Champion are highly effective, evidence based and action research proven frameworks all schools should be implementing. Implemented alongside a Trauma Informed Practise framework like BSEM – Berry St Education Model, these are high impact approaches.

    Government should stop re-writing the knowledge base as a “reaction” to political pressure. Fund and resource the strategies we know and have proven to work. It’s simply pandering to ignorance rather than helping families and students own their behaviour and do something about it.

  2. Somehow I missed the feeling of being ‘soldiered’ at school because we were required to act sensibly, line up and proceed into class with care.
    We had a short assembly every morning, greeted by the Principal, special news announced and any extraordinary activities for the day. No different to a ‘tool box’ gathering for some or short staff meetings before work starts.
    Golly gosh I do become frustrated by labels thrown about by researchers who weren’t even a glint in their parents eyes.
    I have taught in the horticultural studies vocational area for 30 years and the biggest issue to deal with is the inability for many learners under 50th is to organise their work plan and work in teams especially for practical exercises. Takes a lot of extra time as a teacher. Mind you I have never regretted that past 30 years.

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