Managing classroom behaviour: what works?

The new Ofsted framework comes into force in September 2019 and with it comes a separate judgement for behaviour and attitudes. To help schools get to grips with the new guidance, Imogen Rowley from The Key offers some high impact approaches to managing behaviour

Ofsted says heads should have “strong policies that support staff in tackling poor behaviour” and inspectors will look particularly for evidence of a school’s ability to tackle low-level disruption. To help schools get to grips with the new guidance, here are some high impact approaches to managing behaviour in your school.

Establishing rules and procedures

All pupils need clear boundaries to learn effectively. Once established, rules allow groups to function as a whole, but also allow independence within a structure. Below are some strategies for devising and communicating rules to pupils. Consider how you could adapt these approaches for your own class.

Discuss the rules with the class

Discuss why we have laws, rules and procedures in society, and ask for examples. What would happen if we didn’t have rules? Explain that the purpose of class rules are to improve learning, and to ensure pupils enjoy the class.

Negotiate to get commitment

Suggest your set of rules as a starting point, asking for feedback and suggestions. Be prepared to justify and compromise. Alternatively ask the class to devise their own set of rules as described below.
Consider asking pupils to work in small groups to make sticky note responses to your rules. Then display and discuss these as a class.
Consider asking each group to design a poster to illustrate one of the rules, and display these on the notice board. These can then be used as a reminder in subsequent lessons
Pupils could literally ‘sign up’ to the rules as political leaders sign treaties. And you should refer to the rules as ‘our rules’ not as ‘mine’.
Devise class rules

Especially with older or more responsible groups, you could ask pupils to come up with their own class rules. It may help to start this process off if you give them issues such as ‘how can we make sure everyone gets the help they need?’ Or you could ask them what has worked in other classrooms.
Pupils can work in groups to devise rules on different aspects of class management, for example, bringing materials, talking, attendance and punctuality. The class can then discuss and vote on suggestions.
Go away and finalise the set of rules. You have every right to the last say of course. If you reject a popular suggestion explain why.

Heighten your classroom awareness

In his meta-study on what works in behaviour management, Robert Marzano found that a heightened awareness of what is going on in the classroom and responding quickly to actual and possible disruptions led to an average reduction in disruptions of 42 per cent.
Here are some strategies for heightening your classroom awareness, adapted from Evidence Based Classroom Management and Discipline by Geoff Petty. Consider how you might adapt these approaches for your own class.  


When working with small groups or even individuals, orientate yourself so you face the rest of the class. Periodically scan the class. Try to get eye contact with as many pupils as you can. This is easier to do from the edges of the classroom than from the middle.

Intervene promptly

The moment you notice a disruption, or something that might escalate into one, make your attention known. Fix the offending pupils with eye contact, and if necessary walk over to them. Stay near them for a while (but keep scanning the rest of the class from time to time). Proximity and eye contact are often enough to stop disruptive behaviour in its tracks. Sitting on or at a pupil’s desk and looking at them stops most disruptions.

Use names

If you can’t get eye contact use their name: ‘Paul?’ When Paul turns around, sustain eye contact for a few seconds. If he knows what he is doing wrong, then an explanation is unnecessary, even if he says ‘what?’ in an innocent tone.

Stop instruction

This works best when used in the first few meetings with a new class. Suppose you are talking to the class and one pupil starts talking. You could use their name as described above. However, another strategy is to wait for complete silence before starting teacher talk. The moment a pupil starts talking, stop talking yourself and look at the pupil. This is pretty startling for the pupil and they usually stop right away. Wait for complete silence again, and then continue from the beginning of the sentence in which you were interrupted. If you do this for a few lessons, pupils usually tire of trying to talk when you are.

Use non-verbal commands

Once you have attention and eye contact with an offending pupil, you can stand to attention with your hands on your hips to signal displeasure. You could also put your finger to your lips to ask for quiet, and shake your head slowly to signal disapproval. Other non-verbal commands include waving your hand in a hello-like gesture but with a frown to signal ‘stop it’, or pointing while clicking your fingers or with a stage cough to signal ‘stop it’. You could also point with a straight arm and a stare to show greater displeasure.

If this behaviour is unfamiliar to you, arrange a visit to the classroom of someone who is good at behaviour management.
Remember, the aim is to stop misbehaviour almost before it has started, so long-distance communication like this is vital.


Consider the activities that can potentially lead to disruptions in your classes, for example, pupils collecting materials from the back of the room, or a transition from group discussion to teacher talk.

Disruptions may be avoided by arranging to have the materials given out, by you standing by the equipment, or by letting only one pupil per group collect them. It may not be possible to avoid the transition from group discussion  to teacher talk, however a little thought might lead to a better way of managing it. For example, trying: “You have one minute to finish your conversations, then I want complete quiet”.

Reminders and warnings

Before a potentially disruptive activity, remind pupils of the relevant rules. “Remember, while I’m explaining, listen, no talking, and hands up for questions.” Setting goals before teacher talk encourages pupils to listen.

Increasing dominance and co-operation in the classroom

Research conducted by Theodore Wubbels found that the optimal teacher-pupil relationships are those which strike a balance between dominance and cooperation.

Enhance cooperation

The following strategies are based on research by McCombs and Whisler, who concluded that one of the most effective methods of enhancing cooperation is to take a personal interest in each pupil in a class.

This could involve talking informally with pupils about their hobbies, interests and their opinions on non-teaching issues and ensuring you are aware of and comment on important events in pupils’ lives. You could also compliment pupils on important achievements and greet each pupil individually by name as they enter the classroom

Increase dominance

Establish clear learning goals before introducing new topics, involve pupils in this process where appropriate.
Summarise what will be covered in a lesson, and offer a persuasive case for why it is being studied.
Exhibit assertive behaviour during the course of lessons. This includes displaying authoritative body language, using an appropriate tone of voice, avoiding displays of emotion when speaking, and maintaining eye contact.
These strategies are based on a meta-study, which found that teachers assert dominance through providing pupils with clarity about the content and objectives of upcoming lessons. Dominance is communicated as pupils appreciate that a teacher has the capability to provide clear direction and guidance.

Imogen Rowley is a Lead Content Producer at The Key, a provider of up-to-the-minute sector intelligence and resources that empower education leaders with the knowledge to act. This article is based on The Key’s behaviour management module, part of their CPD Toolkit.