Keeping Violence in Perspective
by John John VISSER, The University of Birmingham UK

Theme : International Journal on Violence and School, n°1, May 2006

I wish to argue in this paper that the reactions to violence in schools must be kept in perspective. In its extremes it is a rare event and when not extreme we have examples of good practice which mitigate its occurrence and meet its challenges. I shall do so by first sharing a government agency’s national study to which I contributed a major portion during 2003. I will point to the media’s response to that publication. I will show that the media particularly newspapers have little or no sense of perspective and that this carries dangers and tensions for us as practitioners and researchers. The media’s need to sensationalise quickly moves to public assertions that schools are in chaos, with standards falling and open rebellion by students about to break out. Researchers and practioners need to provide and maintain a sense of balance and perspective by ensuring, where-ever we can, that the whole story is told and not just that part which sells newspapers. The story of violence in our schools is a complex one and seldom can it be encapsulated in a sound bite or head line.

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Texte en anglais (télécharger le fichier PDF ici)


This paper is based upon the opening keynote address given at the 3rd International Conference on violence in schools in 2006.

Prof. Eric Debarbieux said in his welcome that the Conference in Bordeaux on the subject of ‘school violence' is a vast area of study and some may argue too big for us to engage with. However I am reminded of a question my late daughter asked me. She was preparing a lesson for a group of very challenging children in a school in Botswana and the task she felt was daunting and vast. She asked her father what strategies she should use to meet the challenges.  As the problems and challenges loomed larger and larger and the strategies ever more varied, she stopped me in the middle of the discussion and asked how you would eat a whole elephant?  I was stumped for an answer – one bite at a time was her response! ….. So whilst the topic may be large I hope this paper will contribute to a diminution its size and increase standing and knowledge a little more.  The term violence is used in this paper in its broadest possible meaning: ‘as behaviours which in some measure hurt or diminish the perpetrator and / or those around him or her.' I shall interchange the term violence with challenging behaviour a term more widely used in the UK than violence.

I wish to argue in this paper that the reactions to violence in schools must be kept in perspective. In its extremes it is a rare event and when not extreme we have examples of good practice which mitigate its occurrence and meet its challenges.  I shall do so by first sharing a government agency's national study to which I contributed a major portion during 2003.  I will point to the media's response to that publication.  I will show that the media particularly newspapers have little or no sense of perspective and that this carries dangers and tensions for us as practitioners and researchers.  The media's need to sensationalise quickly moves to public assertions that schools are in chaos, with standards falling and open rebellion by students about to break out. Researchers and practioners need to provide and maintain a sense of balance and perspective by ensuring, where-ever we can, that the whole story is told and not just that part which sells newspapers.  The story of violence in our schools is a complex one and seldom can it be encapsulated in a sound bite or head line.


In doing this I tread a dangerous path. I do not want to leave an impression that violence and challenging behaviour do not occur in schools.  Indeed I've too many years experience of classrooms to be that naive.  Rather I want to present two inter-related positions.  The first is that there is neither more nor less violence in schools than in times past.  The second is to argue that the solutions to violence lie not so much in the creation of new strategies or the implementation of new policies as in the spreading of existing good practice.  Before arguing those as conclusions I will raise what I have called the researcher's dilemma.  That of the need to keep violence in schools at the forefront of the professional agenda of educational policy makers and teacher trainers as well as society at large, whilst not feeding the ‘monster' that is the media.  I will also show that every time the ‘monster' has growled louder and louder about violence in schools, professionals within Education have been able to show that, most children and young people most of the time in nearly all schools are not violent nor is their behaviour particularly challenging. These professionals have done so without diminishing the importance of tackling the challenge of behaviours which are challenging for adults working with children and young people


The Study


The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) has the responsibility in England for monitoring educational provision made for, and the educational achievement of, children and young people.  It does so in a number of ways the principal one of which is the inspection of schools.  These inspections lead to the publication of reports. Where pupils and staff are not performing well a school may be placed in a category where they are subjected to further inspections and are set targets to improve because they are seen as failing. They are, to use an English saying … ‘named and shamed'… One of the key criteria that can place a school in such a position is the academic achievements of its pupils.  In many cases Head teachers of Schools placed in such a category are ‘retired' or ‘resign'.  Being inspected can be a very stressful experience and Head teachers will put forward factors for why their results are lower than could be expected.


During the latter part of the 1990's and into the first few years of the 21st century Ofsted inspectors reported that a frequently given reason for poorer than expected results was an increase in challenging behaviour from students.  In the light of these constant comments Ofsted commissioned a study which in summary sought to establish whether:

    There was a consensus amongst the major stakeholders in education as what constituted challenging behaviour
    How wide spread was it and was there an increase
    What good practice in mitigating challenging behaviour could be identified

The Study had two phases.  Its first phase contained a review of literature, a set of detailed and structured focussed group meetings with practitioners, interviews with children and young people; interviews with local government officers and a survey of 1300 schools in eight local authorities. Thus quantitative and qualitative data was gathered for analysis and used in a second phase where detailed inspections were carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools (HMI's in a range of school (some 80 in total) across the education authorities in England.


The practitioners represented in phase one teachers in mainstream and specialist provision, School governors, local education officers, educational psychologists, peripatetic support teachers, head teachers, professionals from agencies working with children and young people and representatives from regional SEN bodies, professional associations and parents' groups. There were some 68 professionals were involved in this part of the study. Each attended for a full day's structured discussions and workshops where nominal group techniques (Cookbook 2003) were used to derive a consensus views of aspects of challenging behaviour.


A semi-structured interview was conducted with 25 local authority officers across eight local authorities. Sites of good practice were identified and children and young people in these schools interviewed.


The literature reviewed covered mainly UK sources since 1994, though some key texts available in English from around the world were also consulted; in all some 250 texts.


So a substantive piece of work involving the analysis of rich data sets covering various aspects and perspectives on the issue of challenging behaviour. A point I would like you to bear in mind when we come to look at the media's response to the published report.


The analysis of the first stage phase was grouped around three themes:

    Challenging Behaviours can be described, but precision in definition, range, typology, and rates are problematic.
    Challenging Behaviours can be addressed by good quality educational provision, particularly teaching and learning.
    Schools cannot meet all the needs of children and young people with challenging behaviour.


Each theme had a number of sub-themes and I shall deal with these under each main theme heading.


Challenging Behaviours can be described, but precision in definition range typology and rates are problematic.


Definitions of challenging behaviour are not easily found within available research literature. The study found challenging behaviour as described by practitioners to be largely synonymous with the description of that group of children and young people who have special educational needs and in the UK are described as having social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD).  It seems educationalist can describe violent and challenging behaviours but arriving at a definition that is precise and transferable across settings, time and context is fraught with difficulties. Researchers tend to avoid the issue preferring instead to talk about very specific aspects of a particular generically described behaviour such as bullying.


An exception to this within UK literature lies in the area of cognitive disabilities.  There is a small body of literature which uses challenging behaviour as a term to cover the behaviour of children and young people with severe cognitive disabilities, who display behaviours which are challenging because they are difficult to manage and their causation little understood.  In English literature this use of the label ‘challenging behaviour' has a relatively short history when applied to these children and young people.   To-day the term challenging behaviour is used more widely by a whole range of professionals and the media to describe a much broader range of behaviours than those associated with just children and young people with cognitive impairments.


So the term challenging behaviour is one found largely in discourse of professional's day to day communications about individual children and young people rather than in the research literature.


There are however some definitions of social, emotional and behavioural difficulties in the literature, particularly in the guidance and regulations issued by the UK government. These definitions are contentious because there is little uniformity in their underlying premises; purposes; and underlying conceptual models. The definition provided in, for example, circular 9/94 (DfES 1994) is one that the literature suggests is widely accepted.  However this study and one by (Daniels, Visser, Cole and De Reybekill 1998) found that professionals rarely point to this or any other definition when asked to define challenging behaviour.


As indicated earlier an important strand of the study sought to understand what professionals meant by challenging behaviour and so used interviews, structured focus groups and a survey to gather their views. In nearly all cases the study found that professionals constructed their understanding of challenging behaviour not by pointing to some agreed definition or set of criteria but by listing the behaviours of an individual child whom they felt was challenging. Often this was a child or young person they had dealt with recently. So they went from the particular to the general.  This was in contrast to research papers which tended to go from the general idea of a challenging behaviour such as bullying to then explore a group purporting to exhibit that behaviour.


Data gathered in the structured focus groups provided a list of behaviours regarded as challenging. Some behaviours were repeated by respondents a significant number of times; others were only mentioned by one or two respondents. Analysis of the list indicated that they can be viewed as two distinctive though perhaps overlapping sets.  The first set is those that are agreed by nearly all respondents to be challenging whatever the circumstances; thus are challenging per se.  The second set was where the behaviour was seen as a challenge depending upon factors in the context, and crucially the perceptions, tolerance and expectation levels of the adult involved.


Challenging Per Se


There was wide spread agreement that two types of behaviour are challenging whatever the circumstances.  The first of these is intense aggressive behaviour and the second relates to non-compliance or defiance. 


The term aggressive is used here to cover physical behaviours such as biting and pinching through to throwing furniture and physically assaulting another person.  It is also used to cover verbal aggression, for example, streams of verbal abuse, racially focussed abuse, and ‘in your face' actions where personal space is invaded to threaten the other person.  The second type of behaviour that of defiance and non-compliance covered those actions where children and young people refuse to follow an instruction or request or engage with a task. These behaviours were often described as being accompanied by assertive verbal communications conveying the young person's intention or inviting the adult to ‘make me' perform the required action. 


Two characteristics were evidenced as making such behaviours always challenging. These were the extreme intensity and the unpredictability of the behaviour. Where the behaviour is not predicted, its ‘surprise' element can provide the adult with a difficult to address challenge.  These behaviours are usually ‘one-offs' and can be of a spectacular and even sensational nature which catches media attention and becomes a local or national ‘cause celebre'. However they rarely occur in children and young people whose behaviour gave no previous cause for concern. The evidence indicates that these incidents challenging as they are, are not experienced very often in schools and most teachers have never experienced this level of violence and challenge.


Many teachers have however felt that they have experienced these forms of behaviour but at a lower order (not so sensational) where their ability to be or remain in control still feels threaten. When the behaviour has not been predicted the adult being taken unawares has less chance of remaining in control of the situation.  However when the professional can predict the possibility of a behaviour occurring it ceases to be so threatening.


The second characteristic of behaviours felt to be challenging was when there was extreme emotional intensity in the behaviour. Often when describing these behaviours the words used would be that the child or young person ‘was out of control' meaning they were not in control of their emotions. Respondents frequently gave indications of feeling helpless in the face of this emotional intensity whether that emotion was one of distress or anger. Where it was one of anger they felt that there were some strategies they could use. Where it was one of distress they were less confident about what could be done


Challenging behaviour: context dependent


The study has similar findings to those to be found in an earlier study known as the Elton Report (DfEE 1989). Namely, that many challenging behaviours are challenging because of a number of factors which are contextually based.  These factors are:

    Age and size of child
    The frequency of the behaviour
    The predictableness of the behaviour
    The tolerance levels of the adult
    The levels of expectation within the setting


Age and Size of Child 

As one participant put it when ‘when they are smaller they are less of a challenge'.  This is not to convey an impression that young children cannot display challenging behaviours, rather that adults feel less threatened by these behaviours though equally concerned for the well-being of the child.  Respondents who were in an advisory or consultancy role in relation to behaviour in schools expressed some concern over a rise in the number of young children being identified as having challenging behaviour. Besides pointing to possible wider societal causes for this they also raised the possibility that teachers, because they were lacking knowledge of child development, were making inappropriate judgements about children's behaviours.



Where intensity of the emotional content in the behaviour is low and the behaviour infrequent the behaviours could be viewed as minor, being more irritating than challenging. Where the behaviour becomes frequent and the adult is unwilling or feels insufficiently skilled or lacks the confidence to address the behaviour, it becomes challenging to that adult.  Swearing is an example of this.  The child who utters an expletive when a piece of work goes wrong will in most cases receive a low level reprimand or may not even be ‘noticed' by teachers. The child who's ‘every third word' is an expletive and who fails to respond to an adult directed intervention to diminish or eradicate this behaviour can be seen by some as very challenging. It is the non response on the part of child or young person to the adult's intervention that is challenging because it threatens the adult's feeling of control of the situation. Others whilst acknowledging that swearing is in appropriate and is to be discouraged don't ever see it as challenging behaviour.


Evidence from study also indicates that frequency is a key to addressing the behaviour. Behaviour, which is frequent, can be measured; its frequency rate noted.  Questions can be raised such as what triggers the behaviour, is there a pattern to its occurrence, and in what circumstances is it absent? What reasons can be found or deduced which is the ‘cause' of the behaviour?  Answers to such questions can guide possible interventions to lessen the frequency or eliminate the behaviour altogether. The study also found that in settings where practitioners use information about pupils' behaviour to address issues of classroom management, whole school policies, and developments in their teaching and learning did not find these behaviours challenging. Rather they found them a stimulus to examine their practice and provision; particularly their teaching and curriculum to see what changes they should make to alter the behaviours of the children and young people concerned.



A high degree of predictableness enables adults to engage in a range of strategies to address challenging behaviour. Many teachers however experience behaviours which are not predictable from their knowledge and experience of the child or young person.  This behaviour may be of low level, worthy of note such as the child being withdrawn, quieter than usual, or perhaps appearing more easily irritated by their peers.  Evidence from the study and its accompanying review of literature indicates that good quality provision will note the behaviour, and use knowledge about the child to provide a suitable low level intervention rather than seeing that behaviour as challenging.  Such behaviours are frequently reactions to some incident in the child or young person's life outside of School for which they may need further support.  When the unpredictable behaviour impinges on others, particularly if it involves aggression, or is disruptive of others learning, there is a greater tendency to view it as challenging.



The tolerance levels of individual adults play a major part in their determination of what is a challenging behaviour.  What affects tolerance levels are individual's beliefs and values together with the degree to which the adults have skills to address what they see as challenging behaviour.  The study found that many pupils' challenges to adults can be addressed within the bounds of good quality teaching and learning where classroom management skills are of a high order and where teachers have a secure belief in the value of and the abilities of children and young people with challenging behaviour. The study does not support an existential view of behaviours in that it clearly indicates certain behaviours as always being challenging.  Nor does it support the view that challenging behaviours should be tolerated, respondents shared many ideas, interventions and strategies to address challenging behaviours.  What the study found was that an individual's tolerance levels has some governance on when a particular behaviour becomes challenging for that individual. For example the study examined respondents attitude to spitting. Some participants would not tolerate spitting in any circumstances and saw it as a behaviour which was both inappropriate and challenging. Others might tolerate it when it was an action occurring at the end of some strenuous exercise such as a football match but not if it occurred in a classroom.  For others it was dependent upon the child and the degree to which they viewed this as a key behaviour to be addressed rather than other more (in their view) challenging behaviours the child or young person was displaying. Nearly all respondents agreed that ‘spitting in one's face' was a challenging behaviour. However not all respondents felt this; one indicated that his response to being spat at would depend on who did it, when they did it and why they did it!


Levels of expectation

Institutional levels of expectation are a factor in determining what can be challenging behaviour.  Evidence from the questionnaires returned by Schools  as well as the sites of good practice demonstrates the importance of institutional ethos in addressing challenging behaviour.  Where levels of expectation had a high degree of imposition by adults the ascription challenging behaviour was awarded to behaviours which Elton (DfE 1989) and Steer (2005) describe as of a very low level.  In one interview an example was given of pupils being excluded for behaviours such as arriving without equipment and throwing paper across a room. This was seen as being challenging.   Arriving late to a lesson was reported by some participants in the study as a behaviour some institutions would regard as challenging behaviour.  Where there was a high degree of pupil involvement in setting of expectations, challenging behaviours were perceived to be less frequent in occurrence.  For example, comments such as ‘good clear practice understood by all staff and pupils', ‘The staff work as a team supporting each other and the pupils'; ‘all members of the school community can develop positive self-esteem ‘.were associated with schools where the term challenging behaviour was infrequently used to describe children or young people's behaviours.


Rates of Challenging Behaviours

Given the lack of an agreed definition, and the complexities involved in ‘measuring' challenging behaviour in relation to particular children it is not possible to provide secure evidence on rates of challenging behaviours.  From 2004 school in England were required to make an annual return to central government of the numbers of pupils with SEBD. However this will not tell the whole story as it will miss those with challenging behaviour who have not been identified as having SEN in the area of SEBD.  Interviews with local authority officers indicated that their monitoring of behaviour extends only to levels of fixed term and permanent exclusions in particular schools and one authority acknowledged that schools under reported even these figures.


Estimates of Challenging Behaviour

Evidence drawn from a number of research projects (outlined in the literature review section of the study) gives an estimate of between 4% to 5% of the school population in England as experiencing challenging behaviours at some time in their schooling.  This figure is similar to figures given for USA and Canada, though figures from Scandinavian sources are somewhat higher at 11%. Determining whether Scandinavian countries actually have more challenging behaviours is fraught with the difficulties of definition already discussed


What is of note is that this study like many others found that of those identified with challenging behaviours, boys out weight girls by a ratio as high as 10 or 12 to 1.  Explanations for this abound and are largely anecdotal. It remains a very under researched area within published research on challenging behaviour


Good Quality Provision 

There is a large body of evidence which indicates that schools can and do make a difference to the levels of challenging behaviour they experience. The quality of this provision is reflected in its:

    Physical appearance
    Use of strategies
    Teaching styles and learning opportunities
    Consistency of approach


Types of provision

Participants indicated that these fall into two categories.  Those that are school based and those which are provided by the local authority for pupils not attending a mainstream school.  Within school-based provision is to be found ‘Units' such as Learning Support Units, Nurture group classes, and use of behaviour support personnel such as mentors, teaching assistance, educational psychologists, counsellors.  LEA provision is mainly Pupil Referral Units, Special School and Education otherwise.  It is evident that placement is largely provision led, i.e. where a form of provision is available is where a pupil with challenging behaviour is placed.  The range and variety of behaviours report as challenging by practitioners is wide.  The administrative response to challenging behaviour is all too often to disregard this divergent range and view challenging behaviours as a homogenise group of children and young people.


Physical Quality of Provision

The literature review section of the study, provides evidence that the quality of physical provision is poor and that this impacts upon the quality and quantity of educational outcomes for pupils with challenging behaviour. This is particularly the case for those pupils placed in pupil referral units which the evidence indicated is often of a poor physical condition and not infrequently located in a difficult to reach by public transport locations.



The study found a wide variety of interventions, approaches and strategies to meet the educational needs of pupils with challenging behaviour. Key components of successful interventions were seen as their flexibility in meeting the particular set of circumstances of an individual child or young person's behaviours and the quality of the human delivery in the application of the intervention.  Evidence within the study repeatedly points to the need to develop, maintain and sustain positive relationships with these children and young people who are challenging.  These relationships were not built upon any condoning of the behaviours but upon acceptance and belief in the individual.  Respect for and valuing of pupils are seen as important in gaining changes in their behaviour patterns.  Effective interventions do not define children and young people in terms of their behaviours, they seek to differentiate between act and actor.  Valuing the latter and working to change the former.


Quality of teaching and learning 

It is noticeable in this study that when asked to define, discuss and describe challenging behaviour participants rarely made specific reference to learning needs.  Issues of classroom management, teaching and learning were adversely affected by challenging behaviour was covertly implied, or taken as ‘read'. Challenging Behaviour was challenging because pupils were aggressive, non-compliant, swore or engaged in one of the many behaviours listed.  In contrast when asked to give examples of effective interventions participants talked of activities which were largely school based and related to the provision of good quality teaching and learning experiences. Where particular approaches were advocated such as anger management courses discussants would indicate that these should be specific aspects of the curriculum of the school and available for all.  Good quality provision for the social, moral and cultural aspects of schooling was also emphasised.


Multi -dimensional understanding

The nature of challenging behaviour in children and young people requires a wider understanding than just an educational perspective.  While causation was not a particular focus of this study, it continually arose in discussion, interviews, and responses to the questionnaire.  Emergent evidence indicates that schools can exacerbate but are rarely the sole or root cause of the challenging behaviours they experience.  It may be a truism, but it remains a fact that while it may be possible to construct a typology of challenging behaviours, causation of individual behaviours has unique dimensions associated with each individual displaying that behaviour.  This points to the need for a multi-dimensional approach to understanding and thus being able to help, support, and intervene effectively.


Multi-agency intervention

The review of literature provides little evidence of multi-agency interventions being in place in the UK.  The field-work evidence provided some evidence of multi-agency approaches being developed.  Some of this is formal, resourced and structured at local authority level, most takes place at school level and is dependent upon ‘good will' and the development of personal professional relationships.  There were consistent reports that teachers found that non educational agencies are often difficult to involve and engage in meetings the needs of children and young people with challenging behaviour. Some respondents also point out the need for educational agencies to work more coherently together, what might be termed a plea for better intra-agency approaches rather than inter agency.


The study outcomes were published in Ofsted (2005) and the full review of literature in Visser (2003).

Ofsted (2005) pointed to eight main findings and made eight major recommendations:


    The behaviour of the very large majority of pupils and students remains satisfactory or better.  Most schools and other settings are successful at managing behaviour and creating an environment in which learners feel valued, cared for and safe.
    The most common form of poor behaviour is persistent, low-level disruption of lessons that wears down staff and interrupts learning.  Extreme acts of violence remain very rare and are carried out by a very small proportion of pupils.
    A significant proportion of pupils with difficult behaviour have Special Educational Needs and face disadvantage and disturbance in their family lives.  Many have poor language skills.  Problems with reading and writing often begin early and continue into secondary school, limiting achievement in a range of subjects.
    Behaviour is significantly better in settings which have a strong sense of community and work closely with parents.  In these settings learners feel safe and are confident that issues such as bullying are dealt with swiftly and fairly.
    A strong lead by senior managers who set high standards and provide close support to staff contributes significantly to the effective management of behaviour.
    Most schools and other setting recognise that an appropriate curriculum and effective teaching engage learners and encourage good behaviour, but about a quarter of those visited in this survey had difficulty in ensuring that their provision meets the standards needed in these respects.
    Staff in some settings require more training in managing and improving the behaviour of more difficult pupils.
    The quality of accommodation has a significant impact on behaviour.  Accommodation that is welcoming, stimulating and well maintained tends to foster good behaviour.


The Media's Response


Following Ofsted's (2005) publication the media, in the main, newspapers published articles about violence in schools with opening paragraphs such as:


Standards of discipline in schools are steadily declining…. (a report) paints a disturbing picture of rowdy and disrupted classes with physical and verbal abuse of both children and teachers.


Gang culture is widespread…..Daily Mail 1st March 2005


This newspaper then lists what is says are the report findings:


    ‘Challenging behaviour' – including biting, pinching, throwing furniture, assault, disobedience and temper tantrums – shown by up to half of pupils in some schools.
    Gang culture is perceived as widespread in a fifth of secondary schools.
    Children caught carrying knives and other weapons at least once a term in two out of five schools.
    Drug-related incidents take place at most secondaries at least once a term.
    Some pupils take medication because of disruptive behaviour at more than half of all schools.
    Pupils have harmed themselves at more than half of secondaries and a third of primaries.
    Small proportion of pupils at more than half of secondaries have been found in trouble with the courts.
    Sexualised behaviour by pupils reported at a third of primaries and half of secondaries.


Comparing this list with the reports published findings makes the reader wonder if the media are reporting a different publication to the one my research contributed to.


The media was ‘reporting' on Ofsted (2005), but had taken out of perspective what the Report had said.  It had almost completely avoided the major findings but had taken instead some minor findings which were found in a small minority of contexts and set them out as though they were the major issues.  In her keynote address to the second international conference on violence in schools Prof. Carol Hayden showed a press clipping which referred to the army having to be called out during the 19th century in order to quell riots in schools.  It would seem that keeping violence in schools in perspective is not something that the media can do.  In their need to sell newspapers they sensationalise issues but can only do so if that is what they believe the public also will believe?


Is there a dilemma here for the research community?  Do we need the sensationalisation of the media in order to keep the research funds flowing and challenging behaviour at the forefront of educational discourse?  In posing the question sharp intake of breadth can be heard and see the shaking of the head seen on the part of those of us concerned with issues of violence in schools.  But it is still a question I wish to pose because when looking at this study, and comparing it to previous studies the conclusion is almost the same findings are found.  Two important previous studies in the UK were the Underwood Report (1955) and the Elton Report (1989).  Both these reports had very similar findings to the Ofsted (2005) Report.  Yet despite these reports the Government commissioned a further study in 2005 which published its report called Learning Behaviour last autumn.  This Report (Steer 2005) came yet again to similar conclusions, but also received a similar response to the Ofsted Report (2005) when articles appeared in the media.  The net result of the media's sensational headings is to propose simplistic punitive and negatively focus reactions.  Looking forward into 2006 with some trepidation and a continuation of the media sensationalism regarding behaviour in schools we are experiencing an upsurge in more punitive approaches to curbing what society and politicians believe is a rising tide of violence in our schools, but which research evidence shows has in fact been a constant in schools overtime.  But without the media's lack of perspective will funding for research dry up?




What then do we know about violence in schools…..We know that individual acts of extreme violence are rare and have occurred throughout the history of schooling.  They are often not predictable, though often the media with its 20/20 vision in hindsight blame schools for ‘seeing it coming'.  These individual acts of violence will unfortunately continue.


We know that the quality of teaching has a direct affect on the quality of behaviour and that the starting point for tackling challenging behaviour lie in an examination of teaching and curriculum


We know that the greater feeling of belonging and inclusiveness a child or young person experiences within school the fewer behaviour problems are incurred.  This is achieved in context where respect is given to children and young people so that they in turn can learn to give it to others. It is not in my view achieved by politicians setting out a respect agenda which concentrates almost solely upon receiving respect with out showing it to others.  It is mutual respect which provides for good behaviours.


Nearly every time the media has convinced politicians and policy makers that violence and inappropriate behaviour is on the rise in schools, there is in the UK a major piece of research or a commission to examine the issues. Each subsequent report has shown that the tide isn't rising and indicates that the same strategies and policies are required, usually underpinned by what I have termed elsewhere (Visser 2002) Eternal Verities.  These underpin good practice.  The answer to preventable violence and poor behaviour in our schools is not to be found in research for a final single solution even to a narrowly defined area of behaviour such as bullying.  Rather it is in the spreading of existing good practice.


Keeping Violence in Perspective means understanding that it occurs; and acknowledging that some of it is not predictable particularly on an individual basis. But that much of it can be mitigated if not eradicated by adults whose beliefs and values are premised on principles often unsaid but  they underpin  good practice.  These are:


    A belief that behaviour can change.  It is not carved in stone because of your culture, family, experience or genetic make up
    That systems, processes and strategies should be in place that model good behaviour and at the very least prevent poor behaviour
    That children and young people need to be shown, guided, drawn towards what is required as appropriate behaviour when displaying inappropriate behaviour
    Honest and clear communication is given consistently by adults.
    That empathic and understanding which doesn't condone convening an inappropriate behaviour is more effective than a liazze fair approach
    That flexible structures and appropriate educational challenge provide children and young people with a sense of purpose giving rise to a greater properity to behave appropriately
    Giving respect to children and young people what ever there behaviours and backgrounds
    Maintaining a sense of fun and liveliness. (Visser 2002).


This paper is based upon the findings of a large study undertaken for Ofsted who funded the research.  Details of these findings can be found here.

The extensive review of literature upon which this paper also draws was conducted for Ofsted and published by them here.

John Visser is Senior Lecturer in the School of Education, The University of Birmingham (UK).  He is Director of Continuing Professional Development and is the Programme Tutor for a number of courses in Social Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties.

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DfEE (1989).  Elton Report: Discipline in Schools. London: Department of Education and Employment.

DfES (1994). The Education of Children and Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties (Circular 9/94).  London: Department for Education.

Daniels, H., Visser, J., Cole, T and de Reybekill N (1998).  Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties in Mainstream Schools.  London: DfEE

Cookbook (2003).  Normal Group Techniques.           accessed 26/3/03

OfSted (2005).  Managing Challenging Behaviour.  London: Ofsted

Steer Report (2005).  Learning Behaviour.  London: Department for Education and Skills.

Underwood Report (1955).  Committee of Enquiry

Visser, J. (2002).  Eternal Verities: The Strongest Links.  Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties 7, 2, pp68-84.

Visser, J. (2003).     A Study of Children and Young People who Present Challenging Behaviour – Literature Review.  London: Ofsted

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