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Cracking the code

Headteacher Phil Taylor explains how an explicit set of school rules helped to transform behaviour.

When the 1988 Elton Report recommended that schools should develop behaviour policies, work on a detailed school code was already under way at South Manchester High School.

Our school, an 11-16 mixed comprehensive, has more boys than girls. It is situated in one of the most deprived parts of the second most deprived local authority area in Britain, and had problems with violence between students and offensive behaviour towards members of staff.

We realised that the code could only be effective if it was accepted by the majority of students, parents, staff, and governors. At every stage of its drafting, all parties were consulted and many suggestions incorporated. The code is reviewed periodically the latest revision has, for example, extended the definition of bullying to include "sending to Coventry" and has introduced the concept of sexual harassment, spelling out the need to avoid terms of abuse such as "slag", and to respect other people's personal space.

Unlike so many school documents which are lost in filing cabinets, the code is prominently displayed all around the school and reprinted in the diary which the school provides to each student.

Where the code is perhaps unusual is in explaining in detail the reasons for its requirements. A school is a community dedicated to learning and understanding; it is not about programming and indoctrination. There are good reasons for all our rules and we need to share these if we are to get students and parents on the school's side and make changes.

Thus the code explains, for instance, that any behaviour which leads others to feel anxious and insecure is unacceptable because it makes learning more difficult and therefore undermines the basic work of the school.

The code cannot be seen in isolation. Over the last few years, other fundamental changes have taken place. For example, an innovative management structure stresses participation by everyone associated with the school and the traditional pastoral system has been replaced by a tutorial scheme which involves every member of the teaching staff, including the head, in day-to-day tutorial contact with students.

But we feel that the code has had an enormous impact and we were delighted when our Office for Standards in Education report in April agreed, saying: "The school effectively teaches right from wrong. A clear school code of conduct is everywhere on display and applied consistently. It is a most important statement in setting a framework for behaviour and morality.

"It includes values, which include some which are not shared by sections of the local community. The code is used by teachers to underline the behaviour they expect from pupils. Their own relationships with pupils are very effective and the teachers are good role models for pupils to follow. Pupils are fully aware of and respect the demands placed upon them by staff to behave well and consider the views, rights and needs of others."

Phil Taylor is head of South Manchester High School, and this article is based on his contribution to ICSEI. Copies of the code can be obtained by sending a Pounds 2 cheque or postal order to: South Manchester High School, Woodhouse Lane, Wythenshawe, Manchester M22 9TH

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