Outwood Grange Academies Trust’s behaviour system is facing difficulties following a drive to lower the exclusion rate in its schools in the wake of negative media coverage last year, Tes has been told.
Tes has spoken to teachers at three different Outwood schools who have described a host of problems since the multi-academy trust rolled out a new behaviour policy last September.
At one academy, a teacher said there was such a “backlog” in Outwood’s isolation booths that the school had to relocate children to the school gym for a week to clear it.
A senior leader at another Outwood school told Tes that teachers were “finding loopholes” to keep children out of the behaviour system, such as recording that pupils had turned up to detentions when they hadn’t – with management turning a blind eye.
And at a third academy, one teacher who generally approves of Outwood’s methods told Tes that the school was “starting to struggle” because the behaviour policy had been “diluted”.
However, a spokesperson for Outwood said it was "simply untrue" that media coverage had led it to change its behaviour system.
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For the past year, Outwood has been under growing scrutiny over its exclusion rates and use of isolation booths. In March 2018, it was accused of contributing to a “meteoric rise” in exclusions in some of the areas where it operates.
Last October, Tes revealed that Ofsted had spoken to the chain about exclusions, and in December a judicial review was launched against its policy of sending misbehaving pupils to a “consequences room”, where children have to sit silently in booths.
More recently, this year the chain has also become embroiled in a controversy relating to a discipline strategy known as "flattening the grass".
Against a backdrop of increasing scrutiny, Outwood's chief executive, Martyn Oliver (pictured), rolled out a new behaviour policy in September 2018. The three teachers Tes spoke to claimed it was at least partly motivated by a desire to reduce the number of exclusions.
Under the trust’s old "consequences" system, if a child misbehaved four times in a lesson, they were sent to the “matrix room” – another classroom in the department – and given an hour detention after school. If they failed matrix, then they were put in the consequences room for a day. Failure in the consequences room could result in a fixed-term exclusion.
Behaviour 'has gone down the toilet'
Under the new system, Outwood introduced several extra steps into the system – a half-hour detention for pupils failing matrix (followed by an hour detention if this is failed) and a half-day in the consequences room (followed by a full day if this is failed). Tes was told this was about trying to ensure that fewer pupils reached the final stage of an exclusion.
However, Tes has been told that the new system has run into difficulties. “It doesn’t seem any different to the behaviour policy from before, except they’ve totally trimmed down the exclusions,” said a teacher at Outwood Academy City Fields in Wakefield, who asked not to be named.
“This has had a knock-on effect and I can tell you that behaviour at City Fields is an absolute shambles… the behaviour has gone completely down the toilet.”
The teacher said that pupils were piling up in the consequences room. “The kids don’t behave when they’re in the consequences room. There are too many kids in the consequence room…there was such a backlog they had to open the school gym for a week and have 50, 60, 70 kids in a day for a week to clear the backlog.
“As soon as you take the teeth away, because [Outwood has] an ethos based on threat… once that threat’s gone, the whole thing falls down," they added.
A senior leader at an Outwood school on Teesside, who did not wish to be identified, described a similar story. “You’ve got a real big drive to not exclude children, but no one knows what to do because our whole culture centres around excluding children… the entire consequence system is fixed towards exclusions.”
As a result, teachers were “finding loopholes in which to get children out of the system, which sounds good – it sounds like they’re doing their bit for the kids – but it’s not”.
“In our school, we record students as present for detentions even if they’re not… everyone’s scared to use the consequences room.
“We’re basically doing anything we can to not put students in consequences, but at the same time staff are struggling with behaviour and disruption in lessons.”
Asked whether management was aware of what was going on with the detentions, the senior leader said: “There’s no way they can’t be because everyone is doing it. I think they’re condoning it because the drive from above is to bring down exclusions.”
A third teacher, also at an Outwood school on Teesside, corroborated the reports about deteriorating behaviour.
The teacher, who did not wish to be named, said they were strongly supportive of Outwood’s management style, and that the chain had been “brilliant” in turning around their school.
However, they said that “with all the publicity and Ofsted looking at exclusions, we’ve diluted the behaviour system a little bit, and it’s showing”.
“We are now starting to struggle with some of our students again because of all the bad publicity.”
A spokesperson for Outwood Grange Academies Trust said: “As an ever-maturing and learning organisation, we review our behaviour policy annually; not because we are under media pressure to do so, but because it is the right thing to do.
"To suggest that we have changed our behaviour system in the wake of negative media coverage is simply untrue."
The spokesperson said the current version of their behaviour policy "has had the desired effect in supporting students to make better behaviour choices".
"However, when a student does not make good choices, there remains the route for staff to issue a behaviour sanction," they said.
"We are shocked and surprised that Tes is attempting to criticise or shame us in our desire to reduce behaviours in schools that lead to exclusions, which is something that the media have previously criticised us for."
The spokesperson added that Ofsted this year praised the trust's new behaviour policy because it "provides pupils with more opportunities to make appropriate choices to regulate their behaviour before they reach internal isolation in the consequences room or a fixed-term exclusion”.