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Exclusive: 'Zero-tolerance' academy softens its punishments

Staff concerned that Magna Academy's sanctions system was penalising pupils too quickly, with some seeing it as 'badge of honour'

MAT has softened its approach to sanctioning pupils

A controversial academy that promoted a "zero-tolerance", "tough love", approach to discipline has softened the way it sanctions pupils because of fears that they were being penalised too often, Tes can reveal.

Magna Academy, in Poole, has raised the number of penalty points pupils need to trigger detentions or internal exclusions following fears about how quickly pupils were moving through a system of sanctions.

Tes has seen evidence showing that school staff have been concerned that the system was not having the impact they wanted. New teachers were giving too many penalty points and pupils were unconcerned by the punishments and viewed them as a badge of honour.

Principal Richard Tutt has confirmed that there have been changes in thresholds but said they had come after the school extended the reasons for which pupils could be given “demerit” points to include failing to pay attention and tracking the teacher in lessons.

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Tes has learned that the academy has doubled its threshold for one-hour detentions with a head of year from 10 to 20 points, raised the threshold for a senior leadership detention from 15 to 25 points and from Saturday detentions from 20 to 35 points.

The threshold for an "academy-based exclusion" has also doubled from 25 points and is now 50 points. But Magna says the length of these "exclusions" at the academy’s behaviour correction centre has gone up from two to four days.

The school has a high-profile approach to discipline and has caused controversy with a job advert suggesting pupils could be given a detention for not having a pen.

Magna Academy operates a points system for “certain breaches” of its behaviour policy. It then sanctions pupils once they reach set thresholds.

Mr Tutt said: “As low-level disruption had virtually been eliminated, we shifted the focus to effort and attention in lessons.

“We introduced an ‘attention point’ for not paying attention or not tracking the teacher, and increased the focus on student effort and quantity and presentation of work. We adapted the thresholds accordingly so as not to punitively sanction too early.”

The school, which is run by Aspirations Academies Trust, has attracted controversy in the past over its approach to behaviour.

In a job advert for a director of isolations and detention the school said it needed a “strong disciplinarian” who believed in a “tough love approach.”  

The advert from 2017 said: “We believe in Zero Tolerance. We do not make exceptions. When we say we have high standards, we mean it.

“If you think it is mean to give a detention when a student does not have a pen, Magna isn’t the school for you.” 

However, it has also been praised by Ofsted, which rated the school and its approach to behaviour as outstanding earlier this year.

There was controversy surrounding its most recent inspection report which praised its approach to pupils' behaviour and some also interpreted as praising the school's high exclusion rate.

"There has been a relatively high number of exclusions over the last few years," inspectors wrote. "This has largely been the result of the principal’s determination to eliminate poor behaviour and disruption in lessons. And in this, he has been very successful."

It also noted how leaders insist pupils walk silently in corridors between lessons – which pupils generally follow diligently.

The report said: “The standard of discipline expected by the principal is very high. Pupils say it is ‘very strict’.

“Most parents are supportive of this approach, but a minority feel it is inflexible. Some parents have removed their children from the school while others have been attracted to the school as a result of its distinctive approach to discipline."

Mr Tutt said: “We systematically review all of our systems and operations, to constantly ensure they are effective.

"We complete these reviews every six weeks. We have previously reviewed our sanction thresholds and revised them slightly, in our efforts to ensure learning at the academy is optimised.

“Our behaviour and rewards systems help ensure that there is impeccable behaviour in the academy at all times, so students can learn in a calm, safe and studious environment."

Mr Tutt added that newly-qualified teachers were able to teach in classrooms free from disruption at Magna - an issue which he said was forcing many teachers out of the profession

He added: “We are both 'warm and strict'. Our most vulnerable students really appreciate this and it also means that staff are free to focus on teaching, without being ground down in low-level disruption. Our new staff and NQTs are thriving because of this.”



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