Farewell to pupils behaving badly

There is now structured support available to ensure transferring schools does not send pupils off the rails. Biddy Passmore reports

At the heart of the key stage 3 strategy lies the belief that good education and good behaviour are inextricably linked. Poor teaching - where lessons lack pace as teachers struggle to find common ground with their new charges - produces bored children. Many pupils, particularly those with special behavioural or learning needs, find a larger school, with constant changes of room and teacher, bewildering. Bored, confused pupils are more likely to misbehave.

Equally, poor behaviour - from persistent chatter to violent outbursts - makes good learning well-nigh impossible. To say nothing of poor attendance: absent children cannot learn.

Now the newest strand of the KS3 strategy aims to support positive behaviour and regular attendance and to give teachers practical strategies for coping.

"This is not a new initiative," says Marilyn Toft, director of the behaviour strand. "Schools are overloaded with initiatives. It's about reflecting and doing things a bit more smartly, asking: 'How can we do what we do a bit better?' " She adds: "It's important to recognise that many staff are already doing a great job in very challenging circumstances. Using existing good practice we can help to spread techniques for dealing with difficult situations. " More than 200 consultants have been appointed to local authorities to help.

They provide information on good practice, organise training for staff and identify where targeted support is needed.

First, schools conduct an "audit" of their policy and practice, after which senior staff work with their local consultant to develop an action plan.

Then comes the dissemination of good practice, with the aid of materials being developed with the Department for Education and Skills. After that, schools monitor their own progress. The final stage is work on the whole-school climate, to ensure that each institution is an emotionally healthy place where pupils want to be and learn.

At Heartlands, a 600-pupil, inner-city comprehensive in Birmingham, the audit in 2003 came just after the school had been put in special measures.

It was all-change, back-to-the-drawing-board time. The new pastoral team rewrote the school's behaviour policy. They kept what worked - notably close contact with parents - but improved it by involving tutors and by the appointment of an intervention officer to chase up difficult cases. And they streamlined the system of referrals, making the first reference to the head of department, thus underlining the link between behaviour and curriculum.

Heartlands also introduced a new system of rewards, with certificates awarded in assembly and points exchangeable for prizes, from a chocolate bar to a calculator. It changed from a house to a year system for its pastoral care, enabling staff to target support at particular age-groups.

And it introduced a much tighter regime on absence: first-day calls home and twice-daily registration, the second check coming at the very end of the day so that pupils could no longer slope off in the early afternoon.

Attendance level rose from 86 per cent two years ago: 4 percentage points in the first year and another 1 this year.

At Abbot Beyne, a large, specialist comprehensive in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, senior staff decided the key to better behaviour lay in a clearer system of rewards and sanctions. A survey of pupils had found that "children felt randomly responded to," says Carol Mills, the deputy head for inclusion. "With some, the staff jumped very quickly to becoming very punitive. With others, it was less quick."

Since September, notices in every classroom have set out six levels of intervention that staff will use to ensure pupils' behaviour stays "on task" (nobody talks about "pupils behaving badly" any more). They range from the teacher offering to help a pupil who is not working well, through short detentions, to a 30-minute session in the isolation room working on the subject that has been interrupted. A pupil isolated more than once in a day is sent home, but must then return for a two-hour "twilight session" .

The results? Only five days of fixed-term exclusions this last half-term, compared with 56 last year, staff who after some initial hesitation now feel full of confidence and pupils who welcome the clarity and consistency of the new regime.

Not bad for the first seven weeks.

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