How to manage pupil behaviour

As school exclusion figures are published next week, Emma Seith reports on two authorities with success stories to tell

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A small local authority, which excluded more children in its primary schools two years ago than Glasgow, the largest council, claims to have cut the numbers by a fifth.

Perth and Kinross Council excluded 29 per 1,000 primary pupils, compared to 21 in Glasgow. Now, it has published figures which show that exclusions have dropped by 20 per cent - from 1,007 (301 in primary and 706 in secondary) during session 2006-07, to 803 last year (236 and 567 respectively).

And Glasgow is also celebrating. The number of exclusions in its secondaries fell by a quarter (24.9 per cent) in the first four months of the current school year.

Perth and Kinross credits its positive approach to behaviour management for its improvement, where exclusions are seen as a last resort. However, no targets are set within schools in relation to exclusions and the decision rests with headteachers.

A council spokeswoman said: "We monitor exclusion figures on a school-by- school basis. Where we see trends developing or high levels regarding individual pupils occurring, we will discuss with the head whether other forms of support are required or, indeed, what lessons can be shared with other schools.

"Managing pupil behaviour is seen as everyone's responsibility, and headteachers know they will be supported if they exclude pupils."

The picture in Glasgow is similarly positive, with 1,512 secondary pupils excluded between August and November last year, compared with 2,014 in the same period of 2007. This follows an overall drop of 15 per cent in exclusion incidents registered by secondaries between 2006-07 and 2007- 08.

These improvements have not been restricted to the secondary sector. Exclusions in the city's primary schools fell by 16 per cent between August and November 2008 compared to the previous year (from 269 to 226). Special schools also experienced a 14.6 per cent decrease over the same period (from 89 to 76).

One of the authority's major initiatives for tackling challenging behaviour has been the establishment of learning centres, the first two of which opened in August last year. They are based away from mainstream schools, working intensively with young people and their families to improve behaviour and attainment. The centres draw on the support of teachers, educational psychologists, social workers and sports and music instructors to tackle the causes. Action can include an individualised curriculum, such as vocational courses at further education colleges. The council plans to extend its learning centres to a further four secondary and four early yearsprimary schools.

Nurture groups in primaries are credited with helping reduce exclusions. These provide intensive social, educational and emotional support to small groups of children, and their families, who may be struggling at home and in the classroom. Glasgow has 57 nurture groups, each run by a teacher and a classroom assistant.

REVAMPED SUPPORT

A Glasgow secondary has reduced the number of pupils excluded in the first four months of the school year from 106 in 2007 to just three.

Vincent Docherty took the helm at John Paul Academy in the city in August, vowing to tackle the problem. "Excluding youngsters so they can roam the streets for two to five days, and potentially offend in the community, is not the answer," he said. "School is the place where the positive messages are delivered."

Mr Docherty completely revamped the pupil support structure at the school, increasing staffing from three to 20; created a pupil support learning centre for kids experiencing difficulties in particular subjects; made the senior management a more visible presence in the school; and insisted on school uniform.

The 20 members of staff in pupil support generally are responsible for 30 pupils each. "Previously the three guidance staff coped with 250 pupils," Mr Docherty said. "That can't work. You can't form a relationship with 250 pupils."

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