How we did it

Martin Whittaker

A Bristol primary tackled problems in the playground by training its dinner ladies in behaviour management - and the offside rule. Jenny Taylor reports.

We used to have an issue with pupil behaviour. At the end of lunchtime, you'd have a catalogue of problems that you'd have to unpick before you started teaching. Now I get hardly any behaviour referrals - because the dinner ladies handle it, and the children are happily occupied. The secret has been to train lunchtime staff in behaviour management, but also in sports coaching.

This has raised their status, and children respond to them and respect them. Children used to argue over the offside rule, so the lunchtime staff's new skills have really enhanced their standing.

Six years ago, the school was under-performing: SATs results were just 56 per cent at level 4 and above. I was a deputy head then, with a new headteacher who started the new strategy. Belief in teamwork and in leadership, from lunchtime staff to teachers - that has been the crucial factor.

Behaviour really was a problem, and people weren't working together on it; lunchtimes were truly grim. I don't think the lunchtime staff knew how to approach behaviour in a positive way; they hadn't had any training. They would walk around the playground with one nice little girl holding their hand, while elsewhere all hell was breaking out.

The staff agreed on what was important in terms of managing behaviour in a positive way. We were going for an Investors in People award, and that provided the framework for the strategic plan. The dinner ladies joined teaching staff in training, and people felt as though they were valued. They took coaching qualifications, and now supervise football, tag rugby, netball and hockey.

They're an amazing team. They do lunchtimes, after-school activities, and some Saturdays; there are even tournaments. A couple of staff have done a sports psychology course. They're an unusual group, and they're now training other lunchtime staff across the city.

The idea of leadership across the school has been decisive - the belief in a collective responsibility for raising attainment. So a new culture was created in which children's achievements were recognised. Children have picked up on this and can now lead activities themselves and support younger children. We have a "sports buddies" programme and similar support with reading.

We got an Investors in People award in 1999, and the following year we won beacon status. Recently, we also had a glowing Ofsted report which praised the children's behaviour. Inspectors were also impressed by the quality of teaching. Our SATs results are fantastic:93 per cent in English; 90 per cent in maths; and 100 per cent in science.

We're all learning for life here now.

Jenny Taylor is headteacher of Hotwells primary school, Bristol. Interview by Martin Whittaker.

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Martin Whittaker

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