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Logging your saints and sinners

Tackling school behaviour problems is increasingly complex. Gerald Haigh looks at helpful software packages

If senior managers are going to tackle school behaviour problems, they need to know which students are giving trouble, to which teachers, in which subjects and for what reasons. Only then can they do something to help. And if exclusion is on the cards, hard evidence will be needed for the governors' disciplinary committee.

How do you get the information? Obviously it's possible to build up a paper record of incidents, and many schools do this. Up to now, that's what's happened at Linsworth School in Birmingham, a special school for 180 secondary age students with emotional and behavioural difficulties. At Linsworth, a teacher can "bleep" (page) the senior member of staff for help in dealing with a difficult student in the classroom. These incidents are written up on record sheets by the senior teacher who has the "bleep" duty for the day.

As head Mike Clarke explains, "When you add the sheets up, they form a record that should enable us to judge the causes of incidents and be more proactive. But there's just too much information."

The obvious answer is to log behaviour incidents on a piece of software so that you can first see the patterns and then make the appropriate management decisions. You can do this either using a proprietory database, or by using your existing management information system. Alternatively you can find a product written specially for the purpose.

Linsworth chose Sleuth from The School Software Company. It's developed by teachers and made as simple to use as possible - it offers some categories of misbehaviour, all the way from "smoking" to "talking out of turn". However, Clarke's school will have no need of some of these, while at the same time wanting to add others - he's put in "blazing", for example, which means verbally abusing another student.

Another school beginning to use the same product is Cressex, in High Wycombe, Berkshire. Teachers there are interested not just in what the incidents are, but in details such as the time of day they happen and where on the site. They're also starting to look at the relationship between teaching and learning styles and pupil behaviour. "Students respond in different ways to varying learning styles. So as well as recording the nature of the behaviour, we note what kind of learning was involved. We can then talk to subject teachers and heads of year about where teachers need support," says assistant head Judith Miller.

Among other products in this area is Bromcom's Positive Discipline Module. Bromcom uses the word "positive" to emphasise that the module can be used to record and track merit marks, as well as negative incidents, generating certificates and letters of commendation as the school requires. Bromcom's Pete Bangs emphasises the importance of being able to tailor a product like this to the school's needs.

"When it comes to merit marks, for example, different schools have different currencies," says Bangs. Underlying all of Bromcom's products is its use of radio technology to link classroom teachers with centrally held data. Applied to behaviour management, this means that it's easy to ensure that information on incidents is passed to the people who need to see it.

This is obviously a growing area for suppliers - shop around if you're in the market. For instance, a new behaviour tracking product is expected from RM next year - a version for UK of a system they've developed for Australian schools.

As well as tracking and recording incidents, you need to tackle some of the causes. There are products to help with that, too. One that's getting lots of praise, and has been bought by 200 schools so far this term, is Interactive Conduct File from Behaviour UK. This presents pupils with a choice of over 40 examples of problem behaviour illustrated by video clips, together with questions for them to comment on or discuss.

The system can be used in a number of ways - a child who's been in trouble can be asked to work on part of the file, or it can be used by a whole class, perhaps in PSHE lessons. Hugh Waller, head of Moordown St John Primary in Bournemouth says, "Our pupils are greatly attracted to it. It holds attention and generates debate, and children are learning to deal positively with problems."

A big primary project from Granada LearningSemerc, Just LikeI by Bob Skeldon, is also aimed at helping pupils to reflect on the challenges they face at school and at home. It's a multimedia resource, with books, CD-Roms and a website. Each strand focuses on a core issue - for example, Just Like Every Other Morning! is a story about bullying and Just Like every other Schoolbell! is about conflict at home.

In the end, good behaviour is down to good teachers. Nord Anglia recognises this in Managing Challenging Behaviour - a training product on DVD that's attracting a lot of attention not least because it's good to look at, cost-effective by comparison with out-of-school training and comes directly from school experience.

Behaviour UK www.behaviouruk.com

Sleuth from The School Software Company www.schoolsoftwarecompany.com

Bromcom www.bromcom.com

Managing Challenging Behaviour from Enabling Educational Excellence www.enablingexcellence.com

Just Like from Granada Learning www.granada-learning.com

RM Management Solutions www.rm.com

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