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'No blame' boost for behaviour

"STAGED intervention" is the latest vehicle for improving school discipline to win ministerial backing.

The new system, being piloted in East Ayrshire, was endorsed by Euan Robson, Deputy Education Minister, on a visit to James Hamilton Academy in Kilmarnock, one of the schools taking part. It is credited with reducing exclusions and boosting attainment.

Following a trial in two secondaries and five primaries, staged intervention is now operating in all 53 East Ayrshire schools.

"The signs are positive and certainly we see downward trends in terms of misbehaviour and exclusion," John Mulgrew, the authority's director of education, said. "But it's not a quick fix and we have to be patient and allow time for support to take effect and for attitudes within schools to change."

Mr Robson commented: "One of the main strengths of staged intervention is that it is based around a no-blame approach, which promotes the idea that all teachers, regardless of experience or skills, can benefit from having another perspective to help them develop a classroom environment with minimum disruption, with all support provided on a voluntary, confidential basis."

The Executive was now studying staged intervention to see if it can be applied elsewhere.

East Ayrshire borrowed the techniques from Birmingham where they are running in 400 of the city's schools. The approach involves a comprehensive look at non-pupil factors as well as dealing with the pupils who are causing disruption.

The initial stage is concerned with classroom issues such as seating arrangements and the way question and answer sessions are handled. Changes are reviewed after six weeks to see if they have had any impact.

Stage two kicks in where a pupil's misbehaviour continues and a behaviour plan is drawn up. The third stage works on this plan more intensively, possibly involving direct intervention and support from outside the school.

A key feature is the appointment of a behaviour co-ordinator in each school, who is a volunteer teacher trained over five days for the role. They are not expected to sort out behaviour problems directly, but to support teachers.

Tom Williams, East Ayrshire's principal educational psychologist, told The TES Scotland two years ago when the council adopted the approach: "There is no wonderful new magic idea in here. It's an organisational, structured approach to managing behaviour."

Maggie Fallon, the council's youth strategy manager, says that teachers and support staff are becoming "increasingly confident and competent in dealing with disruption" because of initiatives such as staged intervention, continuing professional development and the increasing willingness of teachers to learn from the good practice of others.

Ms Fallon added: "At the same time, schools are confident that external support from the education authority is available for pupils who require it. The importance of this partnership approach in developing support mechanisms for schools and young people cannot be over-emphasised."

James Hamilton Academy backs the view that one approach is not enough. The "thousand point challenge" rewards positive behaviour and attempts to build links with parents and supports an active school council.

The visit to Kilmarnock is part of a deliberate strategy by ministers to show they are sympathetic to teachers' disciplinary problems and to step up the spread of good practice. Although the Scottish Executive is putting in pound;10 million a year to implement the recommendations of the discipline task group, it has had to bow to demands from schools that more is needed.

An early decision by Peter Peacock, Education Minister, was to announce two expert groups of headteachers and others to help schools strengthen disciplinary measures, and to appoint a development officer who will work with local authorities and schools.

Headteachers with a track record in tackling discipline problems will be asked to share their expertise with other heads in workshops funded by the Executive.

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