Teaching at 'flattening the grass' school 'felt like being a prison warden’

Second multi-academy trust accused of ‘shaming’ children with controversial ‘flattening the grass’ behaviour approach

Will Hazell

Paul Tarn, of Delta Academies Trust

A teacher who worked at a school taken over by Delta Academies Trust has said they felt like a “prison warden” when the multi-academy trust rolled out a controversial behaviour approach known as “flattening the grass”.

They likened the school's discipline methods to a “sort of public shaming” of children, with pupils subjected to “aggressive” shouting for “relatively minor” incidents.

Delta is one of two multi-academy trusts that have been accused of using the policy known as “flattening the grass”.

Today, Tes reported claims that Outwood Grange Academies Trust engaged in the “ritual humiliation” of pupils and sought to “terrify” children into compliance by taking the hardline approach.

But Tes has also spoken to two sources – who asked not to be named – with knowledge of Delta’s takeover of South Leeds Academy in 2016. The school has since been rebrokered to another MAT.

How the story broke: Outwood Grange uses crisis managers to explain ‘flattening the grass’  

Investigation: Insiders allege Outwood Grange ‘ritually humiliated’ pupils

Read: ‘I witnessed a child getting screamed at for coughing

The sources said the same approach was rolled out at their school, and claimed that staff had witnessed it in other Delta schools.

Paul Tarn (pictured), who previously worked at Outwood, became chief executive of Delta in 2016.

One of the sources told Tes that staff at the school had been told “we were bringing in this 'flattening the grass'”. “It was lauded as this big thing, this new initiative, it was going to transform the behaviour in the school.”

Controversy over behaviour management

In preparation, senior leaders “went and watched and took part in 'flattening the grass'” at another Delta academy.

The source said that Paul Tarn came into South Leeds Academy and “made it really clear this behaviour policy came right from the top”.

As with the accounts of "flattening the grass" at Outwood, pupils were asked to line up in silence as part of a series of rolling assemblies for each year group. Executives from the MAT descended on the trust to reinforce the message. “It was mostly men in suits,” the source said.

“The idea was that you had to stare at the kids, you had to be very menacing, nobody was allowed to smile, nobody was allowed to communicate with the kids.

“If a student said anything, talked, smirked, looked the other way, slouched, they would get completely bawled out straight away, they would be shouted at and removed from the assembly. It was sort of a public shaming, a public sanction.”

As with the description from Outwood, "flattening the grass" continued after the initial assemblies. Pupils who were on the consequences board – Delta’s behaviour system – were pulled out of classes.

“You had to take them out of a lesson, shout at them, make it clear that the whole corridor could hear you shouting at them, really giving them a dressing down. Quite a few kids did cry when that happened.”

Staff from the rest of the MAT were dispatched to do the same thing, the source added. “It wasn’t just us doing it, [it was] a random person coming from nowhere, that [the pupils] didn’t know, hoiking them out the lesson and shouting at them.”

'Very intimidating' for students and staff

The source said the approach was “very intimidating for students and staff”.

“We walked miles around that school, you had to go into lessons, pick up kids, shout at kids if they were on the consequences board. The ones who had not gone into where they should be, take them down to consequences [an isolation room]. I just felt like a prison warden.”

A second source told Tes that staff were “directed” to “frog march” pupils into the rolling assemblies. “It was like something out of a Monty Python sketch or a military operation.”

“Our instructions were to yell at kids to get them to sit up straight, face the front, sit still, listen.”

They said the approach of Delta staff was to “get as close to the kid's face as possible and scream as loudly as you can”.

The second source also said this continued after the assemblies, and that senior leaders from the school “were asked to go to other schools and do it”. “Occasionally you’d get three or four people coming in and they would do a route around the school… hurling kids out and shouting at them.”

A spokesperson for Delta said the trust “does not have a ‘flattening the grass policy’”. 

They said: “It is acknowledged nationally that low-level disruption is a barrier to the learning of pupils and students and to the teaching of dedicated and committed staff.  We believe strongly that teachers are highly trained professionals, who are in a classroom to share their knowledge and inspire pupils and students. Moreover, some staff leaving the profession have cited behaviour and the lack of support as their reason for leaving. 

“Therefore, at some of our schools, approximately a quarter of our academies, we have introduced our care, support, guidance and behaviour policy. The aim of the policy is to ensure that behaviours are dealt with reasonably, proportionately and fairly, with the ultimate goal of empowering young people to make positive choices about their actions.”

They said that Delta held “assemblies with pupils to outline our expectations”, and this was “not unusual in schools”. “Staff were not told to shout at students but were asked to ensure students were well-behaved.”

At South Leeds Academy, they said students “told us they were worried about behaviour, bullying was not always effectively dealt with and even some staff reported feeling intimidated when in corridors”.

“We are disappointed that the full content of the assemblies shared with pupils has not been conveyed. These assemblies established the right of students not to have their learning disrupted in lessons and to be able to attend school without fear of being bullied.”

They said that an Ofsted monitoring visit in May 2017 commented that changes in the behaviour policy had “a positive impact on pupils’ personal development, behaviour and welfare”.

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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