Alternative versus the traditional

28th August 2009 at 01:00
Instead of excluding pupils for bad behaviour, schools adopt alternative methods

A problem-solving approach to pupils' bad behaviour has led to a significant cut in the number of exclusions in Glasgow.

The decrease is particularly significant in secondary, where there has been a 41 per cent drop in the number of half-days lost over two years.

Over the same period, the number of exclusion incidents in secondary dropped by 35.7 per cent.

John Paul Academy, in the north of the city, which has seen a 95 per cent cut in the number of exclusion incidents over the past year, has used the Solution Oriented Schools programme to improve school relations, while Lochend Community High, which has seen a 57 per cent drop in incidents, adopted a restorative practices approach to managing behaviour.

The number of permanent exclusions across all Glasgow schools has also dropped - from 59 in 2007-08 to 19 last year, a reduction of 68 per cent, and of 86 per cent from the figure of 140 in 2006-07.

Attendance has also improved year on year. In 1999, in secondary it was 82.4 per cent; last year it was up at 89.1 per cent.

A report by Margaret Doran, executive director of children and families, to the council's education committee this week - her last committee before she leaves post today - attributes the reduction in permanent exclusions to the work done with families by area education managers and schools and the use of alternative education providers. These include further education colleges, EVIP (Enhanced Vocational Inclusion Programme) and CLASS (Community Learning and Support Service), all aimed at ensuring that young people remain within education as much as possible.

The council stresses that the option of exclusion remains an important sanction and that it has not altered its policy, faced with serious incidents.

"There will always be a need for some young people to be removed from the register due to exclusion. This is the most severe sanction that education services have. It will continue to be used by education services where it is in the best interests of the young person and the young people and staff of the school for the young person to be moved to another school," says Ms Doran.

She predicts that exclusions will continue to fall in the secondary sector, that there will be only a minor improvement in primary schools as exclusions are used relatively sparingly in that sector, but that there will be a focus on special schools as, for the first time, the rate of exclusion incidents in ASL establishments was greater than in secondaries.

Ms Doran adds that the council is reviewing its process of transfer to another school to ensure that the transition is appropriate and "ensures that the young person's interests are at the centre of decision- making".

A spokesman for the Educational Institute of Scotland's Glasgow local association said that while members supported all initiatives to reduce exclusion, schools had to retain the discretion to exclude to protect the interests of other pupils, staff, and sometimes of pupils who could not continue in mainstream education.

"I am not sure the whole of the reduction in exclusions actually reflects the effectiveness of the strategies that have been used, and that some of it results from the pressure and manipulation in schools not to exclude," said the spokesman.

"It is essential that if you are going to cut exclusions, which everyone wants to do, you have alternative strategies and they are properly resourced, but against the current background of budget cuts, it is going to be very difficult to fund these alternatives and try and prevent exclusions."

Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, added: "Where staff feel there has been a genuine attempt to address pupils' behaviour and to change it, then they are certainly willing to work with it and see how it goes."

Look behind statistics

John Paul Academy has cut the number of half-days lost to exclusions from 220 in 2007-08 to 11 last year - and these related to only three pupils (two who set off the fire alarm, and another involved in a fight).

"We serve the area of Milton and Possilpark and I don't believe in sending children home for long periods. Often they are not supported by their parents - they don't keep them in and the kids end up playing in the street, or worse, offending," says Vincent Docherty, the headteacher.

He believes in adapting the curriculum or putting in better support structures.

Since he took over in September 2008, he has increased the number of pupil support teachers to 25 - it means "client groups" are smaller and teachers get to know the pupils better.

Attainment has risen in line with attendance. This year, 90 per cent of pupils gained 5+ awards at levels 1-6 at Standard grade; before, the highest was 77 per cent. Part of that is attributable to the work of the pupil support learning centre, set up last year, where a former modern studies teacher at the school, Gerry Flynn, renowned for the way he relates to pupils, has been called out of retirement to provide concentrated support to youngsters who would otherwise have achieved no exam passes. Budgetary constraints mean Mr Flynn can be employed only from October to March, but his input is regarded as significant.

Some 90 per cent of staff have been trained in the Solution Oriented Schools programme, and this year, S6 pupils will also be trained in the approach. Mr Docherty used SOS previously at St Andrew's High in Clydebank, where he was depute head, and was impressed with the results. It is based on principles such as: "the problem is the problem - not the person"; "if it works, do more of it - if it doesn't, do something different", and it is "about teachers reflecting on all aspects of their practice, and how they speak to and listen to children", he says.

The school also has a campus officer, PC Peter Glancy, who spends a lot of time in the classroom delivering lessons on everything from drugs education to why pupils should not carry weapons.

In the past year, a stricter uniform policy has also been introduced, with S6 pupils, for the first time, having to wear blazers. "Uniform is the engine oil that has brought us back together. We are challenging the idea that because a child goes to a school in Maryhill, they can't go to university. Uniform helps create good order and discipline - it has helped the school ethos."

At Lochend Community High, in the east end of Glasgow, headteacher Gordon Shaw says "blood, sweat and tears" have reduced the number of half-days lost through exclusions by 67 per cent.

A number of factors have contributed to the turnaround, but the main ones are the provision of a more suitable curriculum from S1 onwards, including ASDAN, the Prince's Trust xl. programme, Duke of Edinburgh awards, and involving youngsters in community and voluntary groups. The school has very strong links with nearby John Wheatley College, which offers more vocational courses on a part-time basis for S3-4s.

Mr Shaw has also used restorative practices to manage difficult behaviour and improve relationships. "We still don't accept or condone bad behaviour - what has changed is how we respond to the behaviour. By doing more restorative work and having discussions with young people, we look at the impact on them, other people, their families, and colleagues in the classroom,"

He admits that as an approach, it is more time-consuming than traditional methods, but that it's likely to being about a better resolution. "Some staff have come to the table very willingly and others need to be nudged along a bit," he acknowledges.

Mr Shaw believes alternative curriculum provision is the right thing for some pupils, but that exam figures hide the personal successes of pupils on part-time or full-time placements. Of last year's 136 S4 pupils, 41 were not presented for exams because they were on alternative placements. Lochend presented 93 pupils for Standard grade exams and 90 achieved a level 3 or higher - but because the SQA attainment figures are based on the whole S4 roll, the school's overall figure will come out as 66 per cent, well below the national average, despite the fact it has had its best Credit performance for 10 years.

You have to look behind the bare statistics, he argues.

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