Little London community primary school and nursery serves an area of Leeds which has been defined as the 11th poorest council ward in the country. It could seem pretty typical of many inner-city schools: some classes have a turnover of around 30 per cent within the year; 45 per cent of the 220 pupils get free school meals; around 10 languages are spoken. The school also has an at-risk list running at 25 per cent of the total pupil population, and 80 per cent of the children come from single parentcarer families.
But Little London is usually a lovely place to be for both children and adults. It buzzes with an excitement and hospitality that has led it to be identified by the DfES as a school of excellence for its inclusive community ethos and practice. However, some days - rainy days, end-of-term days, or actually any moment of any day - individual children and, at times, groups of children can be unhappy, angry, aggressive, uncooperative, violent, abusive, difficult. . . or a "bit giddy" as we euphemistically refer to them.
I have never had to permanently exclude a child from Little London. Our mission statements and aims, school improvement plan and files of policies, protocols and action plans allow us to give refuge, success and attainment to a wide group of children excluded, ostracised and encouraged to leave other schools.
We work, too, with pupils excluded from key stages 3 and 4, young people who provide us with invaluable support and help while regaining their self-respect and confidence before re-entering education or employment. Some come for weeks; others for months. At present, we have two 15-year-olds who spend two or three days a week with us working as classroom support assistants. It's all about raising their self-esteem. Here they find children who need their help; children who look up to them as heroes. We hope to develop this work so we can take up to five young adults at one time, but at present the project is completely unfunded. Our contract is on an individual basis with the young person, their family and their school (or the LEA service for excluded pupils). We want to formalise this and secure the pound;3,000 retention grant available for such students to pay for a laptop and allow them to access "e-tutors" to support their studies while working in our school.
School-appropriate behaviour is a second language for many of our children so we should teach behaviour as we would a second language, bathing the learner in a rich and structured environment. We should be non-threatening, supportive, encouraging and rewarding. We teach by showing children that which we wish them to know. So let's show them the behaviour we wish them to know.
At Little London, children define their own good and bad behaviour and are in charge of the rewards and sanctions; they decide which behaviour merits which outcome. We also ask them to list five things that they think people will like about them. Some of our children can't think of one reason, which is heartbreaking.
Good behaviour may be smiling: bad behaviour may be shouting or arguing in the playground. The rewards may be access to all the nice things in school, such as football club, or doing jobs for the teacher; the sanctions being exclusion from the football club or being shouted at by me. But it is the child who imposes the sanctions; they don't see us, the teachers, picking and choosing punishments at will.
We also have a chart where children can plot their own behaviour, like a profit and loss line. By drawing the behaviour, we are making the issue about the behaviour not the child. Being tough and cocky is the currency in many schools. We need to make success the currency; success in all sorts of fields, such as being quiet, sorting out books - the kinds of things that schools value. We are now looking into running a community shop within school where families can buy healthy products such as fruit and vegetables and alternatives to fatty, stodgy meals, using this currency earned by positive behaviour.
If you live on a tough estate where most people would not choose to live, and you feel a failure at relationships, being challenged by your child makes you feel pretty worthless and inadequate. In this situation, most parents, understandably, find it hard to accept criticism or challenge about their child's behaviour. We need to work with parents on these issues before we can ever expect them to work with us on addressing the child's needs. The time we spend moaning about such parents could be better spent working with them. Which would we rather do?
Peter Hall Jones is head of Little London primary school, Leeds