Case study: Drayton school, Oxfordshire

21st November 2003 at 00:00
Graham Robb with PC Gary Fletcher: training in restorative justice has minimised use of the 'nuclear disciplinary button' Photograph: Rob Judges

I came to Drayton school in north Banbury in 1999, when it was 18 months into special measures and with two years to go before it would emerge, blinking, into the daylight of "normality".

PC Graham Waddington was already working with Drayton when I arrived, long before the Safer School Partnerships. He was permanently based here from 1999 until last year, when he left to work within police headquarters and as a government adviser on the Safer School initiative. PC Gary Fletcher took over.

In 1999, police officers worked within all the secondary schools in the Banbury area. The logic from the police point of view is obvious. During the day most people are at work or in school. So why not put police officers where the people are, and so meet the community's policing needs? North Banbury is also an area of relatively high crime antisocial behaviour. Thames Valley Police believed focusing on community-based policing in Drayton's neighbourhood would help them deal with crime, and being in school would help cut the number of young people becoming involved in criminality. These apparently separate agendas overlap: the key indicators of a young person's involvement in crime or anti-social behaviour are truanting, leaving school without qualifications and having no clear career pathways and support into adulthood.

What works well?

* Restorative justice. Staff and students now know how to identify the causes of and solutions to incidents, which has prevented the "nuclear disciplinary button" having to be pressed on several occasions.

* The officer is a member of the multi-agency team working with children at risk who are in need, or failing to thrive educationally and socially.

* He is a neutral arbiter between the school and families and is involved in personal guidance. He also advises staff about local issues of crime and antisocial behaviour.

What could cause problems?

* Crises outside school sometimes pull him away from school issues.

* It is vital that the school's normal routines are not distorted; it would be too easy for the PC to become the permanent "disciplinary firefighter".

* The tension between school and police values occasionally becomes an issue. For instance, police training on control sometimes - correctly - comes into play when dealing with an aggressive child. There is often much vigorous debate on the boundaries of inclusion before we decide on a course of action; this requires highly skilled officers with the values and personal style that can effectively link with the school's ethos.

A typical week for Drayton's on-site officer might include reviewing a child protection issue with the deputy; visiting the homes of persistent absentees; being available at lunchtime to talk with children; meeting four key stage 3 girls involved in bullying out of school; meeting with a teacher preparing for a formal restorative justice conference involving a student who's been aggressive.

Detailed tracking of those involved in our restorative justice conferences shows a high success rate in keeping people out of the criminal justice system. And the fact that this work has continued, despite intense pressure on police staffing, indicates the value the police place on it.

High-profile crimes in schools, such as the tragedy in Lincolnshire, lead people to think that having police in school is about security. It is not; Drayton's partnership with Thames Valley Police has been a key plank in developing our attainment and inclusion culture.

graham robb Graham Robb is head of Drayton school, north Banbury, Oxfordshire

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