The Conversation: Behaviour management

23rd May 2008 at 01:00
Headteacher John Townsley is known for his no-nonsense approach to school discipline. He tells Geoff Barton how his silent `isolation room' policy is working

Headteacher John Townsley is known for his no-nonsense approach to school discipline. He tells Geoff Barton how his silent `isolation room' policy is working

Q: You arrived at Morley High in 2003. What was it like then?

A: In many ways it was perceived as relatively successful. For years, it had been getting around 40 per cent of its pupils five A*-C grades at GCSE, which - on paper - made it look a lot stronger than many schools. But the arrival of more sophisticated measures showed that young people were, in fact, making very poor progress. Standards of professional effectiveness were low, student behaviour and attitudes were poor, and the curriculum lacked flexibility. Staff morale was also low.

Q: So where did you start?

A: Initially, we moved on pupil behaviour, and the impact of our positive discipline programme changed the school very quickly. We then made dramatic alterations to our curriculum, particularly in the 14-19 phase. The final key alteration came through the reorganisation of our professional body, which culminated in the school being made an Investors in People champion.

Q: You mention the positive discipline approach and it sounds distinctive. Can you explain how it works?

A: Positive discipline is essentially a system that establishes an absolutely consistent approach to promoting good behaviour and challenging poor behaviour. It requires the support of every member of staff. In particular, it ensures time is spent on the "ghost children", those in the middle ground who often go unnoticed.

Q: Give us a flavour of the rules and expectations, and what you do to try to ensure consistency.

A: The rules within the system are very few and always positive. The five or six key rules, if followed properly, ensure that young people do well and are safe.

Consistency within the system is absolutely critical. This is achieved through three monitoring groups, which focus on rewards, sanctions and communication. Through sampling student planners, which contain all the key information, and any other data they wish to call upon, the groups monitor the consistency of the professionals. They also look to see that every young person, and group of young people, is getting a fair deal.

Q: I have heard you speak about a fairly austere exclusion room. Could you tell us how that works?

A: It is our view that there are very few really serious punishments left to schools. Research suggests that detentions have little impact on young people whose behaviour is unacceptable and that, for many, fixed-term exclusions in some ways reward very poor conduct. In our system, the key sanctions are isolation and permanent exclusion.

Isolation is deliberately harsh, with pupils serving two days in the first instance, and then up to five. Their working day is 15 minutes longer and they are required to work in silence for the whole day. Pupils are allowed one toilet visit in the morning and one in the afternoon, and a maximum of 15 minutes to eat lunch.

Any low-level disruptive behaviour results in the day being repeated. Any significant disruptive behaviour results in fixed-term exclusion, followed by a much lengthier period of isolation.

Both isolation rooms are co-ordinated in terms of the work set for pupils by a higher-level teaching assistant. And experienced senior staff supervise at all times.

Q: What is the impact of all this?

A: Now very few pupils (less than 3 per cent) spend any time in isolation. Exclusion rates are also extremely low, with no permanent exclusions in the past 18 months and just 22 fixed-term exclusions for this year.

Geoff Barton is headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk


Name: John Townsley

Age: 42

Job: Headteacher

School: Morley High, Leeds

Years in teaching: 21

Education: Selby Grammar, London University, Leeds University

Previous jobs: deputy headteacher at The King's High, Pontefract, Wakefield, and Prince Henry's Grammar, Otley, Leeds

Subject background: English

Awards: Secondary headteacher of the Year for the North, 2007

Special interests: behaviour and leadership

Other interests: theatre, running and reading.

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