When Chris Bowler became head at The Charter School in Dulwich, south London, two years ago he set about changing its fortunes. Trevor Averre Beeson, executive head at Salisbury School in Enfield, north London, asks the questions
Q: Which key initiative do you feel has contributed most to your school's development since you took up the job?
A: Tackling behaviour.
The Charter School is a seven-year-old inner-city school in Dulwich, formed after a successful parental campaign. It quickly gained a reputation for providing high-quality education in a caring and supportive learning environment. However, when I came for my interview I was disturbed at the classroom and corridor behaviour I saw.
One incident stuck in my mind. I was in the library waiting to be called in for my final panel interview. A pupil in the library was sitting crouched under a desk. Without warning he ran out of the room, punched someone and then ran back under the desk.
It felt like change was needed.
Q: How did you go about making the change in the first instance?
A: Luckily the governing body agreed. My first priority was to set up systems to improve behaviour.
I introduced a positive discipline policy that rewarded good behaviour and introduced a uniform approach to classroom management to replace the variety of approaches that existed. I appointed three behaviour officers to remove children from class when they had reached a sixth warning and to patrol corridors and work with children with behaviour problems.
Q: And what happens to the kids after they have been removed?
A: Exclusions had been at a high level. We set up an alternative centre for education where pupils who would otherwise be excluded are sent to work in silence for one or two days. Entry is only via the directors of learning in charge of key stages 3 and 4. The centre is staffed by teaching assistants and learning mentors carry out exit interviews.
We also set up a small unit for pupils whose behaviour was so extreme they needed to be taught outside the normal curriculum. This unit named with an attempt at humour The White House has operated successfully and has prevented permanent exclusions.
Q: Did teaching staff find this a helpful development?
A: These changes were well received by staff, pupils and parents.
Behaviour in lessons improved but the lack of a pastoral structure was still evident. Under the teaching and learning responsibilities restructuring process, I established a system of year leaders to focus on pupil achievement and behaviour, and this had further positive impact.
Q: Some would say that is just dealing with the short-term issue.
A: True, so this year we have set up a system of restorative conferencing. Pupils who are involved in misbehaviour and their parents are required to attend a meeting with the member of staff they offended. Both sides have a chance to say their piece and an apology is made.
This process has had a major effect in making pupils face up to the consequences of their actions and has encouraged teachers to become more aware of the needs of pupils.
Q: What has been the impact on your school of all these initiatives?
A: The overall impact is a halving of exclusions. Behaviour has improved dramatically, though there is still work to be done. In our Ofsted inspection last September, the school was rated as "outstanding" and behaviour was also given an "outstanding" grade. Perhaps the greatest praise came from a pupil quoted in the report. The school "is a place of peace in the community".
You have clearly made a difference to Charter School and your policy fits well with the changed emphasis in schooling brought about by the 2003 workforce agreement. You have improved outcomes at the same time as giving the first line of responsibility to support staff to deal with the crisis of behaviour management. Teachers are now able to focus more of their attention on the classroom, curriculum and learning. Thanks.
Since this conversation took place, Chris Bowler has been appointed principal of The Langley academy in Slough, Berkshire.