Devoted to behaviour

13th October 2006 at 01:00
Schools with discipline problems need a team of experts to sort things out, writes Helen Yewlett

Behaviour management is an issue which we must not shy away from discussing. Sometimes we are afraid of pupils' threatening behaviour.

We feel like failures when we cannot control the class or when a pupil runs out of the lesson. We feel failures when they swear at us. So we choose not to admit it happens.

The reality is that for many of us it does happen, especially when we are new to a school or when we are supply staff. Many of us just struggle through the day and think of the money. However, there are alternatives.

Imagine a difficult class. Imagine wondering what on earth you are going to do to keep control. Imagine wondering what would happen if you asked the difficult young man to leave the room. Imagine wondering whether you could reasonably guide him to the door without touching him. Then suddenly a member of the school's behaviour team walks in and quietly removes the troublemaker. Instantly the class is quiet.

Now go one step further. Imagine that the behaviour team is not the senior management team but a specially trained team, comprising ex-police and army officers and outdoor pursuits trainers, all trained in "assertive discipline". How would you like it?

Some schools are doing just this. One is Gwernyfed high near Hay-on-Wye.

The school supports assertive discipline, a programme designed to teach students to choose responsible behaviour, and which consequently raises self-esteem and increases academic success.

Gwernyfed is justifiably proud of the improvement in pupils' achievements and results since it introduced a behaviour support team four years ago. It consists of two ex-police staff and an ex-outdoor pursuits trainer.

Staff absenteeism has decreased since the classroom became less stressful.

During the first three days of a teacher's absence, in many schools other teaching staff are asked to give up their free periods to cover. In Gwernyfed, the behavioural support team cover those lessons. Work is set for those classes by the head of department.

Pupil behaviour is monitored and seldom gets out of control. The ambience is peaceful, and pupils can concentrate on work.

There is a positive reward systems exist. Letters are sent home to the parents for good behaviour and academic work. A points system for discipline runs side by side - letters go home when pupils have had too many discipline points as well.

How soon will all schools in Wales have a similar system? Would such a system work as well in our rougher inner-city schools? Would we have problems like those in New York? Some schools there use police to operate scanner systems that check there are no weapons in school bags.

In New York, a principal (headteacher) has been charged with preventing an arrest when a policeman arrested a young girl for offensive language. The principal felt the situation had been dealt with too heavy-handedly.

In Gwernyfed that would not have happened. John Hopkins, the head, is an accredited assertive discipline trainer and has trained his staff, including his behaviour support team.

As a new teacher in a south Wales secondary, I remember the senior staff patrolled and made sure no class ever went out of control. Just once I needed their help but what a difference it made.

An on-site behavioural support team is a brilliant idea. It frees up the heads of year and allows them to focus on improving self-esteem and academic results.

It takes the pressure off the senior management team who, in many schools, spend an inordinately high proportion of their time dealing with discipline problems when they should be focusing on school strategy.

And it gives support for teachers like me. Yes, I've been there. I've needed support from others when I was new to a school. Some of us are too proud to ask. Many of us do not realise how many other teachers are finding the same individuals difficult and awkward. We need to open up.

But we feel that it is we who are inadequate and do not like to admit we have problems.

It is time we stopped pretending that all is sweetness and light in every classroom. We should address the behaviour management issue properly.

Some schools need professionally trained behaviour support personnel. And, regardless of their experiences and background, these support personnel need an accredited induction course, including modules on promoting positive behaviour and child protection. There doesn't seem to be one available.

It is time we stopped feeling we cannot ask for help when we have difficulties with discipline. We can and we should.

All schools should have a clear behaviour management strategy, and if it includes an on-site behaviour support team, well that sounds like a great idea to me.

Helen Yewlett is an educational consultant and an accredited life coach with 30 years' teaching experience in secondary schools in south Wales

Join the debate Write to TES Cymru, Sophia House, 28 Cathedral Road, Cardiff CF11 9LJ.

Email: 029 2066 0207 Beth yw'ch barn chi?

Ysgrifennwch at: TES Cymru,Ty Sophia, 28 Heol yr Eglwys Gadeiriol, Caerdydd CF11 9LJ.Ebost: 029 2066 0207

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