It is concerning that national figures for exclusions in Wales have increased at a rate of 150 per cent between 2000 and 2005. But at Monmouth Comprehensive we are proud that our figures have been dropping steadily for the past three years to single figures for fixed-term exclusions, and no permanent ones during the same period.
So to what do we attribute this steady decline? The answer is joined-up thinking. Every school operates from core principles. But for us, this is knowing every young person well; personalising the curriculum and student support; ensuring high-quality, integrated staff development; and working with the community.
Everyone in the school contributes to our "behaviour for learning policy", which gives everyone a responsibility. Students choose to adopt rights and responsibilities rather than rules, and it is clearly understood throughout the school that both staff and students have a part to play. We have moved away from a "pass the buck" and blame culture, ensuring that teachers and students are taking responsibility for behaviour in their classrooms.
It is our emphasis on building learning relationships that is the master key. When students are known well, it is easier to spot when something is going wrong and needs to be corrected, or where more support is necessary. With the emphasis on taking responsibility, there is room for students to make mistakes, to fall but not fall too far.
Our school counsellor and school health professional, our support and guidance managers and progress leaders all have their part to play in ensuring that all our young people are learning to lead their lives. Our aim is to make sure that all our students are able to learn and to achieve. We know that if students are not emotionally stable and working within known and ordered parameters, learning is unlikely to take place. We want all our students to be effective members of the school's learning community. We have learnt that student support structures must be "home grown" or in partnership with other providers. Bolt-on solutions and off-the-shelf packages don't work in the long term.
Secondaries are inundated with requests from various organisations that have secured different pots of funding to develop initiatives in schools. Far better, we feel, is that funding is allocated to schools, and schools are given support as required to develop a bespoke system that suits the school, its environment and the community.
Monmouth Comprehensive School's approach has evolved over the past six years. It is ours, we have all worked together to make it work, and we are proud that students and staff take their rights and responsibilities very seriously. Some members of the community have further to travel in learning good behaviour than others. But we believe that our very low exclusion figures are one indicator of the level of success we have achieved to date.
Andy Williams is assistant head of Monmouth Comprehensive School.