A behaviour system developed in the United States, is now being used in a number of British local education authorities. It is known as Assertive Discipline and one of the benefits of the Project 8 experiment (opposite page) was to help Cumberland School adapt an Assertive Discipline programme to meet its needs. The system is being also being used in Liverpool, where last year schools averaged a fixed term exclusion rate of 47. About 50 of the city's primary schools and four secondaries use AD.
Assertive Discipline is a formulaic approach to behaviour and discipline. Schools must have a solid behaviour policy and a management structure to support it. Children must know the boundaries of what is permissible and what is not. When they do something good, children are praised fulsomely by the teacher. But once a child has received five ticks against his or her name for doing something that infringes the rules, they're out of school.
Explains Jeremy Swinson, senior educational psychologist at Liverpool education authority: "It's the predictability of the teacher that improves behaviour, not the severity of the punishment. When you know something's going to happen if you break the rules, you don't break the rules."
Liverpool's own ultimate deterrent after five ticks is something called ISSUE, In-School Supplementary Unit with Education. With the full support and collaboration of parents, children who break the rules five times are sent to one of two ISSUE units for a full day. One of these is based at Wheathill, a school for those with emotional and behavioural difficulties. There, children, on their own, or with a few others, sit doing their own work in a small bare room, under the supervision of a teacher.
Wheathill's headteacher Mike Cording thinks it's a powerful deterrent. "The power of it is in the isolation of being separated from peers," he explains. "You have to look at it this way: what's more effective: a child doing concentrated academic work for a whole day or sitting at home watching telly?" An eight-year-old called Tyrone was sitting on his own, watched by a Wheathills teacher as he did his work. This was his fourth or sixth time at the unit, he couldn't remember which. What did he think about coming here? "I like it, " he smiled. "You get to colour in."