Good behaviour starts with you

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Govan High's twin-track discipline and behaviour support referral system allows Philip Graham to make the most of the innovative Framework for Intervention

It was unsettling. Appointed to the role of principal teacher of behaviour support, I had come to Govan High from the desolate wasteland of special education.

In fact, I had arrived from the furthest reaches of special needs, from a school specialising in social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. I had spent eight years there in the relative comfort zone of the violent, abusive, aggressive, vulnerable, withdrawn and the downright strange. Now I was in the brave new world of uniformed, polite, hard working, certificate achieving pupils.

My first task was to pilot Birmingham City Council's Framework for Intervention. I knew little about it before being sent off to East Ayrshire to train as a behaviour co-ordinator but soon found out that this is a structured approach to intervention, looking at ways of reducing low-level classroom disruption.

The important aspect of this framework for intervention is that the action plans for improving discipline are designed by the teacher experiencing the difficulties, rather than it being a magic wand delivered from above to cure all classroom ills.

The behaviour co-ordination framework offers a no-blame approach for both teacher and pupils and examines the whole learning environment, as this is often the cause of many disruptions in class. Changing the teacher's behaviour can indirectly alter pupils' behaviour.

Just consider, how often has a class gone steadily downhill as pupils scrabble about looking out folders? If this kind of disruption can be avoided by buying a trolley with trays, surely it must be a more valuable use of resources than filling in endless discipline referral forms on the child who decides to chop up a rubber and launch the pieces across the classroom while he, or she, is waiting.

But isn't this kind of thing obvious? Well, actually, no, it isn't.

A checklist can highlight areas of the environment and our own practice (such as turning up for the lesson before the pupils) which, although obviously factors in the behaviour of a pupil or class, are regularly lost to us, especially after our second "please take" class of the day.

My first "client" was a professional who had more years of teaching experience under his belt than I had years. Was I expected to tell him how to teach? How would he react if I told him his approach was all wrong?

The beauty of the framework is that the teacher leads the action plan and defines a series of steps with which he or she is comfortable, in order to address issues. These issues will have been flagged up by the checklist, which is, essentially, a self-evaluation tool.

I left our first meeting with my new colleague smiling and saying: "Of course, there's nothing here that isn't absolute common sense." And he was right.

It was therefore surprising to me to find opposition to the introduction of the framework in other schools, where colleagues seemed reticent about a scheme which appears to question teachers' practice. I was confused by the paradox which exists between the staff at Govan High, who accepted the scheme willingly and trained a further six members of staff (from within existing resources) in the framework, and teachers elsewhere who seemed to think it would not go down well in their school. It was worrying that the Scottish Executive was about to plough pound;500,000 into the roll-out of the framework when it could wither and die on such infertile ground.

Then it struck me that the structures to allow a scheme such as the Framework for Intervention to flourish at Govan High were in place before I even set foot in the building or trained as a behaviour co-ordinator.

While behaviour and discipline are regularly meshed into one issue, and a teacher can access support in class only when the number of discipline referrals forces the school management team to come into someone's class and find out what is going on, Govan High had already split the two and invoked a twin-track referral system.

The school had recognised the age-old problem. A class acts up regularly, a member of the management team comes in and the pupils behave for a while.

The management team withdraws and the class goes back to its riotous norm.

It's a wonderful spectacle of ineffectiveness.

Govan High had responded by creating a curricular support team to deal with referrals which were simply requests for support. This, in one stroke, broke the mould of the idea of support being the removal of a disruptive pupil from the class.

A team was put in place to consider referrals and propose a course of action. The Framework for Intervention is simply the cherry on the cake, providing a tangible, staged and evaluated process where effectiveness is visible to the teacher and, more importantly, the power to alter events in the classroom remains with the teacher, who was no longer perceived by pupils as an impotent stooge who needed back-up from the management team to control the class.

At the end of the road, exclusion is still an option, whether it be exclusion from the school or an internal exclusion to the pupil support centre for those on the outer margins of acceptable behaviour.

If there is a serious incident in the classroom, the twin-track system allows an immediate response from the appropriate member of staff, usually one of the school management team. Govan High still uses discipline referrals, but as the number of support team referrals increases, the number of discipline referrals and exclusions declines.

Govan High is considering behaviour as something which is manageable and can be changed by the correct forms of support. If an attempt is made to alter the circumstances of pupils' behaviour, the behaviour itself is likely to change.

The school has moved away from the basic assumption that if a teacher has a behaviour issue in class, then the solution is to remove the pupil who is identified as being to blame, and also away from the less frequent assumption that poor behaviour points automatically to weak and ineffective teaching.

The consideration shown by the Govan High staff to the pupils and each other as learners has created a culture shift that gives me reason to believe, as my father is fond of saying: "No matter what you're told, take it from me, these are the good old days."

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