The Interview - 'I don't tolerate unacceptable behaviour'

6th February 2009 at 00:00

Caroline Haynes gained a formidable reputation when statistics revealed she had issued 478 exclusions in one academic year. Yet GCSE performance at her school has shot up 26 percentage points since 2004

What is your school's unique selling point?

We're the largest split site school in the country: 1,880 pupils split over two sites, five miles apart. The key stage 3 pupils are on one site, and key stage 4 and 5 on the other. It's exhausting for staff and it does reduce our time and visibility, but we meet regularly to ensure we're all pulling in the same direction. It also gives staff more opportunities for leadership earlier in their careers, and it makes a big comprehensive feel smaller and more intimate. Our Year 9s get a chance to be senior pupils earlier, with all the responsibility that brings.

How has teaching changed?

The quality of staff is much higher: teachers are more imaginative and there is a greater emphasis on the impact they have on the life of their pupils. But there are never enough teachers in the South East. We'll get one to three applications for a science post and not many more for English. We train our own through the graduate teacher programme but it's always a struggle.

What kind of children attend your school?

We are a typical comprehensive. We get every type of child. We have the highest number of looked-after children (38) in the Tendring area and 50 per cent of our cohort have a reading age below their chronological age when they arrive in Year 7. Some are socially deprived, others are wealthy.

Have you found the holy grail of teaching?

It is developing a climate of mutual respect. It's as much about how teachers and support staff are as role models as it is about the pupils' behaviour. When it improves, everyone enjoys school more. I don't tolerate unacceptable behaviour on either side, but I expect teachers to know how to conduct themselves.

What's the biggest issue in education and how would you tackle it?

Government interventions and targets can be severely demotivating. Take the attendance targets, which insist that children with chronic illness are included in the persistent absence list. It's a ludicrous situation and because it's external, it's out of our control.

Do your excluded pupils become "other people's problem"?

No, they remain our problem and their parents' problem because they come back. In 2007-08, we temporarily excluded 156 pupils, although some were excluded more than once. There were just two permanent exclusions. It's not as draconian as people would like to believe. We work with the pupils - they either complete a pack during their exclusion or work or revise online. Then we have a readmission meeting with the parents before putting them straight on report. It means we check up on them every day. They get into the habit of wanting good marks.

What does Ofsted make of your exclusion policy?

Two years ago, we described our behaviour at the college as good. Ofsted questioned how we could justify that when we had such a high exclusion rate. I said: "That is why it's good," and Ofsted agreed. Pupils like to know where they stand and the lessons are calm and well-ordered as a result. I believe the number of exclusions will decrease over time because of our policy. We don't have an in-house exclusion room here that massages our figures. Our emphasis is on improving behaviour, not reducing exclusions for the sake of it.

What's your single biggest achievement?

Taking control of a small plane and going loop the loop in a single session. I'm terrified of flying, but I won a flying lesson with the RAF (the prize for the regional headteacher of the year Teaching Awards in 2007) and I was determined to do it. I didn't even feel sick.

If you were Schools Secretary for the day, what would you do?

Just before I started my current headship I asked a pupil at my college (he is also the son of a friend) what I should do to improve the school. He said I should introduce a nap for everyone in the afternoon. So if I were Schools Secretary for the day, that is what I would do. I know I could nap in the afternoon.

What's the worst excuse you've ever heard?

A student said she had not done her homework because her grandfather had been killed in one of the Twin Towers on September 11. Later on it came out at a parents' evening that her grandfather had never been to New York. He was alive and well and living in Essex

Curriculum vitae

2004 to date: Principal at Tendring Technology College.

1997-2004: Head of Sir Charles Lucas School in Colchester. When she left in 2004, it was over-subscribed and had achieved its best exam results. The turnaround is one of Caroline's proudest achievements.

1991-1997: Deputy head at The Philip Morant School in Colchester.

1987-1991: Head of science at Sir Charles Lucas School in Colchester.

1981-1987: Science teacher at Sir Charles Lucas School in Colchester.

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