The keys to inclusion

6th July 2001 at 01:00
(Photograph) - When the head of Ringmer Community College, near Lewes, East Sussex, had a Year 7 pupil who stole bunches of keys from staff he faced a number of choices. Strict discipline? Or, since the boy had Asperger's syndrome, should he just retrieve the keys and send him on his way? Instead, Steve Johnson got the boy to identify, painstakingly, which keys belonged to which teachers until it was clear to the boy that only one key was his own, and that it was the only key he had a right to.

His mother was asked in to reinforce the message that stealing was not on, and that if the boy wanted to stay in the school he must abide by its rules. "He hasn't taken a key since," says Steve Johnson. Among Ringmer's 900 pupils are 30 with high levels of special needs, including children with spina bifida and other severe physical disabilities, plus a range of behaviour and learning difficulties. Yet it has only permanently excluded one pupil in the past few years, and last year had only 15 days of fixed-term exclusions. The school's Learning Support Centre is used for small-group teaching, housing pupils withdrawn from lessons, and is a base for Bronwen Smith, the school's SENCO, and Paul Lyth, an on-staff behaviour specialist. From this centre, information flows out into the school about pupils' needs and behaviours, and information and requests flow back from departments.

Ringmer has 62 per cent of pupils getting five GCSEs A-C, and hopes for 68 per cent this year. Last year it was the only secondary school in East Sussex to win a pound;25,000 improvement award for its pupils' attainments.

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