Little angels in Hounslow and demons in Yorkshire?

3rd June 2011 at 01:00
Analysis - New Ofsted statistics reveal huge regional variations in behaviour standards throughout England. And deprivation is by no means a clear indicator. Kerra Maddern reports

Every one of the London borough of Hounslow's 73 schools was judged to have either good or outstanding pupil behaviour in Ofsted's most recent inspection, newly released figures show. This is no mean feat in any part of the country, but it is notable that Hounslow, on the western fringes of the capital, is a largely deprived area.

The inspectorate's judgments on behaviour in schools across England show up huge regional variations in behaviour standards. They throw up paradoxes such as why inspectors seem to have found that children in the South West are little angels, whereas those in Yorkshire and the Humber are far from perfectly behaved.

Do these figures - taken from school inspections during 2010 - really mean some parts of the country are behavioural black spots? And what does it say about the different approaches taken regionally?

It is worth bearing in mind that the picture across the country is relatively positive. Overall, in England some 94 per cent of primary schools, 82 per cent of secondary schools, 92 per cent of special schools and 85 per cent of pupil referral units (PRUs) were rated good or outstanding for behaviour by Ofsted in 2008 to 2010. These figures are all improvements on the last set of cumulative data in 2008.

But just 67.7 per cent of secondaries in Yorkshire and the Humber received the top ranking, compared with 89.6 per cent in the South West. Almost 85 per cent of secondaries in the capital were ranked good or outstanding, compared to 78.4 per cent in the East Midlands.

The differences are even more stark when individual local authorities are compared. Just a quarter of secondaries in Knowsley and Hull were rated good and outstanding for behaviour. But 15 local authorities achieved scores of 100 per cent. These include Gateshead, Bury, Hammersmith and Fulham, Rutland, Gloucestershire and North Somerset.

The disparities suggest differences are not only due to deprivation in particular areas.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, agrees that the failure in some schools to achieve a positive Ofsted rating cannot simply be laid at the doors of poverty in their catchment areas.

"Not all areas are the same, and in some the challenges are higher, but you can't draw a clear link between deprivation and inspection outcomes," he says. "Every school can be a good environment."

Indeed, Phil Hearne, executive director of the Northumberland CofE Academy, who has taught in a number of schools in areas of deprivation, says poverty should not be used as an excuse for poor conduct.

"Behaviour in school depends on how it is managed by teachers and by the local authority," he says. "This includes how they choose to exclude, and what is tolerated."

"Every school has its own mindset and attitude about tackling poor behaviour."

Teachers at Mr Hearne's schools are all expected to challenge unacceptable behaviour and establish good habits among the children, he says.

"But local issues, such as employment, do also play a part. The differences can be tangible when teenagers have something to aspire to and know there is a reason for them to be in school and behave.

"Teachers rely on local networks of support for behaviour. This really comes into play when a pupil isn't coping with school structures and needs to be reintegrated."

This is a common sentiment. The difference between success and failure can often come down to the quality of behaviour-support services run by local authorities, according to Barbara Knowles, executive director of the Social, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties Association.

"Ofsted's behaviour judgment can reflect the social make-up of the school, but it also reflects the provision and support run by councils - for example, for exclusion. Whatever the social make-up of the catchment area, all schools also have their own internal procedures and different ways of running pastoral support," she says.

"The Ofsted judgments do show there is a postcode lottery, and part of the reason for that is the lack of social mobility. But that doesn't mean to say schools should just accept these social problems as an excuse: that is a betrayal of children."

Every one of the 31 secondary schools in Cornwall has a good or outstanding Ofsted rating for behaviour.

David Parker, chair of the Cornwall Association of Secondary Headteachers and head of Penrice Community and Language College in St Austell, said the 100 per cent record in the county was partly due to close co-operation between school leaders - again, it would seem that this is local organisation at work.

"We are all community schools, with different catchment areas. There are no church, selective or single-sex secondary schools and I think that is an incentive," he says.

"We can't say: 'It's all right for them, their pupils are just Catholic girls, so that's why they don't have behavioural problems'.

"We talk to each other about what works, and that enables us to understand what is successful and learn from each other. There is a huge willingness to collaborate and support."

"These statistics are showing this works. Exam results are going up, even though the ability profile of our pupils has not changed. We have a high level of social deprivation in Cornwall, but there is a long-standing respect for education in the county. Heads still have a high standing in the community here and parents expect their children to behave in school."

Parkfield Community School in Saltley, Birmingham, was rated good for behaviour by inspectors, but "satisfactory" overall. Around 91 per cent of Birmingham's schools were graded good or outstanding for behaviour last year.

But Parkfield head Hazel Pulley blames the regional differences not on pupils or deprivation, but on too much "variance" in the way Ofsted makes judgments.

"Every head wants the best for their school, and the majority of parents want their children to behave, but there is variance in the way schools are judged," says Mrs Pulley, who is training to be an inspector.

"Ofsted looks at statistics about exclusion in making its judgment about behaviour. These can be well managed by schools - for instance, through managed moves to other schools or by varying children's attendance.

"Good schools help children make choices about good behaviour, which is more effective than using severe sanctions. The key is to create a respectful, harmonious atmosphere.

"Primary schools are better at this, because children have the one teacher. I also think inner-city schools have become very good at creating this ethos - as shown by Birmingham and London having high numbers of schools with good or outstanding behaviour."

Association of School and College Leaders general secretary Brian Lightman believes that, despite the regional differences, the statistics show secondaries are performing well.

"The fact that 82 per cent of secondary schools have good or outstanding behaviour is very positive indeed, and this backs up our view that in the majority of schools behaviour is very good and they are orderly places," he says.

"In some areas there is work to be done because teachers there face greater challenges. We expect there to be variation in Ofsted judgments because of this."

The figures appear to support this. The proportion of secondaries graded good or outstanding for behaviour has risen from 76.2 per cent in December 2008, to 78.6 per cent in December 2009 and to 81.6 per cent in December 2010.

The proportion of PRUs given good or outstanding grades for behaviour has risen from 79.7 per cent in December 2008, to 84.2 per cent in December 2009 and 84.7 per cent in December 2010.

However, the Government does not agree that the statistics are cause for celebration. Its new adviser on behaviour, Charlie Taylor, former head of the Willows special school in west London, said parents would be "worried" that almost 8 per cent of schools inspected last year were rated satisfactory or unsatisfactory on behaviour.

But with the figures varying so much from area to area, Mr Taylor will need to work out how reliable they are. Are the differences simply down to the way in which behaviour is judged and recorded, or are children in some local authority areas genuinely more badly behaved than in others? If he is to tackle the problem of poor behaviour, this is a question Mr Taylor will need to answer as soon as possible.

Trouble in suburbia, Magazine, pages 10-17

82% - English secondaries rated good or outstanding for behaviour.

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