Mouth shut? Tie straight? Check

23rd September 2011 at 01:00
Mr Gove enlists 'superheads' to develop a new discipline guide

After the riots that swept through English cities last month, Michael Gove returned to his desk and clearly placed discipline and behaviour in the classroom at the top of his in-tray.

So, last week the education secretary and his recently appointed behaviour tsar Charlie Taylor invited 30 "superheads" to a London academy to help them develop a new guide for heads and their staff in schools where poor behaviour is a day-to-day problem.

The checklist - a go-to guide that would be the first of its kind - will be sent out to heads around the country.

Speaking at King Solomon Academy, an all-through school in Marylebone, north-west London, Mr Gove told the headteachers there were still "far too many schools" where behaviour was not up to scratch. He said it was those young people who were not given proper boundaries in school who took to the streets in last month's riots.

"We want to focus on how to improve behaviour and to help those children who present us with the biggest challenges, and in doing so improve their lives," the cabinet minister said.

But he was insistent that it was not for politicians to dictate how schools should do it. "The role the Government can play to help achieve this is limited," he added.

"We have legislated to give teachers more power and heads greater autonomy, as they are the ones who are best placed in this process - the people who are not politicians."

Gathered in the gym, a cold 1960s box that acts as both the academy's theatre and its lunch hall, the superheads listened to the story of how King Solomon had been turned around by its staff and its headteachers, Venessa Willms and Max Haimendorf.

Mr Taylor, head of The Willows School, a special primary in Hillingdon, north-west London, worked at King Solomon 15 years ago, and insisted that it was a wholly different place. "There was a sense of chaos," he said. "Staff would stand back and let the kids rampage through the school. Gangs would wait outside menacingly at the end of the day. Teachers would ask what else could you expect from such kids.

"But now there is an expectation of high achievement and good attainment, and of excellent behaviour thanks to the hard work of the staff here."

The headteachers invited to the event - all from inner-city academies, comprehensives or pupil referral units - were split into groups to share how they manage behaviour in their schools. This allowed Mr Gove, with pen and notebook in hand, to eavesdrop on the conversations and listen first-hand to ideas on how best to tackle poor behaviour.

The ideas, while not earthshatteringly original, were important. They ranged from setting clear sanctions and rewards for students and ensuring children were praised when they did well and not just punished when they stepped out of line, to establishing a behaviour policy and sticking to it. Clear lines of communication were also needed with both parents and students, setting out the boundaries and the penalties if those boundaries were crossed.

Among the headteachers was, unsurprisingly, Sir Michael Wilshaw, principal of Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, east London, and the odds-on favourite to be the new Ofsted chief inspector.

Within his school's catchment area is the Pembury Estate, scene of some of the most violent disturbances during the summer riots. But Sir Michael said he was confident that none of his students was involved in the unrest. "God help them if they were," he added.

His school was exceptional, he said, because the staff had high expectations of pupils and that particularly included high expectations around behaviour.

"Without good behaviour, young and inexperienced teachers can become vulnerable and end up leaving the profession," he argued. "Without good behaviour, the 5 per cent of pupils who are badly behaved becomes 10 per cent the next year, and then 20 per cent the year after, and so on."

One recurring theme was parents. Kathy August, principal of Manchester Academy, warned that it could sometimes be a significant challenge to get through to parents, particularly those from parts of the city renowned for gang culture.

"I have had big, tattooed men at my parents' meetings who are selling whatever in Moss Side, but I tell them that although I may not agree with the way they make their money, we both want what is best for their child, and they usually see where we are coming from," she said.

However, it was strong leadership that came up time and again when the heads were asked what had the biggest impact on behaviour and discipline in schools.

According to Ros McMullen, principal of David Young Community Academy in Leeds, even with the best behaviour policies in place, good work can easily become undone with poor leadership. "You can lose it in two terms," Ms McMullen said. "What has taken a head five or six years can be lost in a matter of months - it's all about leadership.

"The head who has worked hard to make the changes, who spent every break in the playground, could leave and the next head may easily think that behaviour isn't an issue and can sit in their office doing paperwork, then they lose it," she added.

What Mr Gove jotted down while he was listening to the superheads will only become clear in time, but headteachers should expect the new checklist to land in their inboxes in the not-too-distant future.

Mr Gove is clear, however, that whether they act on it is completely up to them.


Earlier this month, Michael Gove said the country was blighted by "lost souls" who had been failed by the education system.

Speaking at the Durand Academy in south London, the education secretary said an "education underclass" had developed and that it was growing by thousands of children every year.

"It is from that underclass that gangs draw their recruits, young offenders' institutions find their inmates and prisons replenish their cells," he said.

"These are young people who, whatever the material circumstances which surround them, grow up in the direst poverty, with a poverty of ambition, a poverty of discipline, a poverty of soul."


More than a fifth of the young people hauled before court following their involvement in the riots during the summer were of school age.QQ]More than 1,700 defendants have faced riot-related charges since the unrest which took place in early August.

21% of those convicted were aged between 10 and 17

31% were aged 18-20

90% of all of those convicted were male.

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