Our ABCs are hard, but they may cut crime

12th October 2007 at 01:00
Kenny Frederick is headteacher of George Green Community School in Tower Hamlets, east London

I often write about behaviour and social cohesion. I do so because these issues are close to my heart and take up a lot of my time and energy. We know that good behaviour is essential for learning.

In our school we do all in our power to create a stimulating and safe environment for our pupils, but this is easier said than done. Ours is a community school where the majority of pupils live very near to the school. In addition, we deliver youth services within the local area, so we are very aware that what goes on outside school usually ends up inside school. We have to be aware of events that happen in the evenings, at weekends and during the holidays because they impact directly on the quality of teaching and learning.

It is inconceivable for us to wash our hands of our young people and their families at the end of the school day. We accept our responsibility for the way our pupils behave beyond the school gate. This of course brings problems, but we want our pupils to be good citizens when they are inside school and in the community. Some would say that this is the responsibility of parents and we would agree, but many parents have great difficulty setting clear boundaries for their teenage children.

We work very closely with the police (our safer school officer and neighbourhood team), housing associations, voluntary and statutory services and anybody else who can help. If we receive a report that our people are shoplifting or have behaved badly on the buses or trains, we do our best to bring them to justice and ensure they face up to the folly of their actions.

We believe it is important to identify young people at risk early on and to deal with any incident either in school or through the police. If they are not caught and get away with crime, they are more likely to repeat it. We do not see this as criminalising children (most are dealt with by the school in any case) but as appropriate intervention.

It is for this reason that we have added acceptable behaviour contracts to our menu of intervention strategies. ABCs are an agreement between the child, the parents, the school, the police and the local authority. The purpose is to support vulnerable young people particularly those who are in danger of getting involved in criminal behaviour and their parentscarers, and to ensure that they understand the possible long-term consequences of anti-social behaviour.

A pupil and his or her parents are invited to a meeting with the headteacher, a police officer and possibly a local authority representative, where the issues and behaviours are discussed. Broad targets are set as part of the agreement and the child and parents are invited to sign up to them.

We have now issued about 10 ABCs and all the young people concerned said they thought the agreements might help them to think twice before they acted aggressively. All their parents were pleased to be offered the additional support.

An ABC has the same legal status as the home-school agreement that every parent and child signs when they enter our school. They give young people clear boundaries.

The ABCs are in place for one year but we review them after three to six months. If a child fails the ABC, there are no legal consequences, just an earbashing from me. We don't know what the full impact will be, but they certainly are worth a try.

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