Q: How can a small black ringbinder significantly improve classroom behaviour in secondary school?
A: When it is part of a system which encourages pupils to take responsibility for their own behaviour.
Hawick High School began promoting positive behaviour among its 1,100 pupils in 1994. It all started with an idea from the school's guidance staff for a "home-school partnership card" for S1 pupils, to record pupils' behaviour in four areas - arriving on time; coming prepared; attention to work in class; allowing others to work.
It would be signed each evening by parents who would thus be kept in touch with their child's progress.
Consistently good behaviour would be rewarded with certificates of achievement. It was a fairly simple idea, but it worked, probably because it was backed up by full consultation with staff and parents. "It was framed positively," says rector Neil Horne, "and we were aiming at consistency, with all staff focusing on those four aspects of behaviour."
Since then, Hawick has put a lot of thought into supporting positive behaviour. The partnership card scheme has been extended into S2; all pupils have been given a "student organiser" with a weekly homework diary, and space for comments from staff and parents; and the school's discipline policy has been completely revised after a full year of consultation.
The changes are basically a move away from punitive sanctions, such as detention and punishment exercises, and towards encouragement for responsible behaviour.
"The message we want to get across is that we are concerned about the disruption of the learning process. It is seen as part of a whole-school drive to improve learning. Other forms of poor behaviour are not worth making a lot of fuss about."
Pupils who do break the rules at Hawick High know what will happen to them. Each class has a poster on the wall showing the four "staged consequences" of disruptive behaviour. They are:
1 a warning;
2 a black mark on the partnership card or organiser;
3 the pupil will be "isolated" from the rest of the class;
4 the pupil will be removed from the class.
Each stage of the process offers the pupil the opportunity to make up for the bad behaviour by working quietly or apologising. There is little opportunity for confrontation, and the sanctions follow more or less immediately upon the disruption.
In May this year, questionnaires on the partnership cards were issued. While pupils had mixed feelings about the cards, staff were fairly positive about the benefits, and parents were overwhelmingly enthusiastic, particularly about being kept informed of their child's effort and behaviour in school.
The senior staff I spoke to are in no doubt that the change in policy has resulted in better behaviour in the classroom. "Before, there was more scope for argument between a teacher and a pupil," said assistant head Ron Smith.
"This creates a better atmosphere in the class. There was no expectation that the most badly behaved half dozen in the school would be miraculously cured, but even they can find the clarity of the system helpful. They can at least see what it is about their behaviour that is getting them into trouble."
NO PHYSICAL FILE Following the popularity of Success Stories in Scottish Education, a conference run by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council and Association of Directors of Education in 1995, a second conference of the same name will be held at the Caird Hall in Dundee, February 26-27, 1999.
The conference for parents, teachers, heads or anyone involved in education offers an opportunity to share and generate initiatives and ideas.
The organisers, who already have Scottish Office funding, hope to secure additional funding to offer a free place to one parent and one teacher from each authority.
For paying delegates the rate will be around Pounds 30 a day, with a residential rate for two days.
Further details from the SPTC, 63 Shandwick Place, Edinburgh EH2, tel: 0131 228 5320 or 5321.
Free teacher-training sessions in housing education are being run in September by the Housing Education Information Development project, based on its video pack I'm Offski.
The pack, launched by the Housing Minister Calum MacDonald, tackles issues for young people leaving home to go to university, to gain some independence, or because they have to.
It is now in 70 schools around Scotland and offers lesson plans and activity sheets for fourth, fifth and sixth-year classes.
Two-hour sessions will take place in Inveraray, Dingwall, Perth, Fort William and Thurso, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Ayrshire.
Further information about training or the pack, from Louise Andrew or Annie O'Rourke at the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, Wellgate House, 200 Cowgate, Edinburgh EH1 1NQ, tel: 0131 226 4382.
A seminar for instrumental staff, music teachers and learning support teachers will look at issues facing children with difficulties of a dyslexic nature when learning a musical instrument.
The seminar, funded by the Scottish Arts Council at the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh on October 26, will report on the latest research and offer practical suggestions on how to assist the young musicians.
Workshops on strings, brass, wind and percussion, led by professional musicians with a special interest, will be for instrumental staff from East Lothian and Edinburgh only. Other participants may observe.
A Pounds 5 administration fee will be charged. Further details from Margaret O'Connor, Cultural Services Manager, East Lothian Council, Council Buildings, Haddington EH41 3HA, tel: 01620 827631.