Pupils and teachers call time on bad classroom behaviour;Class Work

9th February 1996 at 00:00
As Raymond Robertson, the Education Minister, sat down this week with the unions to discuss growing levels of pupil indiscipline, Forres Academy in Moray was cracking on with a behaviour management system.

Devised by staff, the system was introduced into the 1,050-pupil secondary last August. "The aim was to root out low levels of indiscipline, the drip, drip in classes, so that teachers can get on with the job," Alistair Maclachlan, the headteacher, says.

"The old ways did not work and punishments were counter-productive with disaffected pupils. We suffer like every other school from all forms of indiscipline. Youngsters are coming into school with different sets of values and we are now questioned."

Lack of a secure family environment, boredom and low self-esteem are causes of indiscipline among the more frequent offenders, but Mr Maclachlan also takes exception to pupils and society lumping responsibility for behaviour on to schools. "We have worked hard here to promote more self-discipline," he says.

Forres has concentrated on striking a partnership between teachers, pupils, parents and community, a fundamental component of the positive ethos a school needs to carry out its task. At the heart of the initiative are counselling, target-setting and self-improvement.

"The system is designed to make pupils think and reflect and take different action," Mr Maclachlan says. It recognises that pupil welfare and rights are important but in return insists that pupils and parents accept responsibility for behaviour.

Teachers draw up the rules in consultation with their classes and agree how infringements should be treated. Pupils want to work in peace, Mr Maclachlan says.

One of the advantages is the elimination of the paperwork that dogged previous disciplinary procedures. A nine-stage warning system has disposed of written notes. "If pupils receive the requisite number of warnings, they are sent to Time Out for the remainder of the lesson," Mr Maclachlan stated.

Time Out is a supervised room where pupils carry on working. Critically, they are invited to complete a document that details the incident which banished them from class. Questions are designed to make them look closely at the confrontation and why it happened. A second section is worked through at home with a parent or guardian.

A pupil with three Time Outs triggers a case conference to evaluate the difficulties and work out solutions. Fewer than 3 per cent of pupils have been before case conferences. A major factor has been seconding one member of staff to work with socially, emotionally or behaviourally disturbed pupils. The emphasis here is on counselling.

Mr Maclachlan maintains he is now able to build a picture of where indiscipline is taking place and why it is happening. Pupils' punctuality, attendance and misbehaviour out of class are all monitored.

As part of the contract, the initiative has added a focus on teacher education, including seminars on discipline. "There is more openness among staff and there is no blame attached," Mr Maclachan says. The scheme will be evaluated in September and the head is "cautiously optimistic".

"This is not a short-term issue. Every year that the system is in place we hope to see improvements," he says.

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