Positive behaviour strategies, staff commitment and the expectation of good conduct is a winning formula for a happy school, Raymond Ross writes
Education minister Peter Peacock had recently unveiled proposals to build on the work of the discipline task group to tackle unacceptable behaviour in Scotland's schools when he visited Craigton Primary in Glasgow last term.
The school had received an excellent inspection report which praised, in particular, good pupil behaviour and its close partnership with parents. "You need a positive attitude from all the staff to make any system work," says headteacher Ann Robertson.
Everyone who works at Craigton Primary is involved in monitoring behaviour.
For example, the janitor and the support staff give out praise stickers for good behaviour in the playground or for being helpful to others. They may also hand out concern notes for bad behaviour which the pupil takes to their class teacher.
"If children are happy and learning well it will improve their education," says Mrs Robertson. "Everyone is involved. Positive people create positive behaviour."
Good behaviour certificates are handed out at every Monday assembly and rewards include access to the Friday Club, where pupils with the most points go to play and have juice and crisps.
"We also took an idea from the pupil council, which meets weekly. They thought that people who tried hard should go to the club as well. So we have the best stars and the best triers. It means a good cross-section of pupils."
Pupils can also be rewarded with "golden time", a Friday period when they can choose what they want to do. That could be working on a computer or helping others through the buddy scheme.
"The buddy scheme is popular with the P7s. They enjoy the responsibility," says Mrs Robertson.
"We also have a friendship stop in the playground where a pupil can go if they have no one to play with. It is checked regularly by members of the pupil council."
Positive discipline entails close monitoring.
"We adapted the idea of tracking pupils' attitudes from Crieff High, in Perth and Kinross," says depute headteacher Pauline Weir. "Every six weeks the pupils are given a grade for attitude, from working well to satisfactory or unsatisfactory, and forms are sent to parents for comments.
"The regularity helps and you find that the few pupils put on 'unsatisfactory' work really hard to improve," she says.
Lunchtime or morning break detentions are given if necessary. With a single detention a blue letter is sent home explaining why; a second detention warrants a yellow letter home and a meeting of the pupil, parents, class teacher and depute head; a third detention means a red letter and the headteacher becomes involved.
"At the third detention level we might involve psychological services or we might go to exclusion.
"Of course, if it's a serious issue it's an immediate red," says Mrs Robertson.
"We had one pupil excluded for a couple of days over a year ago, but in the 200203 session we only had to issue one yellow.
"There's been a huge improvement in behaviour over the past few years. It's down to the positive behaviour strategies, staff commitment and the expectation the pupils know we have of them," she says.
Some of the golden rules are do be gentle, do listen to people and do not cover up the truth.
The school issues a monthly newsletter to parents, pupil council bulletins and a pamphlet outlining the school's policy on communication with parents.
Parents are given a copy of the homework guidelines and the school's positive behaviouranti-bullying booklet - which defines bullying, outlines what action pupils should take if bullied and what action the school will take following a report of bullying - and all pupils and parents sign a home-school agreement entitled "Don't be the Weakest Link".
Craigton Primary, which has 37 per cent placing requests and 40- 50 per cent free meals entitlement, also strongly encourages school uniform to be worn. "The school board surveyed parents and pupils and the majority of both were in favour. In fact, all parents backed the idea," says Mrs Robertson.
The school was already using strategies covered in the Better Behaviour, Better Learning document when it came out. "Personal and social development was on our development plan two years before it, and the staff were committed to it," says Mrs Robertson.
So, was it because of their glowing inspection report that the minister visited the school?
"Not really," she says. "We had been doing junior citizenship as part of social subjects in 5-14 and some pupils had visited the Parliament in Edinburgh just before the Easter holidays. So they wrote to the minister and invited him to visit. He agreed and he did."
A red letter day of a different kind for Craigton Primary.