Ruled by the ratings;School management

30th January 1998 at 00:00
Score below 50 and you'll miss the disco, Bob McMillan tells his pupils.

Teachers consider good discipline to be a prerequisite for effective teaching and learning, and most have developed their own techniques to help in the classroom. At Grangemouth High School, we have developed a central, computerised database of reports from teachers about pupils involved in behaviour "incidents".

The reports are collated weekly and entered into each pupil's computer record. The computer calculates a behaviour rating figure for every child, which is based on three factors - the accumulated number of reports, the type of reports, and a time factor based on the week number.

A pupil with no negative reports is deemed to be behaving perfectly and has a rating of 100; below 50 is deplorable - anyone with a score of less than 50 is barred from school discos. The more negative reports a pupil has, the lower the rating - it can even be less than zero. The time factor is important, because it provides the opportunity for pupils who have low ratings early in the term to improve by modifying their behaviour. So a single figure from less than 0 to 100, based on a complex calculation, can give pupils, parents and teachers a simple indication of behaviour.

Each week the computer produces print-outs for different members of staff. The print-outs for form teachers allow them to notify pupils of their rating and give them a quick word of encouragement. The copies for guidance staff highlight the children in their caseload who either have ratings below a critical level and therefore need support, or who have improved. Those for year heads monitor who needs a high level of supervision, and the print-out for the headteacher identifies a small number of pupils whose behaviour ratings are deplorable. This allows him to have an "encouraging" word when he meets them around the school.

The ratings have generated a great deal of interest among pupils, particularly those with low ratings in Secondary 1 and 2. Each week they press their form teachers to find out if their ratings have improved. Because they know there is a time factor involved, they know they can improve. The time factor also means that staff who are supporting individual pupils can discuss target setting in relation to their behaviour. The weekly changes in behaviour ratings provide feedback on a timescale that suits many pupils' short-term horizons.

At the beginning of each term we reset the pupils' behaviour ratings to 100, to give them an opportunity to improve themselves. This fresh start offers them an incentive to change.

It is not only badly behaved pupils who benefit from the system. At the end of term we distribute certificates - one for pupils with perfect ratings, which is awarded at assembly, another for very good ratings, which is awarded by form teachers. As the system develops, guidance staff will be able to refer to them when writing references. Parents have become interested in their children's ratings. At the last parents night, we agreed to supply them with behaviour ratings on request. In return, they agreed to relate the ratings to some tangible rewards or penalties, such as pocket money.

We have recently introduced merit points for sustained good behaviour or effort. When pupils have collected 10 points, they can claim a merit certificate. These points also have a positive effect on their behaviour rating.

Many staff have expressed doubts about what the well-behaved children will think when they see poorly behaved ones being given credit for temporary improvements. Even members of the senior management team have found it difficult to change their habits and award merit points. But after five months, there are signs that many teachers are managing to establish a suitable modus operandi.

A major advantage of the computerised database is that various types of reports can be easily produced. One important one is the pupil's behaviour profile, a single sheet that shows the distribution of reports across the weeks of the school year. This is very helpful when we meet parents and pupils to discuss behavioural problems. We are considering issuing these as part of the annual school reports.

Another report is the average behaviour rating for each form class, which can help to encourage competition between houses. It is also easy to produce details of the number of reports issued each week, and be in a position to identify periods when the pupils are less well behaved.

No system will solve the problems associated with the small number of extreme cases of bad behaviour, and our database does not cover every aspect of misbehaviour. But we believe that the simple concept of a single numerical figure to represent behaviour is a very effective weapon in the constant battle to improve it.

Bob McMillan is assistant headteacher at Grangemouth High School, Falkirk.

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