The second-chance saloon

10th January 1997 at 00:00
Situated in an area of high social deprivation, Peers Upper School in Oxford, catering for 700 pupils aged 13-18, was singled out by a recent Audit Commission report for its success in handling pupil behaviour and keeping the level of pupil exclusions low.

The report, Misspent Youth: Young People and Crime (see TES November 22), identifies exclusion as a major risk factor for youth crime. It found that 65 per cent of school-age offenders were not attending school regularly, and of these, 42 per cent had been excluded.

"We've created an ethos that's based on the assumption that young people are rational beings, who want to do well and get on with the business of learning, " says headteacher Bernard Clarke. "We see Peers as a place of work where everyone has a job do do, and no one has a right to interfere with it."

This idea is enshrined in a written statement of "Rights and Responsibilities", produced in consultation with students, staff, parents and governors, and displayed around the school. Alongside guiding principles for behaviour, it lists not only the responsibilities of students but also those of the staff.

One of the basic aims is to avoid confrontation between teachers and pupils. But what happens when problems arise? Initially, if a child is disruptive or not working in class, they are sent to a referral room manned by a senior member of staff, where their particular problem is talked through.

If problems persist, the offending pupil may remain part of the class, but receive special help from one of a team of classroom support teachers available in the school. Counselling is also available for pupils with behaviour problems, as well as for their families. Other more traditional measures may also be used, such as detention, or contact with parents - the weapon teachers often find the most effective when dealing with this age-group. But Bernard Clarke also feels that a short-term exclusion can be used and seen as a positive step.

"One of the regrettable results of all the recent publicity," he says, "is that exclusion is automatically labelled 'bad'. But with adolescents you need to have strategies to show that certain kinds of behaviour are unacceptable. Exclusion for a few days can be very useful in the right context."

On their return to school, pupils are encouraged to sit down with the person affected by their behaviour, and make certain promises about their future conduct. In return they are taken back on a "business as usual" basis, while being left in no doubt about the consequences of any further bad behaviour.

"We aim to make Peers a place full of second chances," its head says. "It's implicit in adolescence that people make mistakes, and I don't think it helps for them to have millstones around their necks. Our job is to help them reflect on what went wrong, so they can change the way they relate to other people. "

'Misspent Youth:Young People and Crime', by Mark Perfect and Judy Renshaw, HMSO Pounds 20

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