Take behaviour out of the corner

26th May 2006 at 01:00
School deals with disruptive pupils by getting to the root of each child's problems. Phil Revell reports.

Good behaviour is about good teaching. It's become almost a mantra amongst advisers and strategy teams that children who misbehave do so because the lesson is badly planned or delivered.

"Sometimes that's true," says Pam Townsend, head of the Meadows first school in Bromsgrove. "If what the children are given is inappropriate, then classes will react. But sometimes children come in angry; something has happened at home or the night before. They come in and cause mayhem from 9am onwards. That has nothing to do with the lesson plan or the teacher."

A couple of years ago, Mrs Townsend and her staff were facing the kind of behaviour problems that can disrupt teaching and learning across a whole school.

"We had problems with half a dozen boys; they were violent towards staff and other children and physically and verbally abusive," she recalled.

It wasn't just boys; one four-year-old girl came into reception with a vocabulary that shocked a group of builders working in the school. "She hit, she kicked; her language was unbelievable."

These extremes of behaviour were not the norm; most of the Meadows'

children were fine, but Mrs Townsend and her special needs co-ordinator were forever being called to classes to deal with children who were making learning impossible. The Meadows' team was reluctant to exclude; there is no pupil-referral unit or special school for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties in Bromsgrove. Children would have faced a journey to Redditch, 20 miles away. "We felt that we had to make it work here,"

says Pauline Tier, the Meadows' special needs co-ordinator.

Pam Townsend discussed the problem with Worcestershire's senior educational psychologist, who asked her what she needed.

"I said a full-time teacher and a full-time classroom assistant, and he said we could have both," she said.

Pam Townsend feels she was lucky to find Phil Parry; a teacher who had experience in both primary and secondary schools, and who had been the deputy head of a special school.

Together they converted a storeroom into an inclusion unit, similar to that operated in many secondary schools. There's a quiet chair where children can sit while the anger and frustration subsides, and a quiet room - in case it doesn't. On the walls are charts showing the daily progress of the children being monitored.

"We have an intensive focus on seven children and we support around 25-30 more," he explains.

Phil Parry worked with teachers to develop a traffic-light system of behaviour control, and he drops in and out of lessons to see how children are managing their way through the day.

As he is describing the system, a very angry little boy arrives and sits on the quiet chair. People say "Hello", but no one presses for a reason for the sudden arrival. After a few minutes, Mr Parry takes the boy for a chat about the cause of that morning's angst.

"You have to know the child," he explains later. "Then you can negotiate; some children have time-out cards, others need really firm support."

This isn't a soft system; children are left in no doubt about the standards expected of them. And it appears to work; walking into an apparently normal lesson Phil Parry pointed out the children whose behaviour had once been so challenging. "She's doing really well now," he said about the little girl who had expanded the vocabulary of the adults around her.

Ofsted recognised the impact of the Meadows' new approach. Inspectors who visited the school earlier this year praised the children's behaviour and the school was given a grade 1 for its care and guidance programme.

But the financial support ends this summer, and Pam Townsend isn't sure she can find the money to keep the programme going, despite the fact that the Meadows is a bigger-than-average first school, with more than 400 on roll.

"We've had pound;40,000 from Worcestershire, but it's cost us more than that," she says. "We already spend a vast amount on special needs. This is a priority, but if I spend my money on behaviour, then it would be at the expense of a lot of things that were in place before," she explained.

She feels that the ideal scenario would be for clusters of schools to share a unit, though she recognises that finding staff with Phil Parry's expertise and experience isn't easy.

What isn't acceptable is for the problem to be left to fester.

"These problems are much harder to deal with when a child is 15. If people are serious about the aims of Every Child Matters, then this is the kind of initiative that the authorities ought to be supporting," she said.

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