Isolating difficult students by running their classes from 12.30-5.30pm has had a dramatic effect. Jon Slater reports
Badly-behaved pupils at Sir Frank Markham school in Milton Keynes face an unusual punishment: they are forced to come to school late.
A special unit, open from 12.30 to 5.30, educates pupils whose behaviour would previously have led them to be temporarily excluded. The idea is to penalise pupils by disrupting their social life rather than barring them from lessons.
Dave McCluskey, Markham's headteacher, said: "We found that if you talk to students about what they don't like about being excluded it was missing time with their friends.
"Asking them to come in at these times means they miss lunch time and the part straight after school."
It seems to be working. Thirteen-year-old Shane Clarke, who spent three days in the inclusion learning centre last term, said: "When I was excluded I got to stay at home all day playing on the computer, but the learning centre was worse, I never want to come back in again. It felt like the longest three days of my life."
About one in seven of the pupils who have attended the centre have re-offended, compared to one in three of those who were temporarily excluded.
The centre, run by Heather McBurnie, the school's exclusions manager, takes a maximum of 10 pupils at a time for up to three weeks.
Pupils are expected to work in silence, no one is allowed to leave the building and there is only one 20-minute break halfway through the day.
Fizzy drinks are not allowed.
Ms McBurnie also runs morning classes for children who are at risk of offending. Pupils are assessed to see if they would benefit from extra support including anger management courses or psychologists.
"The students are totally isolated from the rest of the school which is what they hate, especially when I remind them at 3.15 that the school is now closed that their friends are going home while they have another two hours to go. That really hits home," Ms McBurnie said.
Since the learning centre opened in October, about 80 of the 1,500 pupils at the school have attended.
Mr McCluskey said the centre benefits the pupils because they are able to continue with their studies during their punishment - and the wider community benefits from the reduction in the number of children out of school who may become involved in crime and anti-social behaviour.
The success of the centre has not gone unnoticed. Two other schools in the area are considering setting up their own versions.
But Mr McCluskey admits there are problems with the arrangement. "The downside is that temporary exclusion is a cost-free option. The unit requires two members of staff but we think it is worth the money.
"We thought we might have some resistance from parents but everyone has been extremely supportive."