On Friday afternoons at my school all the Student Progress Leaders (Heads of Year), three senior staff including myself, our learning mentors, our child protection team, seclusion team, SENCO and attendance team sit down for an hour to meet. We’re often joined by a social worker, a police officer and various local youth workers.
We go through last week’s minutes, detailing what’s happened with each student that we’ve offered support to. These can be for crises at home, attendance issues, problems in the local area, issues to do with nutrition, or child protection. Every few of weeks or so we find solutions for a child hard to come by. But we do our very best and we have significant resources allocated to supporting our students to ensure they can meet our expectations.
Two and a half years ago, when local childrens’ services were faced with no home, we gave them one at our school. For us, this meant pupils and parents have easier access to that expert support. It meant we have access to expert advice and guidance on and from outside agencies, and indeed direct access to some of those agencies.
We support the students as much as we possibly can. We have a brilliant record of ‘keeping’ those students who are sent to us for a second chance after all chances at their school have expired (this is two way, we don’t just receive).
A part of that is we are inflexible on rules. You meet our expectations or you face the consequences – no exceptions.
Late to school – 20 minutes after school that day and an hour detention with me later in the week. Don’t complete your homework to a satisfactory standard – your parents know, you have a detention with your teacher, and you have an hour with me later in the week. Late to a lesson by a minute – that will cost you 20 minutes with your teacher and an hour with me as head of school. Late four times in a four week period, Saturday detention. All detentions in silence.
I have written about our behaviour policy before. While I know some people were and are upset that I was so brazen about upholding our standards to the point that pupils have to leave our school (and I think there is an issue system-wide with what happens to excluded children), the above meeting shows the other side of our work on behaviour and discipline, including preparing our pupils for the outside world.
If I could start a school from scratch, ‘no excuses’ would be one of my school’s founding principles. It’s something a number of schools I admire use as a mantra that works. It’s often set alongside hard work, or no shortcuts.
I think we’re getting closer to no excuses at my school. We still have some poorer behaviour, but we don’t make excuses for it. Here’s an email exchange (with names and details changed and explanatory brackets included) from a few weeks ago that I was copied into, and I was heartened by the message that colleagues are giving each other. I’ve obviously asked for permission to reproduce these edited versions.
From:T (English teacher)
To:J (Learning Mentor); G (Student Progress Leader);
Cc: P (tutor); N (head of department); Stuart LOCK
Subject: Max Smith
Max arrived five minutes towards the end of my lesson today. He was absent on Friday so this was the first time I was able to speak with him regarding his behaviour last Thursday, period 5 for which he was sent to seclusion. When I had challenged him on home learning he became defensive and took offense to my implication that he was lying.
His body language became quite erratic and then he shouted at me before storming out of the room. This is not the first time this has happened with Max. I understand there are some serious issues at home and, upon speaking with J (Learning Mentor), that he has not been attending his mentoring meetings.
Today, I told him that we would need to address the issue of his behaviour and I was met with a response of ‘I don’t care. Do what you want.’
Can I please request a meeting (for example restorative justice?) be arranged with Max and another member of staff. The sooner the better please, if possible. I teach him period 4 tomorrow.
T (English teacher)
Some quite serious behaviour. In my old school (ie this school, three years ago), we’d have gone ahead with a restorative justice meeting – a meeting where both the teacher and pupil talk about how they felt and what they need from each other. It would have been one of hundreds of similar incidents and meetings.
In my view, this used to undermine the authority of the teacher.
In this case, this kind of behaviour is now rare because of our systems. And the following email came back:
From: G (Student Progress Leader)
To: T (English teacher); J (Learning mentor);
Cc: P (tutor); N (Head of Department); Stuart LOCK; P (attendance team)
Subject: RE: Max Smith
I will be speaking with Max this afternoon.
I will not be organising a restorative justice meeting as from my understanding nothing needs to be resolved between you and Max. He simply needs to do his job and if he fails or refuses to do that then he suffers the consequences.
I will seclude him for the next lesson and we will have a re-entry meeting with him before he is allowed back in your class. The re-entry meeting will be used to reinforce your expectations.
Max’s issues are the same as a number of our pupils and are actually excuses and excuses don’t get results.
G (Student Progress Leader)
I should point out a re-entry meeting means parents are involved and have to come to the school.
Of course Max will be discussed by colleagues and we will support him to achieve good GCSEs. He’s had very serious sanctions that have stopped short of exclusion, but he’s been isolated in our seclusion unit. He’s actually very happy here because of the structure. Not allowing him to use anything outside of school as an excuse for not meeting our expectations means he can focus more on being here and shaking that off. That doesn’t mean outside circumstances don’t affect him – of course they do. But Max doesn’t have expectations that are differentiated downwards for him, either in terms of his conduct, or learning. He does have scaffolding – centred around the meeting above and provided in his lessons, to meet our expectations.
It occurred to me when reading these emails that we are now really clear on authority and expectations of behaviour.
From: T (English teacher)
To: G (SPL); J (Learning Mentor)
Cc: P (tutor); N (HOD); Stuart LOCK; P (attendance team)
Subject: RE: Max Smith
Thank you for your support G. I’ll keep you all posted.
NB: Pupils who are excluded for more than 5 days have to have education provided somewhere – so called ‘day 6’ provision. We provide day 6 provision for the authority. We also provide satellite PRU provision when the PRU is full.