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1 School discipline and pupil behaviour Check against delivery Behaviour is getting better. That’s not ministerial rhetoric, but Ofsted’s judgement. Their most recent annual report showed that pupil behaviour is satisfactory or better in almost all schools inspected, and outstanding in more than a quarter. 85 per cent of the schools judged as inadequate over the past two years have turned themselves around and are now at least satisfactory, thanks to targeted interventions and robust support from the national strategies. Behaviour is also becoming less of a worry for head teachers. In the most recent Headspace survey, fewer than one in ten cited behaviour in their top three concerns. Handling poor behaviour is difficult, but schools are getting better and better at doing that. But this concrete evidence of improvement is not yet recognised by the public and the media. Headlines are grabbed by a tiny minority exhibiting extreme behaviour. This type of behaviour is perceived as the norm in our schools and received with a mixture of fear and resignation. Tackling this problem effectively means preventing low-level misconduct from escalating to the point at which it becomes a real problem. Ensuring teachers have the power to manage this behaviour, pupils know how to change their own behaviour and the whole community is involved in the effort. And we need to ensure that our success in achieving good behaviour in schools is recognised. This is not to blow our own trumpets for the sake of it, but to ensure that parents and the public have confidence that our schools are safe, secure and supportive places. A safe environment and a positive ethos forms the backbone of any school – it is a precondition for learning and achievement. Conversely, students in poor schools are held back by poor behaviour – the actions of the minority restricting the rest. More often than not, the behaviour which blights schools isn’t the type which attracts the media spotlight. Rather it is the persistent, nagging disruption which wears down the patience of teachers and prevents other pupils from progressing which is the real problem. 2 So we need to ensure that every school reaches the standard of the best. Because despite Ofsted’s very positive findings, it is very clear that there is still more to do. A third of schools only have satisfactory behaviour, and every single one of those schools should be aiming to improve. All schools need to develop the kind of constructive approaches to behaviour which have been tried, tested and endorsed by people who know what they are talking about – including Sir Alan Steer’s practitioner group. Systematic approaches which are fair and consistent. Based on rewards as well as punishment. Grounded in mutual respect. Developed and reinforced by the whole school community – not just pupils and teachers but parents too. Approaches which bring schools together in partnership, to learn from each other, to challenge each other, and to ensure that no child slips through the net. Approaches which bring in parents, ensuring that they live up to their responsibilities and support rather than undermine teachers. The Education and Inspections Act gives school staff clear, specific, and explicit powers to tackle problem behaviour where it arises. The new power to discipline guarantees staff the credibility they need to take appropriate action, reinforced by the knowledge that this government will completely support teachers who act decisively to make their classrooms safe and enjoyable places. For too long, a tiny minority of pupils and their parents have stuck two fingers up at teachers who are doing their best to create a positive and welcoming atmosphere. This new power puts an end to the culture of “you can’t tell me what to do” which a few arrogant pupils or abusive parents have sneered at teachers. Just as importantly, schools can now challenge bad behaviour that takes place outside the school gate. Of course, schools should not usurpe the role of parents. Any action has got to be reasonable and proportionate. But they should feel confident in getting involved in incidents which resonate back in school, have an impact on other pupils or damage the school’s reputation. This might include anything from causing a fight at the school bus stop, acting up on work placements, or engaging in the modern menace of cyberbullying. Guidance which will help schools use these new powers to greatest effect, helping to clarify some grey areas, is currently being finalised. But government guidance can only go so far – especially in those schools 3 where real cultural change is needed. In giving schools greater powers and clarity to tackle poor behaviour, schools themselves need to rethink their approach to behaviour – ensuring their policy and practice is relevant, up-to-date, firm and inclusive. Last term, I spent some time shadowing Paul Grant, the Head of Robert Clack School in Dagenham. Ten years ago, Robert Clack had one of the poorest reputations in London for bullying and disruption. It was in the bottom fifty of all schools in England. One in five students left school without any qualifications. Today, 68 per cent of pupils achieve five good GCSE passes – far outstripping the national average. This has been achieved by creating a culture of inclusion and respect. Of discipline and co-operation. Of praise and reward. There is a pupil isolation unit but also a social inclusion manager. Much is re-enforced through sport and the arts. Success is celebrated and so breeds more success. Disruption, bullying and the use of bad behaviour as an excuse for underachievement are out. The experiences of schools like Robert Clack show what can happen when leaders take the initiative in building a new consensus in tackling bad behaviour in all its forms. But it’s equally important to remember that the changes at Robert Clack have been achieved by understanding and involving their local community. Changing behaviour depends on consistency at home and support for the school from parents. The vast majority of parents are nothing but supportive of teachers – just as the vast majority of pupils simply want to get on and learn. And of course, actively involving parents is central to driving up attainment levels – we all know that parents have a greater impact on standards than anything else. So when we think about the importance of partnership working to improve behaviour, it’s essential that parents are involved. Likewise, we must ensure that pupils take responsibility for their own behaviour. Excuses like “it wasn’t me” or “I didn’t mean it” are contrary to the culture of mutual respect which schools must develop. The SEAL programme that develops children’s social and emotional skills is based on the very best international theory and practice which helps children develop empathy and social skills along with problem solving and conflict 4 management strategies. Hollickwood Primary School in Barnet has seen profound changes in children’s behaviour through adopting the SEAL programme. Incidents of violence dropped by a third, bullying decreased and fighting in the playground has been virtually eliminated. Around half of primary schools are starting to implement the SEAL programme and reporting calmer environments, less conflicts and improved relationships. The Secondary SEAL programme will be launched in September to help continue the vital work of building social and emotional skills. So far, I’ve talked about the broadest kind of partnership, involving parents and pupils, but I also want to reflect on the ways that schools can work together to drive change across the community. The kind of fundamental transformation needed to deliver the radical ambitions of Every Child Matters or the 14 to 19 reforms can only be achieved through more coherent, systematic partnership working. Behaviour is no different. Already, nearly four in ten secondary schools are part of a partnership to improve behaviour and tackle persistent absence. W e expect that by September, all secondary schools will be following their lead. Many of these partnerships are in their infancy, but those that are now well- established show excellent results. Permanent exclusions in Coventry fell from 76 in 2002-3 to just six in 2004-5, the most recent year for which we have data. Permanent exclusions in North Lincolnshire fell from 36 to 0 over the same period. Even the new pathfinders show real improvements. The Chances Education Support Services partnership in Devon has seen its fixed period exclusions fall by almost 30% in just over a year. The experience of schools in Chesil in my own constituency is another fantastic example of the power of partnership. It’s not just having a great impact on behaviour, but is also helping broaden the curriculum and develop workforce skills across the whole community. This kind of collaboration is one solution to an issue which is an immediate concern for many local authorities and schools at the moment – the question of provision for excluded pupils. Exclusion shouldn’t be treated as a holiday by errant pupils. Schools shouldn’t just let out a sigh of relief, and think “out of sight, out of mind”. 5 Nor should local authorities look the other way and hope for the best. Exclusion is an extreme punishment and needs to be taken seriously. But it does not mean exclusion from education. It needs to be seen as the start of a process of bringing the pupil back into the school community, and re-engaging them in education – not the start of a downwards spiral into more trouble. That’s why we’ve made it compulsory for schools to offer reintegration interviews to parents – bringing everyone to the table to work out a solution, preventing the need for such a serious step again. And it’s also why we have redefined responsibilities for exclusions. From September, parents will have to ensure that their children are doing the work the school has sent, not wandering the streets. The school or the local authority must then offer suitable alternative provision, depending on whether it is a fixed period or permanent exclusion. I recognise that to start with, some schools may struggle to find suitable provision – particularly those in rural areas. But that can’t be an excuse to abandon young people to wander the streets, often getting into more trouble than they were in before. Through the behaviour partnerships, schools can work together to meet the challenges of meeting the varied needs of different pupils effectively – finding the right accommodation, teaching and curriculum for each pupil. I want to finish by talking about bullying - an issue which is really important to me because of the devastating impact it has on families. Professor Peter Smith, Head of the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths University told the Education and Select Committee that we can be fairly proud of our record on addressing school bullying, saying that we were among the countries doing the most internationally. We aren’t afraid to stand up to the problem and are determined to stamp out bullying in all its forms. The widespread and vocal public revulsion at the bullying on Celebrity Big Brother is good measure of just how unacceptable bullying has become. But no school can be complacent on this issue. Too many parents still express dissatisfaction with the way that complaints are handled, while others fear that incidents simply won’t be dealt with. Bullying is a slippery issue, constantly shifting shape and presenting new challenges. We have to be aware of these new manifestations, constantly keeping one step ahead so that we can extinguish emerging problems before they become entrenched. 6 I referred earlier to the new problems presented by cyberbullying. Some reports suggest that as many as one in five young people may have been bullied by mobile phone or on the internet. Perhaps the most devastating aspect of this phenomenon is that there is no respite – children can be pursued into their homes 24/7 through text messages and emails. The taskforce we’ve set up to tackle the issue of cyberbullying draws together educational experts alongside industry to see how we can best help the families affected and prevent the problems spreading. Using their work, Childnet are developing a toolkit for schools to help them address this problem. Just because the problem may happen off-site, it doesn’t mean that schools can wash their hands of it – we need them to be proactive in cracking down on this kind of behaviour. It is no less painful for being virtual. Another area where schools say they need more practical help is in tackling prejudice driven bullying – like racism or homophobia. Schools are aware of the problem but few have policies to address this directly. But these are not problems which can be swept under the carpet – the worst thing that can happen is that even more young people feel they have nowhere to turn. So our guidance will help schools better understand how to address the often complex and sensitive issues, ensure every pupil is safe, and deal appropriately with any incidents that occur. In conclusion, the attitudes, values and beliefs that children learn at school can be a powerful force for change – helping to create the respectful, tolerant and progressive society that we all want to see. Everyone in schools – whether teacher, pupil or parent – needs to live up to their responsibilities in ensure that each school is a microcosm of that society. Only then can schools truly describe themselves as communities. Where the ideals of Every Child Matters are shared throughout the school and where every member of that community feels a sense of pride and belonging. Thank you very much.
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