Disciplined response to misbehaving pupils

We report on how secondary schools are tackling the problem of unruly students.

By Robyn Rosen, January 21, 2010
Different lines of approach: schools are now using more sophisticated disciplinary methods than this

Different lines of approach: schools are now using more sophisticated disciplinary methods than this

Instances of exclusions at King Solomon High School in Redbridge have dropped by almost 80 per cent in two years — and risen by over 50 per cent at JFS.

Figures obtained by the JC show a massive drop in fixed-term suspensions at King Solomon from 177 in the 2006/7 academic year to 38 in 2008/9. At JFS, the 80 “instances” in the last academic year contrast with 52 in 2006/7.

The marked improvement at King Solomon coincides with the tenure of headteacher Spencer Lewis and a major restructuring of behavioural policy, with the introduction of an internal exclusion room and a new support team.

“There was a problem with a vast amount of exclusions and I felt that devalued the system,” he explained. “When pupils are excluded, it should be a big deal. So we instigated a number of new measures.”

If pupils misbehave in class, they can be “isolated” in the school’s exclusion room. “We have a specific list of criteria, like rudeness to a member of staff or constant disruption in class — things we don’t feel as worthy of external exclusion,” Mr Lewis said. Only if internal exclusion did not have the desired effect were pupils suspended.

The head also highlighted the impact of the new social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties team (SEBD) — a collection of teachers, a school counsellor and special educational needs co-ordinator — who monitor and mentor pupils whose behaviour is causing concern. There is also a reward system with the prize of use of the school’s Nintendo Wii.

“We felt rather than just have draconian measures, the mentoring and understanding of emotional needs is also important,” Mr Lewis added.

When the JC investigated school discipline two years ago, the Room 17 system at JFS was reported to have significantly reduced exclusions.

Bad boy learns his Lesson at JFS

Seventeen-year-old JFS pupil David has cause to be grateful to the JFS disciplinary system.

David (not his real name) came to the school with what staff described as “a loud personality. This is by no means a bad thing. However, it did mean that I was in and out of trouble.” Having experienced most of the disciplinary measures used by the school, “I can truly say that they work. At the time, the punishment feels unfair and pointless. However the fact that you don’t want to repeat it, and the way in which you learn your lesson, really can straighten you out if you are willing.

“I feel that I have grown up due to JFS — and in possibly the hardest way, I have learnt to stay out of trouble because it’s just not worth it. I have by no means lost my personality, or my loudness. Instead I’ve learnt to control it during school in order to focus on my studies and I believe this is mainly due to the lessons that JFS and its behavioural system have taught me.”

The behaviour team at JFS was set up 10 years ago by Nick Calogirou, who recalled: “A parent had complained about the disruption caused to her child’s education by three students and there was no way they were being effectively dealt with.

“There was a department for lots of other things but not for behaviour, which is one of the most important aspects of a school.”

Room 17 is an integral part of the disciplinary process, being where pupils are sent during breaks and lunchtime as punishment.

“Pupils are not only punished but helped too as we monitor each pupil and discuss with them what their issues are. We have developed a holistic approach,” Mr Calogirou said.

He attributed the rise in exclusions to problems with year 11 pupils. In one case, a group of boys were suspended for an extended period for stealing from the school canteen.

Another group of students were caught taking drugs at a party outside of school time and were also suspended for an extended period.

But despite the school’s claim of a “zero-tolerance” stance, the six pupils given an extended external suspension during the two years were only excluded during study leave, when they would have been at home anyway.

“They had their exams coming up and we didn’t want to deny them a sixth-form place,” Mr Calogirou said. “We made a powerful point by putting the message across without damaging them.”

King David High School in Manchester has recorded low exclusion figures over the past five years. And at Hasmonean in north London, figures have fluctuated with 66 exclusions involving 59 boys in 2007/8 and 52 instances involving 49 pupils last year. The biggest offenders were year eight pupils with 22 boys excluded in 2007/8.

Executive head David Meyer said: “The exclusion figures are very low so any fluctuation becomes statistically significant.

“This fluctuation represents one or two students receiving slightly lengthier exclusions.

“Students in years eight and nine are generally more volatile and lack maturity and this may result in arguments becoming physical or verbally abusive.”

Like the other schools, Hasmonean is leaning towards a more pastoral approach to improve behaviour.

“The school does not see reducing exclusion figures as an end in its own right — we use all behaviour and
discipline strategies to ensure that there is an effective climate of learning within the school and that all students’ needs are met.

“However, in order to support challenging students, we work in conjunction with Barnet’s inclusion team to develop pastoral support plans.”

Last updated: 3:40pm, January 21 2010