I’m going to start with a question: if we design a behaviour management system to ensure learners can learn and teachers can teach, and that students are supported to do the right thing and be the best that they can be, why would it be acceptable for any child to sit outside of that system? Don’t we want these same things for our SEN-D and vulnerable students? Equally, don’t our perceived nonvulnerable students also deserve our guidance, tolerance and flexibility?
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine. To purchase a printed copy, click here.
There should be no one above the system and no one beneath it; it has to work for everyone. And so we are back to this idea of ‘true inclusion’; a school fit for purpose for all of its students. There is no ‘children/SEN-D children’ dichotomy; there are just children. None of them arrive in our classrooms as a tabula rasa and all of them have individual needs of some kind; some more challenging or longer term than others. Any systems that are intrinsically exclusionary, i.e. designed in a way that means some children sit outside of it, foster a community based on internal segregation and an ‘us and them’ mentality. It implies that there are lower expectations for some students’ behaviour. It creates grey areas in which children are more likely to get things wrong and some students may feel a sense of injustice if rules apply to some and not others. It isn’t fair, and it certainly isn’t equality. In short, a fair behaviour management system treats every student the same whilst, at the same time, acknowledging that every student is an individual. Every student.
So, I have been prompted to consider how the behaviour management system in operation in my own school corresponds with my ethos on inclusion – true inclusion – and the equality revolution. Ofsted described behaviour at my school as ‘exemplary’ and highlighted our values driven approach, rigorously upheld systems and culture of mutual respect, as the reasons behind this. Nevertheless, I often find myself explaining and justifying our behaviour management system as it is perceived to be excessively strict – the phrase ‘military boot camp’ has been used more than once – and particularly unfair on our lowest ability and most vulnerable students; but this simply isn’t true. Allow me to explain:
- It isn’t revolutionary. We expect students to be in school and on time every day, dressed appropriately and with the right equipment, meet deadlines, work hard (on task behaviour) and be polite and respectful (including zero tolerance on answering back). That’s it!
- It is routine based. The school day is highly structured and runs like clockwork, and this supports students – all of them – to meet our high expectations. The structures and routines have safety nets built in; there are lots of opportunities for students to be proactive and autonomous in resolving any issues that arise.
- It is values driven. Our core values (hard work, trust and fairness) and academy drivers (mastery, autonomy and purpose) underpin every policy implemented, lesson taught and decision made. These six elements are part of the common vocabulary of the academy – staff and students – and give meaning to our high expectations for both behaviour and learning.
- We do what we say we are going to do. The line has been drawn and we stick to it. If you start bending the rules or making exceptions it creates a grey area in which students aren’t sure whether something is acceptable or not, teacher authority is undermined, and both staff and students may experience a sense of injustice if they’re working hard at something and others are ‘getting away with’ not bothering!
- Restorative practice is an expectation. If a student fails to meet one of those basic expectations, and also fails to respond to the aforementioned ‘safety nets’ that are built into our routines and structures, they will be given a ‘correction’; a 30 minute, same day, after school detention. This isn’t a punishment but an opportunity for a student to reflect on the core values and academy drivers, and how they can move forward from the situation successfully. There is an expectation for the teacher that issued the correction to be a part of that process by ensuring that the student was given opportunity to avoid the correction, that they fully understand why the correction was issued, by discussing ways forward and by repairing their relationship with the student so that future lessons are not affected. This conversation could take place at the end of the lesson, during the correction itself or at break or lunch time…
So I get to keep my job.
Nicole Dempsey is the Individual Needs Co-ordinator at Dixons Trinity Academy, a secondary free school in Bradford. She blogs about inclusion and equality in education at inco14.wordpress.com and can be found on Twitter as @NDempseyDTA.