Proposal to boost pupil behaviour

A Hampshire school's inclusion unit may provide a blueprint for addressing behavioural problems of pupils.

The government's school behaviour tsar Tom Bennett has called for the creation of more "internal inclusion units" to offer targeted early support for children with behavioural problems.

The idea is proposed in Bennett's report, Creating a Culture: How School Leaders Can Optimise Behaviour, published by the Department for Education. Bennett says the primary aim of the units should be to aid reintegration of students back into the mainstream school community.

He calls for funding to be focused on schools with higher than average levels of challenging behaviour, and those that have demonstrated reasonable efforts to create similar provision using existing budgets.

The report cites surveys that show perceptions of pupil behaviour have improved over the past five years, with three-quarters of teachers in a 2015 Teachers Voice Omnibus rating classroom behaviour as "good" or "very good".

Despite this, Bennett says too many children are still having their education affected by disruptive pupils and that schools can do more to tackle the problem earlier.

He writes: "The mainstream classroom is not always the best space for all problems to be addressed and needs to be met. It can be necessary and in the student's best interests to be somewhere their needs and behaviour can be better provided for. This may be for aggressive or rude behaviour, a learning difficulty or for remedial work for literacy and numeracy. Removing a student from a mainstream classroom should never be seen as a failure but a positive solution."

The Educational Excellence Everywhere white paper outlines the government's intention to make schools accountable for students who have been permanently excluded. The move, says Bennett, will encourage schools to be more proactive in tackling problem behaviour. He adds that the best schools have "mature, well-planned internal inclusion units where children could be supported back towards education".

The Romsey School in Hampshire has run its inclusion unit since 2003. The school is rated "good" overall by Ofsted, and "outstanding" for the behaviour and safety of pupils. The unit has two full-time members of staff and is overseen by an inclusion manager. Since head teacher Colm McKavanagh was appointed in 2013, there have been no permanent exclusions (see below).

Only a member of the senior leadership team is able to refer a child to the inclusion unit, which can accommodate 25 pupils. Under the school's "stepped approach" to behaviour management, a pupils' issues are identified and the level of intervention determined. An individual learning plan shaped around meeting their specific needs is then drawn up, with support being offered. If necessary, outside agencies are contacted and external support brought in.

If integration back into mainstream classes is not possible, other options could include introducing a part-time timetable, arranging external work placements, one-to-one tuition or counselling sessions.

Pupils taught in the unit take part in weekly activities, such as visits to an indoor rock climbing centre.

"The staff strive to make pupils realise that it is not a ‘sin bin' but a sanctuary for pupils who are struggling to cope in a mainstream environment," the school's website says. The unit is also used as a "safe haven" for pupils who find certain aspects of school life difficult.

Pupils in the unit are set work by subject teachers and are expected to complete the syllabus for these subjects. Where a pupil has dropped a subject to help them concentrate on core subjects, extra literacy and numeracy lessons are set.

While the unit's aim is to support and coax pupils to re-integrate, it may not always be possible. In such cases, pupils are supported by inclusion staff until they leave school.

Inside view: Hampshire school's inclusion unit prevents permanent exclusions

By Colm McKavanagh, head teacher, The Romsey School, Hampshire

"We have had an inclusion unit for some time and the reasons for this are clear. Its role has diversified, but essentially it is an early intervention strategy that minimises the risk of pupils ending up permanently excluded. I took up my post in September 2013 and we have not had a single permanent exclusion in that time.

We have also had almost 100 per cent attendance at all public examinations among our Year 11 pupils because of the specific targeted interventions that the staff in the unit carry out. This could be as simple as picking them up from home in the morning to providing a space for vulnerable pupils not only to take their exams but to prepare and be supported through the process.

In 2016, we won an award for the progress our Pupil Premium pupils made overall. It isn't just about reducing exclusions, but about making sure the pupils who leave have increased life chances and have somewhere to go on to either in employment-based training, sixth form college or apprenticeships.

We do still exclude pupils, but these are fixed-term exclusions and our record of preventing a repeat exclusion for the same misdemeanour by a particular student is very strong because of the restorative work we do, often by the inclusion unit team."

Further reading?

Creating a Culture: How School Leaders Can Optimise Behaviour, Tom Bennett, Department for Education, March 2017

Behaviour and Discipline in Schools, guidance for headteachers and school staff; guidance for governing bodies, DfE, July 2013

Promoting Strategic Alternatives to Exclusion from School, Professor Carl Parsons, Canterbury Christ Church University, 2009

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