Having worked at Bower Park Academy in Havering for several years, in September 2012 I joined the senior leadership team and was given responsibility for “climate for learning”.
Our students are from diverse backgrounds, and we have above average numbers with English as an additional language students. We are also above average when it comes to free school meals students, and for the number of students who have SEN. Some of our students have had very difficult times at home and this expressed itself in their behaviour.
In the past two Ofsted inspections, Bower Park has been judged only satisfactory in the behaviour strand, with inspectors pointing out that behaviour was disrupting lessons and that students were overly boisterous outside of class.
Even when a teacher did have good behaviour management, the moment students got into the corridor, behaviour would deteriorate and they would arrive at their next lesson in the boisterous mood that Ofsted identified in the most recent 2011 report.
This was made more complicated in terms of management because the school had moved away from an out-dated version of our management information software to record behaviour and the intranet system had been replaced with emails to and from staff regarding behaviour.
This meant we had no centralised records about behaviour aside from the very serious interventions such as exclusions, and that low-level disruption was slipping through the net.
Quite a few teachers didn’t even feel we had a behaviour problem, arguing that we needed to improve teaching and learning instead. However, a staff survey showed many of my non-teaching colleagues believed something needed to change.
As a new member of senior leadership team, I took responsibility for improving behaviour and creating an appropriate climate for learning in lessons and across the school.
The school needed a new and very clear set of standards around behaviour in class, where students knew what was expected of them and what the sanctions for bad behaviour were, and out of class, where the whole school environment would support a good approach to learning. This would be backed up by clear expectations of how staff would use sanctions, a new robust system for recording behaviour, and revising how good behaviour would be rewarded.
My objective was for our climate for learning to be judged good overall by our internal teaching and learning team, and for it to be good in 90 per cent of lesson observations. I also wanted to reduce the number of behaviour incidents recorded by half between September and the end of the year.
I knew we needed a few quick-wins to make a clear change, so I researched our options and got some advice from other senior leaders in the Future Leaders network, a leadership development programme I had recently joined.
Adapting another behaviour policy, I decided to use “NUHOPE” – No answering back, Uniform, Homework, On-task, Punctuality and Equipment.
Teaching staff were expected to apply these standards consistently, responding to each aspect of bad behaviour with a half-hour detention after-school with the class teacher. Failing to turn up for this or receiving two detentions in one day would result in an hour-long detention with a member of the leadership team the following day.
We also changed our “on-call” policy for incidents when a student’s extremely disruptive behaviour resulted in a member of leadership team being called. This used to result in a 30-minute detention, but this was the same sanction for not doing homework. Now an “on-call” results in an hour-long detention and a phone call home, which clearly signals that we do not accept such behaviour while also opening up channels of communication with parents. To make sure all of this could be integrated and tracked I worked with another senior leader to develop new behaviour recording sections on our management information system.
At the start, NUHOPE was introduced for years 7 to 9, and I introduced staff to the new policy at an INSET day. This was supplemented with evidence about the links between behaviour and student attainment. I was aware that we needed consistency across lessons for this to work, and so we made it really clear that we expected all colleagues to apply these standards.
The system began well with teachers applying NUHOPE across the board and I was surprised by how many accepted the 30-minute detention policy with enthusiasm, despite it making extra demands on their time.
However, some students began testing the system by breaking multiple rules in a single lesson. Some teachers became loathe to give out multiple sanctions because of the need to log the data or put students on report and some were letting students leave detentions early. This led to some difficult conversations where I stressed why consistency was vital and how it related to improving the school as a place of learning – and how disruption in one lesson easily spreads to the next.
Of course, it wasn’t just the behaviour in lessons that needed addressing, but in corridors and the canteen too. In January 2013, I introduced a “one-way” policy to reduce the chaos that would often reign inbetween lessons.
During the first month I had members of the leadership team and non-teaching staff monitoring the stairwells and teachers stood outside their classrooms. All students had to follow the right path around the school. To make it fun we also played music from One Direction (get it?!) and the theme of Mission: Impossible. While this means they are still quite lively, it has a very different atmosphere – everyone has bought into it and now I find students chorusing “wrong way!” whenever someone takes a wrong turn!
The canteen was the final target and this work started after the February half-term. Students used to stand around eating, some would push in front of others, the catering team was often treated disrespectfully, and the room would always be covered in litter by the end of lunch.
We started by creating a better menu and giving the place a makeover. Then came a clear queueing system and we required students to sit at tables. On the first day back after the half-term, all of the leadership team had their lunch in the canteen and we now always have a few members on duty, making it clear that these standards are compulsory.
The new lunch rules mean that the return to lessons is calmer and it has set out the school’s expectations of behaviour in a different but complementary way to NUHOPE.
Colleagues were largely receptive to all these changes, though the new data-gathering system allowed us to identify which teachers were probably not sticking to NUHOPE’s sanctions. Interestingly, in a number of examples, teachers who weren’t using sanctions were also showing low attainment in their classes. Again, there were some difficult conversations to be had in these instances.
By June, the number of lessons where the climate for learning was judged to be good had risen since the autumn term from 71 to 83 per cent of those observed. The number of NUHOPE incidents fell from 2,690 in the first autumn half-term to 1,334 in the first summer half-term.
There were 626 students taken out of lessons by an “on-call” from January to July 2012, but this fell to 359 in the same period of 2013. A survey of staff also showed that 75 per cent thought that the climate for learning had improved.
It was great to see this progress (and advances in other areas such as our mobile phone policy). However, one aspect that has yet to be resolved is that of reward and praise. Sanctions are important but it was very important that as a school we are able to praise and recognise hard work. We are currently using Vivo points, which are useful but not a solution in themselves and I look forward to seeing how we develop this next.
In reflection, I have been consistently encouraged by how our students have accepted and risen to the expectations that we have placed on them. It has helped create a change in the school culture. The work is not over – we are extending NUHOPE to years 10 and 11 this year – but I am proud to see how far we have come already.SecEd
Future LeadersThe Future Leaders programme is a leadership development programme for aspiring headteachers of challenging schools. It offers a residency year in a challenging school, leadership development, personalised coaching and peer-support. To apply or nominate a colleague, visit www.future-leaders.org.uk
Jay Halai is deputy headteacher at Bower Park Academy in Havering.