Swanwick Hall Secondary is a large mainstream comprehensive situated in Alfreton, Derbyshire, with more than 1,275 students currently enrolled.
Its 2013 Ofsted report found good levels of attainment, with inspectors agreeing that, as a result of effective measures taken by school leaders, exclusions have reduced significantly over time to well below the national average, and difficult behaviour is extremely well managed.
The staff at Swanwick Hall work to implement a whole-school approach to promoting positive behaviour, which has led to a reduction in low-level disruption. They also work to ensure that appropriate additional provision is in place where necessary, along with a personalised approach for those students that need it. This, in turn, has helped students with more challenging behaviour to overcome their difficulties, stay in school, learn and achieve.
Headteacher Jonathan Fawcett explained: “Our view is that we need to have a provision that meets the needs of every child that comes to our school. So if we have a child with severely bad behaviour, that is actually a sign that they are more vulnerable, and may therefore have additional needs.
“At that point, we can do two things. We can say ‘that child is being disruptive, we’ll permanently exclude them’ so we don’t have to worry about them anymore – which would have massive implications for that child, their life chances, the cost to society and their family. Or, we could say, ‘okay, what works with most children isn’t working for that child: let’s find out more about this child and what is causing their behaviour, and let’s give a provision which helps support and overcome that behaviour’.
“Then we can get them back into learning – either part-time or full-time depending on their individual needs, but the overall aim is for them to become successful, well-rounded individuals.”
Swanwick Hall has not excluded a child in almost four years, not because they haven’t sometimes had candidates for exclusions, but because no matter what challenges arise with a student, they try to put the appropriate provision in place to ensure that the child, their family and the staff will be adequately supported to bring around positive change.
The inclusion unit
The whole-school behaviour system is centred on the early identification of disruption. Catching behaviour issues early enables the school to tackle the underlying issues and prevent them from escalating.
Sue Staten, assistant headteacher for inclusion, explained: “All students, all parents and all staff are aware of the system, whereby if a student exhibits any type of behaviour, however low level, then the teacher offers a formal warning.”
Two formal warnings are then classed as a referral, and if a student receives three or more referrals in a term, they are automatically sent to the inclusion unit. If a child is admitted to the inclusion unit, they will have some time in a punitive environment and some developmental work later on.
“We do the developmental work in order to make students aware of their behaviour, and the impact it is having – not only on their education – but on the class and teacher,” explained Trish Price, the inclusion unit manager.
“We are trying to get them to understand how important their education is, but also trying to find strategies for these students to get them back into mainstream lessons and to be able to cope. The inclusion unit is very important in that process, because while they’re with us we are able to monitor their behaviour, and pick up on any other additional educational needs.”
When a student exits the inclusion unit, a meeting is held prior to their re-entry into the mainstream classroom, with the child’s parent and key staff, to help build strategies to support that child’s entry back into the classroom.
Ms Price continued: “That system tends to work for most of our students, but for those who re-enter the inclusion unit on numerous occasions, we have to look at something different. That’s when we move to our additional support systems and make referrals to either our student support centre, or to our ‘loft’. At this point we involve multi-agency workers and look at tailored systems of support to suit individual children.”
Additional support systems
The school’s support centre and “loft” facilities are spaces designed specifically for students with statements. However, children who may have had numerous referrals to these inclusion units, then become part of the behaviour group within the support centre.
Staff work hard to keep children integrated in mainstream classes but with the full understanding that sometimes children need to have a more tailored approach to their support.
Jacqui Maxted, inclusion manager, explained: “We have some students for whom we might need to do some short-term intervention, with targeting aggression or self-esteem for example, and these students tend to be in the mainstream most of the time. We do also work with students who, despite all the interventions, may have come from very difficult backgrounds and aren’t able to regulate their own behaviour. These students have to be educated within the student support centre with a more personalised package of care.”
It is recognised that children’s frustration and anxiety can manifest itself in anger, which is often then reflected in disruptive behaviour.
Jack, a year 9 student who was struggling to integrate when he first started at the school, describes his experience: “When I first came to school, I was different. I just didn’t get on with people, and I just got more and more angry. I got stressed, and didn’t want to go to lessons. I’d get in trouble, I kept shouting out, couldn’t follow instructions and kept back-chatting. I got sent out of lessons a lot.”
Ms Maxted continued: “Our ethos is to support those children who are disruptive. We give them strategies to help keep them in mainstream lessons. This way they don’t feel the anxiety which they used to day-to-day.”
Jack has now made huge progress in his classroom achievements, and with support from all staff is able to work as part of the class to achieve his targets.
Luke’s story: personalised provision
One particular student, named Luke, has undergone a complete transformation, seeing huge changes both inside and outside the classroom.
Ms Staten explained: “We looked at Luke’s provision and modified it to reduce the amount of classroom support he had. That way we were able to take the stress out of the school day for him.”
Luke’s curriculum was reduced but he was placed on tailored one-to-one reading and maths schemes. He was also placed on an equine course because of where his interests lie. When the school’s provision for Luke was reviewed, the staff saw that agriculture held appeal for him, so they increased his outside provision to include an agricultural course. Now Luke is working on a farm for one day a week.
He said: “I always wanted to work on a farm. To do that, I know I need to be able to read, and work out the prices of things. So I just thought that I needed to really start learning and stop messing about, because I’ve only got a year left before I finish school. I know now that I’ve got to start taking it seriously. I’m reading more – maths I still don’t really understand, but I’m trying to learn. I’m told that I’m on track to meet my targets.”
The ultimate impact of effective SEN support for the student is that the barriers to learning are removed – barriers such as self-esteem issues, disaffection or other emotional needs are addressed, in turn making the child happier, more resilient, and open to learning.
Michelle, Luke’s mother, has been astonished at the difference: “We’ve highlighted the things that Luke’s good at, which has really built up his confidence. We’ve also been looking at improving his English and maths. Only the other day, Luke chose to pause the subtitles at the bottom of our TV, and started to read them! That was absolutely fantastic. For me, that was better than winning the lottery. Just to think that three or four years ago Luke wouldn’t even want to come to school, whereas now he actually wants to learn.” Further informationNasen is a professional association for special and additional educational needs and disabilities. Its Outstanding Schools project seeks to identify, recognise and share the very best SEN practice. Visit www.nasen.org.uk