Case study: Introducing a restorative behaviour system

Written by: Katherine Cocker-Goring | Published:
Students at Engineering UTC Northern Lincolnshire, where behaviour management is now based on self-regulation and the concept of unconditional positive regard

Co-regulation is an important step in teaching self-regulation, yet most punitive behaviour systems miss this vital developmental stage. Katherine Cocker-Goring discusses how she helped move her school from a punitive behaviour management system to one based on restorative practices and self-regulation

The unique selling point of Engineering UTC Northern Lincolnshire is that in addition to the usual expectations of a school (quality teaching, excellent progress and strong pastoral care), student destinations and employability skills are at the heart of school improvement and at the root of school culture.

When I first joined the UTC, the behaviour system used an escalating sanction system, which was used by many other schools in the local area. Incidents of exclusion and internal exclusion (isolation) were disproportionate considering the number of students, and staff were overwhelmingly dependent on “the system”.

Marc Doyle, the CEO and principal of the UTC, joined shortly before me in September 2017 and immediately went about changing the culture surrounding the management of behaviour.

Recognising the impact of the heavily punitive system on students’ relationship with teachers, he recommended that all teaching and support staff read Paul Dix’s, When the Adult Changes, Everything Changes (2017). The book outlines Dix’s behaviour philosophy, which is based on the importance of unconditional positive relationships with all students.
At this stage, we made small changes to the behaviour system, such as:

  • Increasing the profile of reward.
  • Removing public written student warnings.
  • Introducing school-wide “handshakes on the door”.
  • Introducing the expectation that “no-one shouts in anger”.

By the time we received our first Ofsted visit in February 2018, behaviour was judged to be good, with Ofsted commenting that “the vast majority of pupils display mature behaviours and independence”, and then commending the “very strong” relationships between teachers and pupils which “enhance learning opportunities”. By the end of 2017/18, exclusions had also reduced by a staggering 49 per cent.

At this point, although our efforts to transform culture had been vindicated, there were still elements of the system we felt uncomfortable with as leaders: use of extended periods in isolation, escalating sanctions, and set consequences (with no room to consider individual circumstances).

Additionally, as a UTC, we knew that we needed to offer something different to the usual school experience. We knew that we needed a system for professional standards that would enable our students to become independent, self-reliant, self-regulating young people, ready for the world of work.

It was at this point, in June 2018, that I was tasked with the job of transforming the behaviour system, with the eventual aim being to completely abolish the use of isolation, and to achieve genuine student self-regulation of behaviour.

Co-regulation and restorative approaches

My first step was to meet with Dave Whittaker from Springwell Education Trust, who shared with me their restorative approach to behaviour, including restorative conversation, natural consequence, and the concept of unconditional positive regard (Carl Rogers, 1951).

The philosophy behind their behaviour system aligned with our own and we felt it had much to offer to our thinking. Dave and I first discussed the concept of self-regulation and the idea that most behaviour systems presume that students are already proficient in self-regulation.

Co-regulation is an important step in teaching self-regulation, yet most punitive behaviour systems miss this vital developmental stage. Without co-regulatory practice, behaviour systems may teach a student how to conform, but they will not teach a child how to behave.

Next, we considered the impact of punitive behaviour systems on students with attachment difficulties and past trauma. Where students have an over-developed fight or flight instinct, punitive systems cause the child to either fight against the system or to passively resist the system (e.g. through persistent absenteeism or truancy).

Additionally, we explored the concept of natural consequences versus generic detentions. Where detentions might be effective deterrents for students with low-level behavioural needs, they were ineffective with higher-need students, often becoming something that was factored into the student’s day, with no sense of how the punishment reflected the initial misdemeanour.

Natural consequences on the other hand gave students the opportunity to make amends for their behaviour in a fair, relevant and proportionate way. Overwhelmingly, my key takeaway was the importance of relationships in emotionally intelligent behaviour management.

A new behaviour approach

Next, I established a behaviour working party and shared my first draft of a revised behaviour policy. It was really important at this stage that teachers and support staff bought into these ideas and understood the logic behind the structure.

The first change to the system was to introduce a common-sense approach to the removal of students using a private verbal warning (including behavioural intervention), followed by private notification of removal, should this be required.

It was made clear to staff that removals would only be used as a last resort and that these were not to punish the student, but to enable the remainder of the class to learn.

An “on-call” system, whereby students would go to the Learning Resources Centre following a removal, was the next stage. The most important component of this stage was that the student met with a member of the Professional Standards and Inclusion Team for a restorative conversation regarding the incident.

This provided opportunity for the student to reflect on their behaviour and to take ownership of their mistakes. The expectation was that the teachers would hold their own restorative conversation with the student before his/her next lesson, ensuring further de-escalation of the conflict.

Where a student was withdrawn from two or more lessons in one day, the student would be placed into isolation for the remainder of the day to avoid further escalation of behaviour (the key change here was that students were removed, not as punishment, but as an intervention opportunity – as soon as the child was ready to reintegrate, the child returned to lessons).

We continued to use isolation as this stage for incidents which fell short of fixed-term exclusion, but which still required the student to be withdrawn temporarily from circulation. However, in contrast to the old system, where students would “serve” a set “sentence” in isolation, the student would be placed into isolation until the situation was resolved and necessary restorative work had been completed.

The final element of the new policy was the introduction of behavioural IEPs (individual education plans) for students where behaviour was presenting as a significant barrier to learning (including reasonable adjustments and parental meetings).

These were transformational for students who, in the old system, would have spent day after day in isolation, as we were able to identify the root causes of behaviour issues and resolve them.

Implementation

On implementation of the new policy, our first challenge was in aligning members of staff with the new system to ensure that there was parity between staff and with students feeling a sense of fairness in using the system.

Initially this was through CPD, but as the system developed, forensically tracking behavioural incidents was hugely beneficial, as I could identify spikes in removals and discuss these incidents with individual members of staff to improve practice.

Another challenge was in changing the mindset of teachers who had spent years working under the same punitive behaviour system – these staff felt disempowered at stages, quite the opposite of the policy’s intention, but as teachers re-established their personal behavioural toolkits and developed their own practice, confidence grew.

Finally, the new system was human resources heavy, and being such a small school, having just one member of staff out had the potential to completely derail the system, as without the restorative conversations following removal, the system did not work. Here, members of teaching and support staff volunteered to step in where there were gaps in staffing, such was the buy-in to what we trying to achieve.

After 16 weeks using the new behaviour system, we saw the following improvements:

  • Withdrawals dropped by 34 per cent.
  • Incidents of isolation dropped by 75 per cent.
  • There were only four instances a week on average of students being withdrawn from more than two lessons in one day (showing that the restorative conversation after first withdrawal was effective).
  • In the first half-term of the new system, withdrawal of SEND students was disproportionate, yet by half-term three, SEND withdrawals were proportionate.
  • Student voice on support received to make the right behavioural decision rose from an average of 5.6 to 7.1 (out of 10); student perceptions of their own behaviour rose from 6.6 to 7.4.
  • Teacher voice on commitment to the unconditional positive regard culture rose from 8.9 to 10 out of 10, with teacher perceptions of the effectiveness of the Professional Standards and Inclusion team in resolving issues and supporting staff rising from 7.8 to 9.2.


  • Katherine Cocker-Goring took up a new post of deputy headteacher at William Lovell CE Academy in Lincolnshire in January. This article is based on her work as vice principal of Engineering UTC Northern Lincolnshire in Scunthorpe in the summer and autumn terms of 2018.

Further information & resources

  • When the Adult Changes, Everything Changes, Paul Dix, Independent Thinking Press, June 2017.
  • Client-centered Therapy: Its current practice, implications and theory, Rogers, Houghton Mifflin, 1951.


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