Helping students to re-engage with their education

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Senior leader Emlyn Hall created and implemented an effective intervention system for pupils with behavioural issues, helping them to re-engage with school life. He explains how and why his approach worked.

I joined the Future Leaders programme, staying in my current school as part of the 2012 cohort, after a career spanning 13 years and five schools.

Behaviour management is one of my areas of interest and as part of the programme, with the support of my principal, I looked at how we could change our approach to help re-engage our most challenging pupils.

First, I thought about what we can do when children disengage from school and walk from incident to incident. There are a number of approaches that we can use and often not in isolation:

  • Firefighting: dealing with problems as and when they arise, hoping for students to make the right decision and a subsequent change in behaviour.

  • Withdrawal: removing the child from the situation(s) that is causing the point of most resistance and providing alternative provision.

  • Family: involving the family in close and regular discussion of all issues, helping to get everything out in the open and then providing regular feedback.

  • Tracking: using reports in-school to track behaviour and progress against agreed targets.

These techniques all have their place as part of a school’s behaviour management policy, but what if these are unsuccessful? Is it ever right to resign ourselves to poor behaviour from particular students, simply collecting evidence to aid an exit from the school – or should we reconsider and change our approach?

At my school – Shoreham Academy – I have introduced a new approach to students who are simply not engaging with school life. Whether it is simply an inability to self-manage their behaviour, or that relationships with staff have shifted entirely to the negative leaving pupils with no apparent way out of the situation, our Re-Engage programme is having a significant impact – and we hope that this will dramatically improve the ethos of the whole school in the process.

In my experience, the most effective initiatives in education are those that are the easiest to implement. When I put the programme together, I wanted it to be as simple as possible, so that other teachers could take it and use it in their own schools. 

Re-Engage has three core elements: coaching, positive activities, and open-tracking.

Before assigning students to the programme, we consult carefully with their pastoral teams, subject leads and notified students’ families. 

Students are then assigned a coach, and placed on an electronic report. Once a week, they meet with their coach for a positive session that addresses all areas of negative behaviour from the last week.

Students must score themselves out of 10 in three areas – the effort they have put into their lessons, their behaviour, and their interactions with staff and other students. At each step they are invited to comment upon what a point up and below would look like on all areas. The coach then does the same exercise and justifies the selections from the evidence collected over the week. 

Both sets of scores are recorded and the student “RAGs” the week (identifies reds, ambers and greens) and sets themselves some smart targets that have to be agreed. 

By asking students to mark themselves, they are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, and the one-on-one coaching sessions provide tailored support to help students handle their specific issues.

Re-Engage also seeks to address the negative relationship many students have with school. So, each Thursday after school, all students on the programme are provided with the opportunity to take part in a positive and fun activity at school.

Activities we have run include martial arts training, football, gym sessions, swimming, paddle-boarding and DJ-ing. Students are encouraged to invite friends to the activities to ensure they not only attend, but get the most out it. 

We have recently had a visit from Olympic diver Pete Waterfield, who spoke with the students at length about his school life and how he avoided going down “the wrong path” by channelling his energy into sport. This message has had a profound effect on all our Re-Engage students and although this session was delivered back in November 2012, pupils still refer to the day and just how much it has inspired them to make better decisions when they face challenging situations.

Finally, we share our comprehensive tracking system with all members of the group at the end of each half-term. Students are encouraged to discuss each other’s progress and offer each other advice as to how they have managed to make personal improvements. 

I believe that this strand of the Re-Engage programme is the most powerful. Students engage well with this process and the advice they offer each other often has a profound effect on their attitude and receptiveness to make personal change. 

Students do tend to listen to their peers, and the strategies they offer each other are often far more practical and useful than anything we could offer as coaches. 

Quite often pupils provide each other with very specific advice on how to manage behaviour and relationships with respect to specific teachers and situations they may encounter. 

Each coach also provides parents with a one-to-one consultation as to the main successes and barriers faced by their students, and where appropriate helps to build bridges with members of staff.

Within its trial year, Re-Engage has had a huge initial impact, with a number of pupils already exiting the programme due to their outstanding progress. 

Shoreham Academy is a south coast comprehensive school with a significant number of pupils from low socio-economic backgrounds, and if the Re-Engage programme can work here, I am certain that it can work in a large number of schools.

I am fortunate to work within such a forward-thinking and innovative school. The principal here encourages creativity and welcomes strategies that impact positively on the students, one of the reasons that we successfully achieved an outstanding Ofsted judgement in June of last year. I would thoroughly recommend that senior leaders who have students unwilling to engage to try out the Re-Engage programme.

  • Emlyn Hall is a senior leader at Shoreham Academy in West Sussex and is currently on the Future Leaders programme. 

Further information 
The Re-Engage programme was developed for Emlyn’s Impact Initiative project, a requirement of the Future Leaders programme. To discuss the project or to share experiences or best practice, email emlyn.hall@shoreham-academy.org
 
Future Leaders
The Future Leaders programme prepares talented teachers for headship in challenging schools. Visit www.future-leaders.org.uk or follow @FutureLeadersCT


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