Case study: Badly behaved or emotionally strained?

Written by: Christine Raymont-Hall | Published:
Positive behaviour: Students at Burton Borough School, which has implemented a more reflective and support system of behaviour management

An overhaul of the approach to behaviour at Burton Borough School to create a more reflective and supportive system is paying dividends. Christine Raymont-Hall explains

I have always wondered why so many schools use their most expensive human resource, their senior leadership team, to patrol corridors during lesson time with a walkie-talkie for hours on end, picking up students who have done something contravening the school’s behaviour policy.
“Get SLT!” I would hear staff cry, “they will sort it out!” Or: “If you don’t behave, I will get the deputy head to remove you!”

How have these situations escalated to such an extent that only a senior leader is able to resolve the issue? At the same time, how have staff become so wound up that the only thing they can do is to have a child removed from their class or, in some cases, for schools to exclude their students?

Inclusive education is something that I am passionate about and I believe that everyone in a school should be a part of it. For me, it is about every single child, no matter what their backgrounds, needs or abilities, being able to achieve their best.

In my first year as principal of Burton Borough School in September 2016, my vice-principal and I drilled into the behaviour data of the school and it was clear that those who were the most vulnerable, those who needed our help the most, were the ones who were in school the least or in lessons the least because of their behaviour.

It was uncomfortable reading. How could these students thrive and do as well as their peers if they were constantly getting excluded or if their experience of school was a negative one? By not addressing their emotional needs, every time we put that child in a classroom, we were setting them up to fail. Not only that, we were also affecting the rest of the class and the member of staff.

A new structure of support

With decreasing budgets, we needed a creative way to meet all of our students’ needs effectively. There needed to be a way to stop these issues from happening in the first place. So, instead of focusing on behaviour, we turned our attention to mental health and wellbeing for both students and staff.

We needed students to be in the right frame of mind, which meant we needed to know them extremely well and we needed to make sure that staff workload was manageable so that things could be dealt with quickly and efficiently. In order for this to work, everyone needed to be mentally healthy and not emotionally strained. The solution seemed simple enough, but to change a whole culture and structure of an organisation certainly was not going to be easy.

We had a typical school structure of headteacher, two deputy heads and three assistant heads. Pastorally, we had four heads of houses (middle leaders who had a heavy teaching load) and four student managers (support staff with no teaching load) who oversaw approximately 1,060 students (265 or so per-house).

The heads of house and student managers shared an office and if there was a problem, students would go there for advice and support. However, if the head of their house was in a meeting, teaching, off or doing something in another part of the school, it meant the student would speak to whoever else was there. Quite often, that communication was then lost. This was no fault of the staff – it was the structure that did not allow them to carry out their duties effectively.

Meanwhile, members of the senior leadership team would spend whole days “on duty” to collect students from lessons if they were poorly behaved and collect statements from witnesses.

We needed a new structure to strengthen the pastoral team – one that would ensure that no communication was lost and one where senior leaders were no longer patrolling the school.

So we created a system of “small schools”, with three separate hubs in the school. Students now know that if they have an issue, there will always be someone there to help them and the communication stays within that hub and with the dedicated staff who are part of that small school.

Instead of having only two members of staff in there, there are now five, including two senior leaders (the head of school and the deputy head of school). The other three are support staff and do not have a teaching load, allowing issues to be picked up instantly. The school manager is the first point of call and they delegate the work either up to one of the senior leaders or down if it is something that can be dealt with quickly.

Another positive is that each small school has created its own identity. The students chose the names of each small school (they chose names of places near Burton Borough) and each has its own ethos, all of which tie into the whole-school motto, “Be the Difference”.

Competitions between small schools are taken very seriously and students have been asking for badges and other merchandise in the colour of their small school as they have a sense of belonging and are proud to be a part of their community.

Most importantly, however, it is because they have a group of adults who they completely trust and who they know will do what they need to do to make sure that they are safe, happy and well-cared for in school. This is not to say that staff did not want to do this previously, but it was the structure that did not allow this to happen as they were far too stretched.

Meeting children’s needs

We also changed the structure of the SEND department and brought it to the forefront of everyone’s minds that if a student is displaying poor behaviour we need to reflect on whether we have fully met their needs. Failure to do so could have a negative impact on that child’s mental health and wellbeing and that to us is unacceptable. As part of being inclusive, our aim is for all students to be in lessons and not rely on a teaching assistant being attached to them all the time.

This means that students have the subject specialist in the room helping them and this encourages the student to be independent and not reliant on the adult next to them, preparing them for life beyond school.

We have also had a sustained focus specifically on mental health and wellbeing, rebranding the old “Behaviour Referral Unit” to the “Reflection Centre”, appointing a member of the teaching staff as head of reflection centre and assigning two teaching assistants who have been trained in dealing with emotional literacy and mental health issues.

If students are struggling, they are able to spend time in the reflection centre with the team and are able to complete work in a calmer environment where they feel secure, until they are ready to gradually go back to lessons in the main school.

Having this area has meant that some students who were previously not attending school are coming back in as they know what to expect each day and are working with staff with whom they have built up excellent relationships. It is also a place that is proactive and not reactive – students can self-refer to the reflection centre after discussions with their small school team.

Over time this has changed the culture. Staff now refer to students as “vulnerable” instead of “badly behaved”. We do not tolerate any shouting, belittling or patronising from adults and this is made clear to all staff.

Students who are the most vulnerable are discussed at the Internal Inclusion Panel, a meeting that is held regularly and attended by school staff but also educational psychologists, the police, CAMHS, local authority representatives, educational welfare officers and Targeted Youth Support.

This enables us to “join the dots” and gain a good understanding of what might be happening in a child’s life and address any concerns around safeguarding as well as how they are doing at school.

Our student wellbeing mentors have also had a notable impact. These students are volunteers and speak with peers who are finding things difficult. They are trained and supported in this role and have been very effective – including reporting safeguarding issues that we may have missed. More students were recently trained by CAMHS following the success of the first cohort.

Prevention Concordat

Vital role: Burton Borough principal Christine Raymont-Hall with three of the school’s student wellbeing mentors. The mentors speak to students who are finding things difficult and have had a big impact in the school

Burton Borough has become the first school in the country to sign up to Public Health England’s Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health and is being used by Public Health England as a case study for good practice. The concordat provides a focus for all kinds of organisations in the adoption of a public mental health-informed approach to prevention as approved by the NHS.

The commitment from Burton Borough included creating the new school structure as well as the extensive work the school does with many eternal agencies who support young people and their families.

The impact

Since the new structure started in September 2017, my senior leaders have stopped their patrols. In terms of behaviour, the school is calm and the number of behaviour incidents has plummeted as have the number of fixed-term exclusions (which was one per cent in 2017/18, well below the national average; there were no repeat exclusions).

As a bonus, this structure also meant we managed to save the £175,000 deficit the school would have faced. Parent/carer surveys have come back extremely positive too – both the year 9 and year 7 surveys we have had so far this year reported that 100 per cent of children feel safe in school.

  • Christine Raymont-Hall is principal of Burton Borough School in Shropshire.

Further information & resources

Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health, Public Health England:


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