Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Who Wants to Waste Time Watching Their Feet?

“He found himself understanding the wearisomeness of this life, where every path was an improvisation and a considerable part of one's waking life was spent watching one's feet.”
                                                      ― William Golding, Lord of the Flies

Christmas and New Year have clearly been a time for blogging, everyone seems to have been at it recently. I am permanently in awe of those who can turn out an erudite post on matters topical in the blink of an eye but I find I need some time for rumination so apologies for being a little late to the party.

I am a governor at two schools placed not merely at opposite ends of the educational spectrum but, it sometimes feels, in totally separate universes; the first an 'outstanding' super selective girls' school and the second, where I am a Member of an IEB, an ESBD Special School in Special Measures. At the first Governors concern themselves with apparently inexplicable decreases in the number of A*s whilst at the other we celebrate single figure passes in core subjects at GCSE.

The second school was actually closed for a brief period following a Section 8 inspection because it was deemed that the safety of students and staff could not be guaranteed. Many of  the young people in this school had parents who were either unable or unwilling to adequately parent them and, at that time, they were also being failed by their school which should have offered them the consistency and security otherwise absent from their lives. This brilliant conversation courtesy of @Educationbrew articulates this so much better than I ever could.

As  parents, we set the rules and boundaries for our daughter which rightly moved as she grew in maturity and independence. Equally and possibly, some might argue, archaically, I believe that staff in schools (and in that I include all staff not just teachers) are acting 'in loco parentis' and, as such, need to set similar rules and boundaries.  All societies need rules, understood, enacted and subscribed to by all members of the community, the absence of which lead inevitably down the path to anarchy and chaos exemplified dramatically in my second school before it was temporarily closed (and I hasten to add before it was my school). I fully agree that there is scope for negotiation but that comes at the point where the limits of acceptable behaviour are set rather than retrospective individual interpretation of established boundaries. It is in the nature of young people to push against those boundaries, and we would expect no less from them, but there needs to be a line clearly delineated over which, no matter how hard they push, they know they cannot tread without fear of consequence.

 What it boils down to is, young people do need to know that "I AM the boss of you" and just as both parents need to be consistent so all members of school staff need to apply school rules consistently. Expecting all young people to inherently self-regulate and self-police is, in my opinion, just about as realistic as expecting my dog to save that last Bonio in case she gets a bit peckish later. In my experience young people do attempt to regulate the disruptive behaviour of their peers but they need to be supported by their teachers who in turn need the support of the SLT, the Headteacher and the Governing Body. As parents our children will sometimes do things we don't like but that never stops us loving them, as we are quick to point out in our remonstrations. That unconditional positive regard in which we hold our own has to extend to all the children and young people in our schools, no matter how hard they push against it. That is not to say that there won't be times when it is in the best interests of all involved to consider exclusion or even a managed move when all endeavours have been exhausted.

Although poles apart the young people at both of my schools share the same basic need. The adults in their lives need to consistently model the behaviours they wish to engender and police the boundaries of acceptable behaviour with a hawk-like scrutiny.

So, where do Governors fit into all of this? Yes, of course Governors need to know what the behaviour is like in their schools; there should be regular reporting to the Full Governing Body highlighting any significant incidents and consequences and Governors should observe behaviour as part of their monitoring visits to the school.  But even before that Governors need to take a lead, in collaboration with all members of their school community, in setting and agreeing reasonable expectations to be drafted into a workable policy by the Headteacher and Senior  Leaders. The Governors' Handbook details the requirement for policies and, in maintained schools, statements of principles (possibly being repealed subject to legislation) for which the Governing Body is responsible.

"4.2 Behaviour and discipline
An academy trust must make sure that a written policy is drawn up and carried out that promotes good behaviour among pupils and defines the sanctions to be adopted where pupils misbehave41.
Maintained school governing bodies must make sure that their school has policies
designed to promote good behaviour and discipline among pupils. These policies must
include the school’s approach to the use of reasonable force to control or restrain pupils.
The governing body must also make, and periodically review, a written statement of
principles to help the headteacher determine the measures that make up the school’s
behaviour policy42. This duty cannot be delegated. The governing body must consult the headteacher, other appropriate members of staff, parents and all registered pupils before making or changing this statement of principles43. It must also publish the statement on a website44. "

Your policy needs to be visible in all aspects of the school's life, not just another piece of paper on a dusty shelf and, if it works, you should see it and feel its effect in everything that goes on in your school; every interaction, every classroom, every corridor, every moment of every day within the school and outside.

Remember though, the policy is only one small part of a much wider picture that is the ethos and vision of your school for which you have a significant responsibility both in its formulation and articulation. You employ your Headteacher to realise your vision and to ensure the embodiment of the school's ethos. Embedded within these are your expectations for the whole school community, including behaviour, and it is only through effective communication that you can know just how they are enacted. Direct communication with all members of the community is vital. Your role is not to get involved in the day to day management of the school, the clear remit of the Headteacher, but how can you know the level of staff morale and how supported they feel in behaviour management if you never ask them? Are your students confident that issues are dealt with fairly and consistently and do they feel safe? How do parents view the effectiveness of pastoral care and behaviour management and do they support the school in its operation? You can only know these things by knowing your school through visits, observations, conversations, regular surveys and actively gathering evidence for yourselves. When you visit your school can you see the values on which your vision is founded; respect, tolerance, integrity or do you see something else? It is not enough to rely solely on the reports you receive at Governing Body meetings.

Ultimately your purpose is to ‘conduct the school with a view to promoting high standards of educational achievement at the school’ and I would suggest that you can only achieve that aim if you are sure that your vision and ethos are supportive of the highest levels of aspiration academically and exemplify fully the expectations for meaningful engagement with learning and behaviour.

Ofsted have issued a revised Inspection Handbook, a tracked changes version is available on Heather Leatt's website, and Subsidiary Guidance (copy with tracked changes available from Clerk to Governors) both of which have new guidance on behaviour for Inspectors, which appears to be fairly common sense. If you know your school in the way that you should this new guidance shouldn't cause you, as a Governor, to lose sleep. If not, now is the time to get into school and start those conversations.

(41 The Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2010.
42 Subject to the passage of legislation, this requirement may be repealed during 2013/2014. 43 Section 88 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006.
44 The School Information (England) Regulations 2008 as amended by the School Information (England)
(Amendment) Regulations 2012.)