As is so often the case, Twitter is excellent at making clear the extreme polarised views on an issue when, in reality, there is no black and white ’answer’ that will satisfy the argument.  The reality is that different approaches work in different schools… and each school should work in the way that works for their students, families and community.  The reality is, different schools use recognised words and phrases to mean slightly, even significantly, different things – booths in one school might be an entirely different provision to booths in another school, in the same way that ‘no excuses’, ‘silent corridors’, ‘warm strict’, and  whole load more controversial concepts actually mean different things in different schools.  None of these things can be wholeheartedly accepted or rejected because there is no unanimity.  The important thing is that we don’t simply accept the booths.  With whatever influence you have, in whatever setting you’re in, the important thing is that we question the booths; why are we doing this?  How are we doing it?  Who is affected?  What do we want to achieve?  If anything good comes of these little Twitter storms, it’s that it makes people think about things anew.

Without getting too specific, (shaming any individual or establishment is not my aim here), I have seen booths used in a way that I cannot get on board with, even with every intention of respecting and accepting a school’s autonomy to work in the way that works for them.  The internal isolation room was set up in the ‘panopticon’ style, with a semi-circle of outward facing booths, each with three high sides, with a desk for staff placed so that they could easily see every student’s back.  I don’t think it was intentionally dark but, with the position and height of the booths, it was eerily so.  Everyone’s back was to the door.  Students placed in the room started an hour before school and finished an hour after, a book was allowed but no work provided, and the limited number of toilet trips were timed with an egg timer.  Talk, misbehave, or fall asleep, and the whole thing had to be repeated the next day.  This, inevitably, resulted in some students doing long stretches.  The room was closed down on the spot – all students sent back to their lessons – by Ofsted, in on a monitoring visit, on a dreary, grey day when that was not the lowest of the low points.  If this was what was unanimously meant when schools declared themselves to be using booths, #banthebooths would be the very least of appropriate responses.  What was the aim of these booths?  What was the intended outcome?  To punish, test, torture and break the students?  To teach them a lesson by making them suffer?  To keep them out of circulation, out of the way, for as long as possible?  I feel that there might be some horror and outrage at what people have just read; trust me, we don’t need to worry about the school in question any more.  I hope it was an isolated example.

To me, the ‘booths or no booths’ argument is too vague and somewhat redundant but, within that, the conversation about that tier in an escalating system of sanctions, probably (to generalise) somewhere between a detention and a fixed term exclusion, is very much valid and worth having.  Personally, I do think something needs to bridge that gap. There has to be recognition that some behaviour incidents are more serious than everyday behaviour issues but external exclusions must be kept as extreme responses to extreme circumstances.  It would be great if we could universally achieve that edutopia of structures so strong and lessons so engaging that behavior systems are barely used.  But, alas, teachers remain mere humans and our students remain mere humans too, but juvenile ones, and part of our role as educators is to educate them socially, behaviourally, morally and personally.  This necessitates a fair, consistent, flexible and well thought out behaviour policy, and I think some kind of internal exclusion is a valid part of that.  The important thing is that we don’t just accept but question and carefully consider how it’s done.

So, what is it that we are trying to achieve with this provision, whether its booths, an internal exclusion room, or something else?  Here are some suggestions, though I’m happy to take ideas and additions!

  • It’s a sanction for poor behaviour. This could mean anything from straightforward punishment i.e. designed to be boring / not enjoyable, to an opportunity to reflect on an incident.
  • To bring a student ‘out of circulation’. This could be part of a punishment i.e. time away from friends / isolation, or a practical measure i.e. time to get to the bottom of a situation, for dust to settle or for emotions to run back low.
  • To minimise impact on access to learning. To be a short term intervention that increases the chance of future success, whether that be by avoiding external types of exclusion or reducing risk of recidivism.
  • To (and perhaps this is actually a combination of all of the above) provide a personal learning experience for the student that will help them avoid similar situations in the future.

To me, if you’re provision is designed to meet key, child centred and well intentioned objectives, and is monitored and analysed to ensure those objectives are being met (i.e. minimal recidivism, low (or no) impact on academic outcomes, and even improved behaviour and academic outcomes afterwards), then it’s probably okay.  And it probably isn’t going to look the same from school to school.

It seems unreasonable to write this post without including a little bit about my own setting, so here it is; my school has no booths and no internal exclusion or isolation room of any type.  We do, as I think all schools probably need to do, internally exclude sometimes.  Sometimes a student’s behaviour may necessitate a response that represents an escalation from the standard behaviour sanctions.  They may, for a variety of reasons, need to be ‘out of circulation’ for a day or two.  But, crucially, the message we want them to receive from that response is not that they are being segregated and rejected from our community but that they are an important part of our community and we want to help them choose to behave in a way that is fair to themselves and to others.  When students are internally excluded at my school they are placed in a staff office – admin or academic – and spend the day, yes, away from peers and out of lessons, but also in conversation with staff who they may or may not already have a relationship with, seeing an aspect of school life that they may or may not previously been aware of, seeing people working hard but also being supported to work themselves as well as reflect on the reason they are there.  Where they are placed can be tailored to the individual and the situation… some offices are more conducive to independent study / revision and some more suited to interaction with office staff… and, most crucially, what happens in the internal exclusion can be tailored to the individual and situation.  It’s a sanction – they’re away from their friends and it has, inevitably, a huge propensity to be boring – but, in reality, it is not so unpleasant as the room or the booths approach, it’s individualised and restorative and it is not based on a premise of near total segregation.

So, we don’t have booths but that doesn’t mean that I’m siding with any #banthebooths movement or, indeed, the counter movement.  We need to stop trying to make black and white a matter (and this is far from the only example) that is actually quite complex.  What works in one school might be absolutely right for them but no good in many other settings.  What one schools means when they say they use booths might be very different to what the school next door means when they say the very same thing.  Schools need to be able to operate in the way that works for their students (within reason, of course; don’t set up a weird little torture prison in your school) and, actually, it’s difference between schools that creates diversity in the system and takes us a step closer to giving parents genuine choice and meeting the needs of a greater number of young people.

Don’t smile until Christmas, and other questionable advice for NQTs

There were three pieces of advice given to me during my initial teacher training (four if you include ‘don’t do it’) that remain with me now almost 10 years later.

Number one; don’t smile until Christmas.

Number two; never turn your back on the class.

And number three; in the staffroom, sit with the radiators and avoid the drains.

Picture me now, a fresh faced 23 year old secondary geography NQT, back to the wall and stony faced, staring unblinking at my students before reversing carefully out of the room in search of colleagues who have taken time out of their busy days to exude their joy and declare their love of the job to anyone who will listen.

Continue reading: https://www.teachwire.net/news/what-i-wish-id-been-told-as-an-nqt 

Mental Health Matters

As part of my summer holiday fun and relaxation, I have been working on developing a pathway for how we support our students’ mental health and well-being that goes beyond whole school strategies and environment but preempts the referral to outside agency stage.  Now, at T minus 2 weeks to (potential) implementation, I would really appreciate any feedback and advice anyone has about it!  Please note, much of this is already in place (but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved!) and I’m fully open to any additional suggestions.  I have found that there are several very informative websites and guides and I’ve found them very useful… I’ve struggled, however, to find a specific and workable action plan to support the students; if anyone knows where I might find one, I’d love to see it!

Thanks 🙂


1: Mental Health Action Plan / Provision map:




2. Wellbeing Plan:

MH Wellbeing P1MH Wellbeing P2


3. Safety Plan:

MH Safety Plan P1MH Safety Plan P2

Shame On You

Picture the scene. You and your colleagues are seated, waiting for your regular in-house CPD session to start. The whiteboard flickers to life. Great, you think, the sooner we can get started, the better.

On the board are displayed two lists of teachers names – including yours – grouped under a happy face and a sad face. You then read the slide title: ‘This term’s good/outstanding (or not) lesson observations’…

Continue reading: https://www.teachwire.net/news/some-classroom-behaviour-management-strategies-can-humiliate-children-with-long-term-consequences

Money Where The Mouth Is

I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo.  I’m following my Twitter feed and the news and seeing the same things that we are all seeing – real terms funding for students with additional needs has dwindled to crisis point and it doesn’t look set to improve.  No doubt, increased funding is absolutely necessary in order to ensure the best education… no, the safety, wellbeing and any education… for our SEND children and this sits within the wider context of a reduction in funding and resources for those with disabilities in adulthood and the crisis in the NHS.  It is all very bleak.  I saw, as I’m sure many reading this did, some head teacher speaking on the news saying that the last thing he’d want is to be turning SEND students away because the school can’t afford them.  Afford them?  What are schools for, if not for the children of their catchment?  Are we now openly operating a two tier system?  Why is SEND the subgroup of student it is so acceptable to discriminate against?

I agree that there’s a funding crisis.  There’s a funding issue in education in general.  But lack of funds is no more an excuse to not meet the needs of SEND students as it would be an excuse to not meet the needs of any student.  You still have to do what a school’s supposed to do.  Money isn’t the whole reason our schools aren’t inclusive and, as such, money would not solve the issue of poor inclusion in our schools.  Money helps (when doesn’t it!?) but it isn’t the whole answer.

“Money is only a tool.  It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”
Ayn Rand

The first step in meeting the needs of your SEND students is not money but to stop seeing them as something different to the rest of your students.  As long as we see students with SEND as something different to students, children with disabilities as something different to children, and a group with different needs and rights to the rest of those we are teaching, we are discriminating against them.  All children need the same things – safety, wellbeing, nurture, their best outcomes, adult success (whatever that my look like!).  And all children have the same educational rights – to be taught by qualified teachers and access to an appropriate, quality, accountable and valued curriculum.  The budget and resources of the school – however tight those things may be – need to be used to provide these things equitably to all of the students.  We can’t use a label of ‘SEND’ as an excuse to exempt a child from any of this.

Actually, the lack of money being funnelled into SEND and adult disability provision is also because of this same issue.  It’s systemic, societal and entrenched.  How we treat SEND students throughout their education results in a) those children becoming adults who haven’t been given the best tools to be assertive, rights asserting adults and b) their non-SEND peers go on to perceive disability as ‘other’, someone else’s problem, and something that we use as an emotional crutch for ourselves as opposed to assuring proper societal equality and justice.  Then they become the decision makers, funding deciders, employers and head teachers of the next generation and perpetuate the same approach.

There’s a cycle that needs to be broken here, but it won’t be broken by money alone… the lack of proper funding is just a symptom or product of the actual issue that needs to be fixed.  In order for the policy makers and budget holders to make decisions that work for SEND children we need them to have grown up with an intrinsic understanding that this is needed and right.  We need young people with SEND to grow up to hold power in their lives and be participants in that decision making process.  We need to stop seeing some people as separate to the rest of society.

So, yes; I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo.  I wouldn’t be turning down additional funding to support SEND students, or any student for that matter!  Money alone, though, isn’t the magic wand that will ensure true inclusion for our SEND students… but ensuring true inclusion for our SEND students through our attitudes towards disability, school culture, and having equality, equity and justice at the heart of our decision making might, eventually, solve the funding crisis.

“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out!” Jonathan Winters

Some thoughts on, ‘When the Adults Change, Everything Changes’ by @PivotalPaul

I have come to a frightening conclusion.  I am the decisive element in the classroom.”  (Ginott, H., 1972).

I am just lucky, it seems, to be teaching in a school that employs many of the very, very good strategies laid out in this book (I can say they’re very, very good because I have first-hand experience of them) as my school existed before the book and @PivotalPaul has never had anything to do with my school.  The uncanniness was such that I had to DM him on Twitter and check.  We call the strategies different things but the parallels are strong.  What are the chances?  Or is it, maybe, actually all just common sense?  It feels like it might be … I wonder if @PivotalPaul would agree?

It’s certainly true to say that part of my enjoyment of the book – and I did really enjoy it – was because I found the strategies very familiar and relatable, though not always the underlying reasons given for the strategies.  I agree, for example, that public humiliation is a terrible behaviour management strategy.  Terrible because it’s cruel, even maybe emotionally abusive, and not, as suggested in the book, because it simply fuels a child’s fame and reputation… like some children enjoy being publicly humiliated.  I would strongly argue that even if a child appears to be revelling in the infamy they may gain from a very public reprimand, it still wouldn’t be true to say we shouldn’t do it because they’re gaining from it.  I don’t think it’s very likely that they are genuinely enjoying that notoriety – they’ve got to find some way of dealing with the humiliation – and, even if they are, that shouldn’t be the reason we don’t do it.  Nor would I advocate the ‘names on the board’, ‘good list / bad list’, approach, whatever visuals are used to represent the binary or graduated system being employed (smiley / sad faces; a rainbow; a league table etc.), but are we really suggesting that use of white, grey and black clouds has any dubious racial connotations.  Surely not!  Last time I checked, most of us would be more pleased at the sight of a fluffy white cloud than a towering grey one and it certainly isn’t because we are racist!  Furthermore, in places, the book seems to assume a widespread cynicism and jadedness within the profession, which i found jarring and at odds with the overall message of the book – positive relationships, restorativeness, and compassion. Depending on your school, what’s going on for you outside of school, the world, the weather, whatever, I know there can be lessons, days, weeks, terms and years where teaching is really, really, really hard… but I’m yet to find a teacher that didn’t go into it, stay in it, or even leave it for reasons that are good and right.  My experience of the profession is that teachers are open minded and resilient in the face of turbulence and change, and persevere in spite of it.  Ultimately, teaching is a vocation and leaving it if it isn’t right for you (or isn’t right for you any more) is as good for the students as staying if it is right for you.

None of this – not the fact my school already uses lots of the strategies or my concerns about some of the rationale for the strategies – means that I didn’t have any takeaways from the book though.  I did!  In fact, loads!!!  The book is bursting at the seams with great ideas, well explained in no nonsense and no jargon language, with lots of supporting anecdotes.  I particularly valued the bullet point summaries at the end of each chapter.  These could easily be put together into a list that would make it easier to keep reminding yourself once you’re back inside that black box without having to re-read or try to find specific bits of the book.  I have made myself a list of things from the book that I’d like to try and to work on, as well as new perspectives on existing strategies, ready for this new academic year.  It was good to consider some familiar ideas from a different perspective as well as ways of developing and adding to the repertoire.

It never takes me long to turn any issue around to my favourite topic; inclusion.  It is barely explicitly mentioned in this book and that is a good thing, in my opinion.  Good behaviour management is only good behaviour management if it is good for everybody – there shouldn’t need to be an alternative to make it work for some children.  The strategies in the book are all strongly founded in relationships, being reliable and consistent, being kind, being human and recognising that the kids are only human too, so fallible, and subject to having to deal with life like we all are.  Every school has children that have been labelled, either explicitly or tacitly, as ‘difficult’… maybe they have additional needs or behaviour that’s challenging… and anyone who has experienced success when working them will know that it is all about relationships, being hyper aware of your body language, consistency and reliability, kindness and understanding.  But being kind and reliable and pleased to see the children that you have chosen to work with (you chose to be a teacher and they didn’t choose to be a student!) is not an SEN provision and it is not a behaviour management technique!  This is just how we should be striving to be.  Just because we get away with letting those things slip with more resilient students does not mean that it is okay to become complacent about it.  It doesn’t mean its okay to be distant, short tempered, inconsistent and unkind.  In short, if we can get it right for the least able, most vulnerable children (and this book would be a great place to start!) we are going to be getting it right for everyone else as well.

As the author himself acknowledges, the strategies in this book work best (or just work at all) if done at a whole school level and with 100% opt in from staff.  A tall order!  I imagine that being the only person in the school, or one of a few, that are implementing these strategies would be very frustrating, and probably pretty confusing for the students too.  In fact, as @PivotalPaul acknowledges very clearly, it can be just as frustrating if everyone is on the same page and just one or two are not subscribing to the principles set out in the book.  This book either really, really is, or really, really isn’t, (depends whether or not you think a person can change!) a book for teachers who strongly believe that children should leave any social, emotional or mental health issues they have at the door, be seen and not heard, do as I say because I say so, and be increasingly sanctioned until they comply if they don’t.  As I’m typing that last sentence I’m struggling to believe that any teacher would be reading and saying, yep; that’s me.  However, my personal experience is that this is what some teachers seem to be doing.

Overall, though, I found this book an enjoyable and impactful read and would recommend it to all teachers in all types of schools.  Read it.  Take everything you can from it.  Then give it to your leadership team.


Maybe I’m jumping on the bandwagon a bit here, but I read the recent blog posts about the ‘no excuses culture’ concept (here and here) with great interest as I myself work in a no excuses school and realised, perhaps for the first time, that it is an idea that is open to interpretation. I found myself fluctuating between agreement and opposition almost sentence by sentence in some sections, and again in the comments sections of both posts, and I would like to contribute my own thoughts on the matter. I work in a no excuses school but this post represents my personal interpretation of that concept; all views are entirely my own (with significant reference/response to the aforementioned posts and heavily drawing on personal experience from my own context).

First and foremost, I absolutely believe that the no excuses concept is right for the students, the school community, and for the future of society – we are educating our students academically and also preparing them for adult life; an important aspect of that is teaching them to take responsibility for their actions. This aspect of their learning, like all other aspects of their learning, has to be done within the parameters of their being children and in the process of gaining life experience, developing the cognitive capacity to function in adult society and, of course, within the parameters of us all being only human. This doesn’t mean that ‘no excuses’ should be implemented on a scale of reasonableness where some excuses are more excusable than others. In fact, the very opposite – it means that there has to be absolute clarity of what the phrase means and how it applies to individual experiences… and all within the context of a school being a safe and supportive environment for the young people it is nurturing to adulthood.

There is, I believe, a significant difference between an ‘excuse’ and a ‘reason’.

excuse /ik’sju:z/
Seek to lessen the blame attaching to a fault or offence.

reason /’ri:z(e)n/
A cause, explanation, or justification for an action or event.


Yes, we want our students to take responsibility for their actions – intentional or accidental – and to realise how their choices impact others as well as their own future. We don’t, however, want them to feel guilty about things that were out of their control, and we don’t want them to become so fearful of taking responsibility for their actions that they become dishonest and deceptive in order to avoid the consequences. The culture of a school, therefore, is instrumental in the successful implementation of the ‘no excuses’ approach. In a school community built on the common values of trust and fairness, where adults are reliable and supportive and the behaviour management system is based on correction as opposed to punishment, and where relationships are strong (another argument for smaller schools), a consistent approach can be achieved by taking each situation on an individual basis –  one-size-fits-one systems – and students can feel safe to take responsibility for their mistakes as they learn how to function appropriately in society. Having no pen because you didn’t bother to check your bag that morning (and even though you had ample time to go to the resource shop and whatever other safety nets are in place) is a learning experience and students will need to be supported to understand the impact of that choice they made and be intrinsically motivated – not guilted or frightened – to make better choices in the future. No excuses, but a learning process. Oh, and they will need a pen. A house fire, I would say, is a reason and not an excuse for not having proper equipment and/or uniform. Conversely, though, I would say that the ‘no excuses’ concept can still be applied. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything wrong to be knocked down by the things that life throws at you… we want our students to be resilient enough to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and keep going. No excuses, but having learnt that we should all support one another in times of need.

For me, as a teacher and INCo, there is another layer of meaning I take from the ‘no excuses’ mantra; there are no excuses for low expectation. The genuine reasons there might be for a school to operate in a certain way, implement specific support, access outside agencies, or take innovative approaches to reaching out to their community both within and beyond the school gate, too often become excuses for having low expectations of students or certain groups/individuals within the school. There are lots of reasons to be creative, unique and aspirational (perhaps where others wouldn’t be)… there are no excuses for expecting someone to be any less than the best that they can be. We are a no excuses school because we don’t let any of the reasons we do things become excuses for low expectations.

So, as I see it, the no excuses concept is straightforward; we take responsibility for our actions, whether intentional or accidental, and we learn from those experiences. We do what we say we are going to do and we do it because it is the right thing to do. We aim to give 100% every day and we never give up.

We do our best.

No excuses.

God damn it, you’ve got to be kind…

If I could go back in time, what behaviour management advice would I give to my NQT self?

Behaviour management, to me, is the thing that sets the school teacher apart from all the many and various other imparters of information. The rest – tutors, lecturers, instructors and so on – do not, or rarely, experience the same combination of circumstantial factors that the school teacher does. To be significantly outnumbered by students who have not been given the choice as to whether they’d like to be there or not (although, one would hope, they had since been persuaded to fully opt in to their education!) and, what’s more, they’re children… it could seem like the odds are stacked against you! I’m confident that the perceived ‘main thing’ that teachers do is, well… teach! In reality, no teaching will be effective until that behaviour is being managed. I don’t even mean the management of bad behaviour. Just the management of human behaviour… of human children behaviour! Effective behaviour management is crucial. And it would be much more straight forward, especially for those just starting out in the profession, if there was an acknowledged and 100% effective way of doing it… but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I have blogged about behaviour management before (click here). About the importance of the behaviour management policy in ensuring social inclusion for the most vulnerable learners… and I stand by that; it’s important. However, with little notable difference between the policies of schools rated good/outstanding for behaviour by Ofsted and those rated inadequate/RI, and pockets of exceptional behaviour management in failing schools and examples of ineffective behaviour management – or, at least, practice that is open to debate – in those deemed to be successful; clearly it is neither the behaviour management policy nor the judgement of Ofsted that is the be all and end all of effectively managing behaviour.

Things are about to get personal.

Because it is personal. Perhaps more so than any other aspect of being a teacher – pedagogy, management and teamwork, pastoral – none are affected by personality so much as behaviour management. Because, yeah; a strong behaviour management policy and an overall effective (according to Ofsted… not necessarily my favourite measure of success!) school are an essential basis, but there will always be diversity and disparity in how staff approach that. This isn’t, in my opinion, a problem. Surely the students deserve and benefit from having a varied experience across their school day. And, just like neither the Ofsted outcome nor the policy are, in isolation, the ‘answer’, neither is homogeneity of approach; the students will move on to live in a diverse and complex society. Any school will have their share of the “don’t smile ‘til Christmas” crew, the matey and jovial types, and everything in between… does effective behaviour management exist at one point on that spectrum and nowhere else? I don’t believe it does. So, are the issues and complexities of behaviour management (if we assume a strong behaviour management policy and a set of shared values) actually the issues and complexities of trying to strike a balance between expectation and your own personality, personal values and interpretation of that expectation? A delicate balancing act between consistency and individuality? Between parity and variety? Finding this balance – your own personal behaviour management sweet spot – in which learning can take place is, to me, the great skill of being a school teacher. The thing that sets it apart from other, similar, roles. But it’s also the thing that makes it really, really hard.

Behaviour Venn

Which brings me back to my original question: if I could go back in time, what behaviour management advice would I give to my NQT self?

Somewhere in the overlapping space between the context, the shared values of society and my own personality, exists my behaviour management style. This isn’t about a piece of policy or an idea in a head… this is about managing behaviour when faced with the stark reality of the job; the room full of children. It is how I meet expectation whilst staying true to my own identity and values. It’s how I strive to strike a balance between consistency and variety for the students I teach. It’s what I wish I could tell my NQT self because it’s what I tell myself now, every day. Because I don’t necessarily think I’m achieving it… on a good day I hope I get close! But, generally, this list represents my aspiration as a manager of the behaviour of children. It’s the rule book i’ve given myself for setting the scene for learning in my classroom and it’s the self-administered mental admonishment I give myself when I get it wrong. These are the guidelines that exist in the space between expectation and my personality… it isn’t going to be the same for everyone but everyone, I think, will have their own version (and I’d love to hear them!). Not ‘behaviour management in the black box’, but ‘behaviour management in my black box’… here it is; my advice to my NQT and current behaviour manager self:

My Behaviour Management Top Ten

BE CLEAR          –          BE CONSISTENT          –          BE IN CONTROL          –          BE KIND

Top Ten

  1. Be crystal clear.
    Lead with their name. Ensure that you’ve got their attention before you start imparting your wisdom or giving your instruction. Don’t use sarcasm, idiom, rhetoric or so on… say what you mean. Don’t use ‘please’ unless it’s a plea; use ‘thank you’ for expectations. Say why you’re doing something. If you can’t think of a reason why, then don’t do it.
  2. Draw your line and stick to it.
    Children make mistakes in the grey area between the line you have drawn and the line you enforce. Once you’ve said something is going to happen it has to happen… so be careful what you say! No idle, excessive, unrealistic or non-intended ‘threats’…. Give clear, fair, REAL, causes and effects. If you say ‘no talking’ and then allow a bit of whispering as long as they’re getting on with it, and then on another day say ‘no talking’ and actually want them not to talk at all… how are they supposed to know the difference? If they talk in the second instance then that error is yours, not theirs. If they’re allowed to talk a bit, say so! If they’re not, enforce it. If you create a grey area between the instruction and the reality of the situation they will make mistakes within that uncertain space. And it will be your fault. And, what’s more, you’ve made yourself unreliable.
  3. Know when to not stick to it.
    I’m reminded of a kid I used to teach, he was in year 8 at the time, who was the archetypal ‘class clown’, nothing bothered him, right old pain in the neck. Without the support of a strong behaviour management superstructure within that school… I had exhausted everything in my repertoire. I kept him back at the end of the lesson. He was not bothered. I gave detentions. He was not bothered. And then I informed him that I would ring home and speak to his dad. In an instant the tone of the situation had changed. He was crying, he was on his knees with hands clasped, imploring me – voice catching on each sob – not to ring his father. He’d behave himself. He was sorry. I didn’t know what his father might do if caught in the wrong mood. In that instant every interaction I’d ever had with that child flashed across my mind: the cocky swagger as he showed off a black eye or bruised lip and claimed that we should see the state of the other boy; that nothing could bother or hurt him – he was untouchable – he was devoid of remorse or self-care; that, despite all this, he had the most amazing attendance… he never missed an opportunity to be in school, no matter how badly it seemed to be going.
    I had drawn my line.
    I did not stick to it.
  4. Don’t get into a dialogue.
    If the student has some say in what is happening then yes; have a conversation about it. If they don’t – if you, as the adult, have decided that things need to happen a certain way (silence in a test, safety in the classroom, non-optional tasks/homework, treatment of the other students et cetera)… then allowing a dialogue is giving them the false impression that they have some control. It’s undermining your own position of authority and it’s creating a grey area in which mistakes can be made. That isn’t fair.
  5. Never back a child into a corner.
    The get out clause. No matter what’s happened, or how far a situation has escalated, there should always be a ‘way out’ for the child; there should always be the opportunity of a positive choice they can make in order to take back control and move on from the situation. This doesn’t mean that they ‘get away with it’… this means that they learn from it. Tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable and that the resultant sanction isn’t going to go anywhere. But also tell them what their options are for moving forward in a positive way. And, what’s more, once the sanction has been completed the slate is wiped clean.
  6. Give them a range of options (all of which you are happy with).
    Being in control isn’t the same as being controlling. You’ve got to be in control; they’re young, there’s loads of them, and you’re responsible for their safety and well-being. But, within this, they also need to learn to be autonomous, independent and self-regulating. They can still have choice… genuine choice… just make sure all the options are acceptable to you!
  7. Winning an argument with an angry and upset child is NOT winning.
    In spite of best endeavours you will sometimes end up in a heated confrontation with a student; they’re only human and you’re only human. It will – hopefully rarely – happen. Remind yourself; who in this situation has the power and control? Who is the most vulnerable? Who is feeling the most distress and fear? Approaching this situation with kindness and compassion, putting whatever the issue is to one side for the moment, is not backing down and it isn’t giving in – the best outcome is the one where the child has learnt something valuable that’s going to serve them well as they grow into adults… and not that people will dominate and control them but that people will help and guide them to the right outcome. In a high intensity situation the rational thought processes are by-passed in favour of a more primal ‘fight or flight’ mechanism – no one is in the right frame of mind to learn at that point. De-escalate the situation. Be the reassuring, safe, trustworthy adult. Deal with the problematic behaviour when your message might actually go in. And when it does – and you still have the trust and respect of that child – then you have won.
  8. They can only be as trustworthy as you trust them to be.
    Children learn in the gap between what they can already do and the opportunities they have to try something new. So take risks; the bigger the risk, the bigger the learning opportunity… and sometimes it will go wrong, but that in itself is part of the learning process (for you as well as the student!). Send the naughty kid on an errand, give the least able a position of responsibility, give the notorious bully a caring role. And then be there when they’ve proven that they’re better than anyone, even themselves, ever thought they could be… or to dust them down and set them off again if needs be.
  9. Remember; you’re pretending.
    The moment you lose your temper is the moment you lose control and, for their safety and your own sanity, you must be in control (not controlling!). Give the response that teaches them how their actions can make those around them feel; are you angry? Or are you disappointed? Annoyed? Inconvenienced? Emotionally hurt?
  10. THE GOLDEN RULE: Unconditional Positive Regard.
    When they’re problematic, make mistakes, don’t know something or don’t approach something in the way that they should, you… YOU… are the person that is there to pull them through. You’re the adult. You chose to be there. You work for them. On that basis, is there… should there be… anything they can do that changes that? If you aren’t there for them… why are you there? Show them how you want them to behave. Be their champion!

Hello Babies...

This is the advice I would give to my NQT self because it is the advice I give to myself now, every day. My personal behaviour management manifesto for fairness.

What’s yours?

In search of silence…

We don’t need lists of rights and wrongs, tables of do’s and don’t’s; we need books, time and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but once upon a time lasts forever.


Silence; It’s a hot topic at my school – rationalising it, achieving and maintaining it – and, probably as a result, I am increasingly aware of both the value and the absence of it, in education and in general. It is a peculiar thing, really; the most intangible of abstract concepts, disappearing as soon as its existence is stated… it is impossible to know for sure what it contains for anyone other than yourself. It is the absence of something as opposed to a ‘thing’ in its own right, and yet it can hold and communicate so much. It is a void full of possiblies and possibilities… a resource so potentially readily available and yet, seemingly, so difficult to grasp. So, shhhhhhh; here are my thoughts on our use of silence as a tool in education.

It is, first and foremost, a practicality. With narrow corridors, split breaks and lunches, and a number of ‘open’ classrooms (with an entire wall missing and, therefore, open to the corridor), it just makes sense to have silent corridors. Silence in general, actually; it is our natural state. And it’s a practicality; for the avoidance of disturbing the learning of others, and for the assurance of swift transition between lessons… It just makes sense. I am most aware and reflective about it when I am not at my own school. The normal sounds, the hustle and bustle, of a secondary school corridor have become a bit alien to me; alarming even. I’ve come to associate those noise levels with two things; the lively discussion of learning in classrooms, and the chatter and general hubbub of the students’ break and lunch times. For me, now, it has no place on the corridors where the learning of others can be affected. It has no place at times of transition when every minute wasted represents learning lost. And it is, first and foremost, a practicality. But it is the little things, when done with consistency and continuity that sneak up on you with surprise benefits. And, for the sake of a few minutes apiece at a few key points throughout the day, the impact of silence stretches far beyond any practical raison d’être.

Silence creates a purposeful environment. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong end of the stick here, don’t be fooled; our students are noisy. And, like all children, they mess about, shout and carry on, and move unnecessarily fast and without due care and attention. This is fine. There is, however, a clear distinction between the places and times of learning and those of socialising and recreation. The community hub of our academy, the heartspace, is alive with children being children; a thoroughfare through the middle of the building; all of the children’s lockers are located here; there’s usually a lot of toast about. My office is right in the middle of it and believe me, it is far from silent. Directly adjoining the heartspace we also have the iBase – a learning commons where the children can read, work, research, discuss, set up clubs and societies et cetera; the yard – where (for reasons I will never fully understand) they run around, seemingly at random; and the staff room… actually, this space is usually pretty quiet. It’s kind of a balcony overlooking the heartspace (though I’m not tall enough to see over the wall) but you are much more likely to find staff in the heartspace itself, munching a slice of toast. The rest of the school though – the classrooms and corridors – are places of purpose and determination. Aspiration and ambition. There’s no time or reason for idle chit chat; there’s an important job to be done and no time to lose!!!

One thing I learnt on my PGCE (and then re-learnt, the hard way, as an NQT) is that the first few moments of a lesson matter. Like, really matter. Be at your door, greet the students, have a task ready… set the pace, tone, and expectation on arrival. But what if they arrived at your door already ready? Calm, quiet, and clear as to what the expectations are because that’s what they experience from classroom to classroom and everywhere in between? Isn’t that the ideal starting point for learning? The ideal starting point for behaviour for learning? For me, an important aspect of being a teacher is scaffolding success for the students; creating systems that enable and facilitate them to ‘get it right’… and silent corridors are one way of doing this. They’re less likely to be late because there’s no temptation to stop for a chat. They’re less likely to speak out of turn, or not turn their learning behaviour back on quick enough, because there’s been no change of parameters in the transition between lessons. They’re more likely to be able to get ‘on task’ as soon as they arrive because they were never ‘off task’ in the between time; the purposefulness of the learning environment has been maintained.

Walking, side by side with your friends (and enemies!), in silence takes self-discipline. Doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, even when no one is watching, takes integrity. Giving 100% of your effort day in and day out takes determination and drive. These are not simply the personal qualities required to make a successful transition from period three to period four; these are the personal qualities required for success in general. They are transferable skills.

Silence creates a reflective environment. I sometimes wonder what the children are thinking about while they walk, silently, to their next lesson. Maybe they’re processing some new learning or beginning to plan a recently set homework. Maybe they’re reflecting on how their day is going; have they taken another step on their journey up the mountain to university (or a real alternative), a top job and a great life? Or, maybe their mind is completely empty at those times… complete peace, stillness and serenity; a tabula rasa for the next lesson. I cannot remember the last time there wasn’t a kind of fragmented and randomly ordered ‘to do’ list doing a spin cycle in my brain. They could be thinking about what they’re having for tea that night or what’s going to be on the telly, and that’s fine; ultimately, I don’t think it really matters, the point is that they can.

For a teacher, an average day probably consists of sharing a lot of information that they already know and remaining within a consistent theme, e.g. geography/maths/art, interspersed with the odd bit of PPA. For a student, an average day consists of a relentless bombardment of new information on a range of different, and often completely unrelated, topics; it is a lot to take in and they don’t even get PPA! Well designed and planned social and recreational areas/times should provide students with the opportunity to unwind; to sit and chat with friends, read, run around at random… but do they provide an opportunity for private, personal reflection? Certainly, if I saw a child just sat staring into space I would strive to intervene! Where are their friends?! What club or activity might they like?! Has something happened at home?! These social and recreational times are important and need to be preserved … but when can the children reflect? When can they take a moment to let their brain process and sort all of that new information they have received? In moments of peace, like when we dream, our minds can wander from one thing to another and, even when our thoughts seem unrelated to the reality of what is important, begin to organise and prepare for whatever might happen next. I don’t know what the students are thinking about as they walk, silently, to their next lesson, but I do know this; they are free from the sounds and experiences of the classroom and also those of their break and lunchtimes… their mind is free to meander, and that is important.

Silence creates a safer environment. I was recently at one of those kinds of meetings that SENCo’s find themselves at frequently and was asked, by an educational psychologist, whether my school had a ‘safe space’ for vulnerable children. I suppose we don’t; there is no designated area for vulnerable students… and the assumption that we should have one raises a number of issues for me. What would having a ‘safe space’ for vulnerable students imply? That the rest of the school isn’t safe? That the rest of the students don’t require safety? Are they immune to vulnerability or just not entitled to protection from it? Or, do they need to reach a certain level of criticality before anything is done to help; until then they’re just coping? All children are vulnerable simply by virtue of being children. All children require and deserve to be safe; the whole school has to be a safe space for them. As well as the least vulnerable children being entitled to safety, the most vulnerable children are entitled to choice. They shouldn’t have to be segregated to experience safety and they shouldn’t be denied access to the social spaces and learning facilities of their school and community either. They shouldn’t be made to feel like the only way they can ‘belong’ is by being subject to conditions. This is the received wisdom of accepted segregation as a form of equality. It’s what perpetuates inequality in adult society. It’s not fair. And I haven’t gone off topic, I promise… the natural state of silence is a major contributor in providing a safer school for all students.

Achieving and maintaining silence requires presence. We collect our students after morning starters, break and lunch and escort them to lessons. Every time. We stand at our classroom doors to supervise the corridor and receive our next class between lessons. Every time. We share break time with the students and we eat with the students. Every time. The students are supervised and supported in every instance and this, perhaps counterintuitively, facilitates their independence and autonomy. Students who may be vulnerable to bullying, those who struggle to manage their own behaviour, those who struggle to manage their time and belongings, are not segregated for their own or anyone else’s safety and they don’t have their developmental and social opportunities hindered by 1:1 support between lessons; they simply do what all of the students do. And the less vulnerable children? Unaffected; unless, of course there’s a problem – a fall, a seizure or hypo, a behaviour incident. These sorts of incident can be picked up quickly on a silent and supervised corridor. A school designed to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and least able children is a school that can meet the needs of all of its children; intrinsically and inclusively. That’s equality.

Our students are all young – we only have years 7 to 9 currently – and I’m happy to acknowledge that how we do things will need to change as they get older; we already have a slightly different approach for year 9 compared to the younger year groups. But it can be done with real consideration of their needs as children and young people; educational and personal. To me, at 11, 12 and 13, even 14 and 15, years old… they’re just kids. They need and deserve our support on their learning curve to adulthood and, if we aren’t willing to put that in place, then maybe we are going to have to segregate the most vulnerable, escort them to lessons, and just hope for the best for the rest.

Maintaining a natural state of silence isn’t easy. I mean, it isn’t difficult as such, but it does mean doing the little things… maybe some boring or inconvenient things… lesson after lesson, day after day, week after week.   But it is the little things, when done with consistency and continuity, that sneak up on you with surprise benefits. And, for the sake of a few minutes apiece at a few key points throughout the day, the impact of silence stretches so much further than simply being a practicality.

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TA, or not TA?

That is the question. And it’s a rhetorical question; there are no teaching assistants at my school. And it is, by far, the thing I find myself explaining, justifying and, well, actively defending most often. TA’s, understandably, are a controversial and emotive subject. Not least because they’ve been the victims of some (vaguely) damning research over the last few years, but also, when you’re talking about TA’s you’re really talking about the education and well-being of our most vulnerable learners; you’re talking about people’s jobs/careers/vocations; and you’re raising a question about the role expectations and responsibilities of teachers. It’s important. So it’s important that we get it right. The decision to be a no-TA school wasn’t taken on the basis of a personal vendetta against classroom support staff, nor is it because we don’t have students who would receive that kind of support if they went to a different school; we do. We simply forgot to employ any, and now… only joking. It is, as always, a decision made as a result of considering the needs of the students – all of the students – and putting systems and structures in place that meet those needs. So here it is; why my school has no TA’s and what we do instead – a treatise.

Why my school has no TA’s;

  • There was some research…
    It seems a little unreasonable to go ahead without mentioning the Education Endowment Foundation/Sutton Trust research on the same topic. TA’s are high cost, low impact; that’s the headline…but, other than that, the whole thing’s just a little bit hazy. The vast differences in the roles and responsibilities between the primary, secondary and special education sectors, and even within those sectors, means that any research conducted is difficult to generalise. If it succeeded in achieving anything it is that it made schools reconsider how their TA’s were being deployed and, where it looked like the problems pointed out in the research might apply, implement changes in order to make improvements. I don’t intend this to be (another) analysis, critique or protestations of the EEF research; that’s been done to death. I’ve included links to the research, my favourite analysis of it, and some other responses to it, in the READ section above. I’ve covered the points that I feel apply to my own setting – a mainstream secondary school – in the bullet point below.
  • Equality in education means equal quality of education for all students…
    And equal quality of education means equal access to qualified teachers, subject specialists, resources, materials, and educational experiences for all students. Whether it is a TA sat with a student/small group within the classroom, or individuals/small groups being withdrawn for extra literacy, numeracy or nurture with a non-teacher, this is reducing that/those student(s) access to qualified, specialist staff and, as such, it is not truly inclusive; it is a form of internal segregation. In order to ensure equal quality of education, the most vulnerable learners will need MORE access to qualified, specialist staff, not less.  If we are to avoid diminishing the value of teacher training and continuing professional development, we have to concede and accept that TA’s, by their very nature, do not have that training and specialism. What is it that a teacher can offer (to testify to their training and justify their pay packet) that a TA cannot? And don’t our vulnerable learners need that thing too? In fact, more of it? The EEF research alludes to this when they say that sometimes, maybe, there might be situations where the presence of a TA might possibly be actively detrimental to a student’s academic progress and development. That a lack of understanding of how knowledge is acquired and how children develop might lead to deskilling or even the TA doing the work for them. I’ve seen this happening.
    I know that lots of TA’s now do undertake training (HLTA or similar, or training in a specific intervention), have degrees that give them a specialism, or work with the most instead of least able… I still think that all students should have equal access to fully qualified, specialist teachers. And I know that some TA’s are just really, really good at what they do and are genuinely adding value to that students learning experience; these TA’s are teachers. Undervalued, underpaid teachers. If you’re teaching you’re a teacher – whether it’s a class, a group, or one twelve year old with learning difficulties – and you should be acknowledged as such. Of course, if a person with those skills is happy with their situation – maybe they don’t want to train/qualify, and they’re happy with their salary – that’s fine, but because of the low expectation for qualification and experience at application/interview, finding these amazing people is pot luck and a punt I’m not willing to take.
  • Equality in education means equal quality of experience for all students…
    School isn’t just about an academic education, it should also prepare students for adulthood and be an enjoyable overall experience. There are two points here; 1) how do we ensure our most vulnerable learners are as prepared as possible for adult life? and 2) how do we ensure that their school days are a happy memory when they achieve that?
    First things first; our lowest ability, most vulnerable learners need to become independent, autonomous and resilient adults. The first challenge with each new year 7 cohort is to convince those students who have had a TA that, when we speak, we mean them too. Even an instruction as simple as ‘everyone open your book’ is, more often than not, ‘everyone open your book; [insert name], open your book’. They are the victims of classroom level internal segregation and low expectation… they have learnt that ‘whole class’, or ‘everyone’, doesn’t mean them; they’re not expected to be able to do it. I’m not saying that we should just leave them to fend for themselves, of course not, but how that support is given is due a rethink. Remember; their TA is not going to be with them in the team meeting when they’re 24; their TA is not going to be with them on the platform when the train’s cancelled and the Tannoy crackles into life. Their TA probably isn’t even going to be with them in every lesson they go to in a normal school day.
    Second things second; I’m going to be blunt here. It is hard enough being a teenager. It is one giant social/emotional/behavioural learning curve. Making (and retaining!) friendships, being part of a crowd, learning right from wrong… is hard enough as it is and even more of a challenge if you have an additional need. The last thing you need is to spend the best part of each day hanging out with some middle aged woman. Okay, I’m generalising (not all TA’s are middle aged women) and being pejorative… as always… but I’m sticking to my guns on this one. Of course, we want our students to behave because they’re motivated to learn. We want them to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do… but, ultimately, they are learning. They’re going to pass notes, whisper, take a 2 minute daydream, throw a paper aeroplane, and learn the hard way that this will get them into trouble (or, even better, it will prevent themselves or others from being the best that they can be!)… and, sometimes, they might just get away with it. Being with a TA blocks access to these normal social/emotional/behavioural learning opportunities. Little clockwork oranges, being forced to do right instead of being able to choose right from wrong.

What do we do instead?

  • Superstructures: staffing and timetabling…
    At key stage 3 (we only have years 7-9 currently) the students are grouped according to ability and the timetable is structured to reflect the needs and priorities of each ability group. So, groups 1 and 2 have four lessons each of English and maths every week, group 3 have five of each and group 4 have a whopping 8 of each every week. Of the 16 English and maths lessons group 4 have around 80% of them are double staffed; there are two subject specialist, or a subject specialist and an IN specialist, teachers timetabled for that lesson. There are also a small number of lessons each week that are triple staffed on the same basis. I’ll leave the specifics of how the over-timetabling and double/triple staffing actually works for a future post (this one’s getting a bit long!) but, basically, it allows for super flexibility, lots of collaboration, intervention to take place within timetabled lessons, pre-teaching/over-teaching/just taking it slow, and a more focused curriculum for lower ability learners, all with qualified teachers.
  • Superstructures: teaching, learning and assessment…
    In addition to the long term structural differentiation described above, all students are closely monitored and intervention for those that are not making expected progress is swift and pertinent. Movement between the ability groups can take place within the year as well as at transition time, targeted intervention is delivered – for all ability groups – by subject specialists within departments. Daily planning is focused on intervention and differentiation based on the most recent assessment data as well as being responsive to students’ needs within the lesson. Again, there’s too much to say for on bullet point in a post about TA’s, but that’s the gist; whole school systems that are designed for the whole school and, as such, meet the needs of all students.
  • All teachers are teachers of SEN…
    Being a truly inclusive school relies on having a truly inclusive school culture. There’s no TA’s and no withdrawal, so if they’re on your register they’re your responsibility… and the expectation for low ability students to make progress is as high as it is for everyone else; in fact, it’s higher – they’ve got further to travel. Literacy intervention is the responsibility of the English department and numeracy is the responsibility of the maths department. That leaves pastoral intervention and support for the Individual Needs department (IN); homework club, handwriting, dyslexia support, ASC, access for physical and sensory disabilities et cetera. The superstructures support teaching staff to support their vulnerable learners, but there’s no denying that some students present more of a challenge for inclusivity than others. IN strives to provide the information and back-up – Inclusion Strategies (INIS’s – similar to one-page-profiles) and Intervention Plans (INIP’s – replace IEP’s), support with planning, resources and assessing students, advice and information – that make success possible.
  • The bigger picture…
    Of course, this all sits within the wider framework of educational and societal equality at the local authority, regional and national level. Mary Warnock, in her 2005 revision of her views on SEN-D policy, suggested that there should be more, smaller schools. This would enable schools to have fairly narrow specialisms (including specialisms that would make them more suited to children with complex additional needs as well as specialisms such as sports, arts, science, computing et cetera), it would give parents more choice as to where their child goes to school, and it would enable each school to foster a more nurturing, personal overall environment. In addition, it is vital that each child is in the school that is right for them; the school that can give them the best quality of education and school experience possible. For some students this could mean a school that specialises in a particular skill they have demonstrated or are interested in – dance, computing, sports et cetera – and for others it might be a school that specialises in a particular need they have – Autism, complex learning needs, multi-sensory impairment et cetera –and provide a certain kind of environment, resources or expertise. I still firmly believe that the local school is, more often than not, the right school for the majority of children; including those with a Statement of SEN or EHCP. Being truly inclusive means having a diverse community where children learn tolerance, acceptance and to value all sorts of different people, and being open minded, flexible and willing to apply every aspect of your school policy to a wide range of abilities and needs… but this needs to be in balance with a commitment to ensuring that each child is getting equal quality of education and experience; and it may be that this can only be attained at a different school. Equality at a local authority, regional or societal level means getting a balance between these two things, and this will enable each individual school to be truly inclusive as a result.

I’m not saying what we are doing is perfect. It’s a work in progress and will need continuous, ongoing tweaking and re-adjusting in order to ensure that we are getting it right. What’s more, every new cohort will bring a fresh set of challenges that will require us to review the systems in order to make sure true inclusion – equal quality of education – is being achieved. Ultimately, we do what is right for the individual; educationally and experientially. We do not currently have any students with complex physical or sensory need and, although I strongly believe that the systems we have in place will cater for these students’ learning needs, I realise that they may need support to access the physical environment or communication of the classroom and that this may require support. We have already discussed employing PA’s – personal assistants – to fulfill this role, but with the above described system remaining in place and no expectation of them to function as a teaching assistant, only to support safe access, personal care et cetera. Key stage 4 will bring a new set of challenges that will need to be met and we will, eventually, have a sixth form as well. I’m confident that the system we are developing will remain fit for purpose throughout, but only if we remain open minded, flexible, and focused on the individual needs of each individual child that comes on role. And that’s what true inclusion is all about.