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Research School Network: Improving Behaviours Changing behaviours at The Blue School

Improving Behaviours

Changing behaviours at The Blue School

by West Somerset Research School
on the

There was a lovely moment last week when our school hosted a conference for students from across Somerset aimed at tackling the issue of climate change. Our students used a clip from David Attenborough by way of introduction and it was, without doubt, spellbinding in its ability to hit home. It was enough to give the students common currency and to believe that they could create change.

I trust that it is not too controversial to suggest that Attenborough has had a special impact in this field. The Blue Planet series seems to have done something that resonated with its audience, particularly on the use of plastics and how they affect the marine environment. In that respect, it has been a driver for a change in behaviour, altering how many of us think about the environment in everyday life.

School improvement work tries to do the same thing. Perhaps not save the planet – although I accept that that is debatable – but its focus is frequently on changing behaviours. And the behaviour that we most frequently want to change is behaviour itself, for students to work together with staff and other students in this eclectic social environment that we cohabit.

At The Blue School, we created a new strategic plan last year, based around the EEF’s Improving Behaviour in Schools guidance report, and I am pleased to say that the early signs are encouraging. The number of students with the most frequent demerits has halved and the restorative work that is happening with those students is showing signs of progress. There will be a time and a place for a full evaluation of that strategy, but I wanted to draw on one particular aspect that hopefully gets school leaders to think.

Under the prevention’ arm of our strategy, we have focussed very heavily on improving the skillset of teachers in the classroom to understand the causes of student misbehaviour, apply metacognitive approaches and expand the range of classroom techniques applied. In broad terms, these form the first three recommendations of the guidance report.

Our investment in this has been substantial. In the first half-term of the school year, we held five dedicated training sessions because we felt it was important to front load the information for staff. To do so required other meetings to be taken out of the school calendar. From October half-term, our staff were then asked to engage in a disciplined enquiry, supported by a teaching coach, that asked them to apply the understanding and strategies to a class that they found more difficult to manage. Our coaches have continued to support those members of staff, in the classroom and by bringing staff together, and that work is ongoing.

It is important to note the extent to which this is a process, not an event (note recommendation 1 of the EEF’s Guide to Implementation). We are investing in developing our staff in order that they become the solutions to solving the problems. This is a long-term plan, a plan focussed on making us all better’ teachers, with more knowledge, understanding and skills to be able to tackle some of the difficult problems we face in school.

We are trying to use methodologies similar to Attenborough, notably trying to connect directly with teachers and what motivates them. This includes sharing the stories about individual students, communicating what works with particular individuals, being able to reflect upon our own practice in a positive environment. Clearly, teachers want an outcome that delivers better behaviour, but we are building the capital that shows everyone is part of achieving that. In our school of about 100 teachers, a small gain made by all of them adds up to a significant collective impact and, perhaps, that is what we are beginning to see.

Mark Woodlock
Headteacher, The Blue School

January 8th 2020

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