There is understandably a fair bit of controversy about free schools, the way they are funded and to what extent they are succeeding or failing. However, I have been much impressed about what I have read and heard about the Michaela Free School. In his post David Didau writes about his experience of visiting the school – see here.
I heard of Katharine Birbalsingh and knew that she was opening a free school, mainly due to it being reported in the papers. I kind of kept up with it but was too busy being a full-time teacher to really follow-up.
The debate about their no excuses policy seems to have created a lot of heat so I thought I would visit the school website and look at the behaviour policy for myself. You can read it here.
While I would have liked to have seen what merits are awarded for too, the behaviour policy is clear in terms of what is expected from pupils and parents. It is all about dealing with low-level disruptive behaviour and preventing it from escalating. Well done to the team who drew up that policy – anyone reading it knows exactly what the school deems to be poor behaviour and what to expect as a consequence. All stakeholders are clear from the beginning and particularly heartening is that there is a clear guide to the children in terms of what is low-level and what is high level disruption and the differing consequences for these. In addition, if a the child does not accept the consequence, there is again clear guidance about what happens. If a child chooses to escalate their behaviour it is evident that they are choosing to accept a higher level of consequence. I like that governors are actively involved in higher level consequences so they there is more than one person in the school who is responsible for taking the decision and places governors in a role I have not seen before. I think this is important as it should not just be the head who has to carry this burden.
Perhaps even more important than the expectations of the pupils is the expectations from the parents. It is clear that they need to sign up to the values and the ethos of the school. If they don’t want this for their child then they are perfectly entitled to make a different choice. This is about responsibility. The Teaching and Learning Policy makes it clear what is expected from all the key stakeholders – giving clear lines of accountability.
All websites are full of happy, smiley children so I am not one to believe that this necessarily reflects the school. However, if this were replicated in a primary school, I know that I would want to work there. I know that it would enable teachers to teach and pupils to learn. I have seen too many schools where the behaviour policy revolves around the supposed needs (but usually short term wants) of the worst behaved pupils. I would accept I am in the wrong if it worked – it doesn’t. Instead, the behaviour escalates and that of other pupils worsens. There are always children who behave no matter what (the bomb proof children). It is interesting how, not only are they overlooked by some in the school, but the fact that they are behaving well is scorned at times as being too perfect when we should all be hailing the ‘characters’ in the school who like to swear and throw chairs around. If this is what you want for your child then there are plenty of places offering that.
How long can we expect teachers to maintain a behaviour system which does not meet the needs of the majority of the class. What are they learning from watching the behaviour of a minority of pupils who seemingly receive no real consequence for behaviours we all know are unacceptable. I have heard recently of a head who has been told by BST that her staff need to become resilient to the behaviour of poorly behaved pupils. How is this an answer? If behaviour specialists do not know what the answer is fair enough. We should jointly discuss and find out where we might be able to find those answers. Expecting adults to deal with abuse on a daily basis is not the way forward as I have said in previous posts.
If the child has learnt this behaviour by watching it at home, then what will the rest of the class be learning while watching them use the classroom as a theatre to act out their misdirected abuse. Does it come from distress? – in most cases – yes, but the classroom environment never has and never will be the appropriate setting for this to be dealt with, anymore than we expect the places where we work to be able to deal with our problems as adults.
So fair play to Katharine Birbalsingh – she is putting her money where her mouth is and trying to create a school where genuine respect is shown, where all stakeholders understand their role and children are actively being encouraged and supported to show good behaviour that will enable them to learn.