Recently I was at a networking event for Teach First ambassadors in middle or senior leadership, and I conversation I was having with a Head of Maths really got me thinking. We were talking about how interesting it would be to work abroad one day – I was thinking about the benefits of living in Barcelona, learning about another culture and practising my Spanish. But he wasn’t. He said to me, “Imagine what it would be like to be standing in front of a class of students who are sat quietly, listening to you teach,”
I don’t have to imagine this – it is my daily reality since starting at Harris Academy Battersea. My teaching (and enjoyment of it) has improved as I focus on pedagogy rather than behaviour management. I’ve started to get used to this, so I was surprised to hear that some teachers feel they would have to work in an international school abroad to be able to teach to well behaved and engaged students.
When I was talking about the students in our school the Head of Maths was amazed (and is now coming in to walk around and see what it is like, and how we do it). He asked me about our policies and how we have managed to achieve this. The truth is, it really isn’t rocket science. Our behaviour policy has high expectations of student behaviour (e.g. no answering back or rolling eyes disrespectfully at a teacher) but there is nothing about our policy that is significantly different to most other schools.
We follow a ‘two warnings then choice’ behaviour system, with SLT on-call each lesson for anyone needing to be removed from lessons, and a seclusion room on site. Again, I can’t imagine our behaviour system being vastly different to the majority of schools. However, the outcome of behaviour in lessons and around the school are different.
The difference? The policy is followed. Every time. By acting on all transgressions of the policy, no matter how small, students understand exactly where the line is and they very rarely cross it now. Any issue is dealt with quickly by SLT, who know each of the students very well individually. We provide a lot of pastoral support for the students, and we work to pre-empt issues before they arise. Each evening our Principal and Head of Behaviour meet to action every logged behavioural issue. SLT phone home, set and carry out detentions, seclusions and monitor reports.
The result of this is that teachers are free to plan, teach and mark.
To be clear, this is not a selective school, nor do we have a privileged intake. In fact, 88% of the school cohort receive pupil premium and the most recent Ofsted inspection, before the Academy conversion, was inadequate. The school converted in 2014 and the leadership team (half new, and half continuing) started implementing this behaviour system. The number of students in seclusion was high at first, but after a very short time it dropped and is currently very low, in fact, there were no behaviour logs at all a couple of weeks ago. Since then lessons have become places where students are engaged and enjoying learning.
From a teacher viewpoint it is great – I finally got to teach the lifecycle of a star lesson I had dreamt of, where students asked great questions and still wanted to know more when the lesson ended. Students who were here before the change appreciate the environment too. A year 12 students I have just asked summed it up by, “it’s good that everything is focused on learning now”
It turns out you don’t have to move abroad or work in a private school to be able to enjoy teaching after all. It’s not rocket science. It’s consistency, relationships and hard work. Now I can concentrate on teaching (rocket) science