OFSTED had committed Stafford Green to improving the “small amount of unacceptable behaviour”. Bob, the Head, decided to turn to technology for a solution.
Well I say a solution. Perhaps a “cost free activity that can be listed on forms to create the impression of action” would be a better description. Kevin, a member of middle management, had brought the “Behaviour Management Database” with him from his previous school. It wasn’t copyrighted and could be run using software the school already had access to. The idea was that all disciplinary incidents would be logged in the database, along with the action taken (chosen from Detention, contacting parents, and referring it on to a variety of the usual suspects). Once recorded the records were available to all, so tutors could monitor their students and any action taken after a referral would also be logged on the database. This replaced an informal system of emails and private conversations that had previously been used to refer incidents. Detentions were still to be organised by the teacher issuing them, using the database to organise them would have been a step too far for Bill.
The following term the system was launched. First, in one or two departments, then across the school. To begin with staff were delighted that there was something being done about behaviour. Within a month it became clear that logging detentions made very little difference. In fact as it was setting a detention meant writing a detention slip for the student, making your own record of it, writing another detention slip when they didn’t turn up, making your own record of that, informing your Head of Department that they had missed it a second time, writing another slip for your Head of Department and passing it on to a form tutor or some similar combination of futile tasks. This process was not helped by having to log the detentions, and missed detentions, in the Behaviour Management Database and so staff stopped using it for detentions and only used it for referrals – which would usually have to be typed out for emails anyway. It became in effect an ongoing log of serious incidents that was then used to judge which year heads were doing a good job or not.
During the summer holidays I ran into Kevin in school. He told me that he was steering clear of doing anything more to develop the Behaviour Management Database. Apparently the way Bob was using it was creating resentment among middle managers and for the sake of his career he needed to disassociate himself from it.
At the start of the next term I was surprised to hear Bob describing it as the Behaviour Monitoring Database rather than the Behaviour Management Database. Moreover the “follow up” option had mysteriously disappeared. The system could tell you what students had done but not what had been done about it. No record existed of any actions taken by anybody other than the class teacher. It became nothing more than a record of serious incidents, useful to the Head when trying to refer students to outside agencies, completely without advantage for dealing with individual incidents of poor behaviour. I found this out to my cost when I reported an assault on me using the system and nothing was done until he assaulted me a second time and I went to the Deputy Head and demanded action. The action consisted of a brief warning, which failed to prevent a third assault on me.
There are two lessons to be learnt from the saga of the database. The first is one that I had already learnt from Woodrow Wilson school: there is no point having systems for recording incidents if nothing is done about them. The second lesson is more interesting. The database provides an accurate record of how bad a student can be in a British secondary school and still be allowed to attend.
The worst offenders for the two terms before I left the school were:
Jack Kelps (Year 8): 96 incidents of which 16 were verbal abuse of staff.
Kieran Smith (Year 7): 77 incidents of which 20 were verbal abuse of staff.
Kieran Kennings (Year 8): 75 incidents of which 12 were verbal abuse of staff.
Now remember that this is for two terms, less than 150 days of school. Also remember that by this point staff had long since stopped logging minor incidents and so every single incident involves at the very least the sort of disruptive behaviour that requires a student be removed from the classroom. Year 7 are aged from 11-12 and Year 8 from 12-13 but because of the time of year most incidents would have occurred while they were at the lower end of that age range. None of these three were permanently excluded – the LEA had virtually eliminated permanent exclusions. Also pupils were taught mainly in their tutor groups, so sach child’s incidents would have taken place within the same class in front of the same small audience, (the two year 8’s were actually in the same tutor group). Now imagine the effect that sort of concentrated poor behaviour has on the students that witness it. Now imagine your child was a student in that class, and you could have sent them there secure in the knowledge that OFSTED had declared it to be a very good school with a small amount of unacceptable behaviour. Is this a system fit for your child? Or for that matter is it fit for the teaching staff on the receiving end of almost fifty incidents of verbal abuse a term, just from these three boys?