Problems with behaviour can be managed by building a pastoral team, with the help of an excellence cluster. So discovered headteacher John Viner in his second article in a series on bringing Drapers Mills Primary school out of special measures

In the last article, I described how we moved at Drapers Mill from a ‘discipline code’ to a ‘behaviour policy’. Despite this, lessons went on being disrupted, our exclusions were excessive and our standards were dropping through the floor. Clearly, looking to raise standards was futile unless we could get on top of the behaviour.

Excellence cluster
Because of the high level of social and economic deprivation in Thanet, 14 schools were selected to be part of an excellence cluster.

For primary schools, this meant that there was funding to employ learning mentors and provide support for our gifted and talented students. The headteachers were also asked to select an additional locally tailored strand. We chose emotional literacy, because a previous project had sparked our interest in the topic.

A central focus was on using emotional intelligence to raise standards. This meant that we had funding for additional staff and had support from other schools in the cluster, rather than having to struggle in isolation.

Pastoral team
The school already had a hard-pressed family liaison officer, Jill Hitch. Additional funding meant that we could pay her to work as a learning mentor. In these early days none of us realised the impact this would have.

Through the excellence cluster, Jill had access to the national training programme for learning mentors. As her knowledge grew, so did her capacity to break down children’s barriers to learning. The consequence was an enormous expansion in her workload. This led us to appoint a new family liaison officer, Mary Brown, so that Jill could work full time as a learning mentor.

We then used some of our additional funding to employ a second learning mentor, whose brief was solely to address behavioural barriers to learning. Michelle Friday was already employed in the school as a teaching assistant and came with a background of similar work in a residential setting. Her appointment allowed us to really get to grips with children’s needs.

And so was created our pastoral team, which we now regard as the heart of the school. We gave Mary the new title of pupil services manager and put her in charge. She shares child protection responsibilities with me, which is a big job in a school that has more children on the at risk register than any other primary in the authority.

The team developed its own strategic capacity for leading areas of school development. Slowly, behaviour began to improve. And, as that happened, so did staff attitudes; they could see that their lessons were increasingly times of learning rather than a struggle for supremacy. And, as lessons became calmer, children began to learn even better.

Manners matter
In the summer of 2005, the senior team started to discuss how we could raise our expectations of the way our kids spoke to staff and each other. On a visit to Japan, I had been struck by the impact extreme politeness had on the quality of social interactions. If they could do that in Japan, then why could we not do the same in Margate?

The result was our Manners Matter campaign, which involved:

  • teaching manners
  • rewarding good examples with stickers and praise
  • identifying the Politest Class of the Week for the Politeness Power Rangers Award. (It may have been cheesy, but it worked!)

When the Campaign for Courtesy was approached by the BBC to name a school where manners mattered, they pointed them in our direction. The BBC spent two hours filming what were doing. These two hours were then distilled into two minutes of broadcast time, but it put us in the national limelight for something that was positive for a change. This did a lot for staff and pupils. It also helped to counter our lousy local reputation.

Growing calmer
People who knew the school noticed how much calmer the atmosphere had become. We recruited a third learning mentor, Jayde, to run a small withdrawal unit for those children who sometimes needed to be taught away from the class.

In 2006 we decided that we would start to talk to children about ‘the way we do things at Drapers Mills’. This told them there were expectations they had to meet, and that they could be proud of the way they behaved. We developed a new tagline – ‘Drapers Mills – where every child really matters’ – and displayed it prominently around the school on professionally-made signs.

Find out more about Thanet Excellence Cluster