‘Time out’ should be more than just a sanction. How can we help students who are required to spend periods outside the classroom use this time to make positive changes in their behaviour? Dave Stott looks at the systems schools need to have in place

Making positive use of ‘time out’
When students are required to spend short periods outside the classroom they must be given the opportunity to continue the work they would have been engaged in had they remained there. They are also usually given time to review, consider and perhaps write about their behaviour. On a short-term basis, this seems perfectly acceptable, and the ‘thinking time’ this style of ‘time out’ provides will often help the student to reconsider their behaviour and return to the classroom prepared to comply with what is required of them.

Over a longer period of ‘time out’ (such as time spent in inclusion rooms, working with a senior member of staff, in a learning support centre or in alternative provision), providing the work the student would have been engaged in if still in the regular classroom can create problems not only for the student, but also for the supervising staff and specialist subject staff.

Supervisory staff may spend excessive time chasing teaching staff for appropriate work, resources and activities. Any work produced must then also be collected, passed on to teaching staff, marked and returned to the student. This leaves very little time to address the underlying causes of the student’s problem behaviour.

If the period of time out is simply the provision of a quieter or ‘stricter’ environment, with less distractions than the regular classroom, the behaviour of the student may well be helped in the short term, but such arrangements are unlikely to bring about any long-lasting positive changes.

The challenge for teaching staff is, therefore: how can the period of time out be used more profitably? How can we provide an opportunity or an environment that is quiet and free from distraction while not disadvantaging the student because they are missing out on work? How can we do all of this and still make positive changes to the student’s behaviour?

Practical tips
Students who are required to spend time out of their normal teaching groups must have the opportunity to continue with the work set for the whole group. This requires having clear and workable systems in place which do not require that support staff spend an unacceptable amount of time trying to locate teaching staff, appropriate resources and equipment.

Time out areas operate under various titles. They should have sufficient resources to meet the needs of the year groups using the area. Thought should be put into how they can best bring about changes in unacceptable behaviour.

When time out provision is staffed by a range of adults (eg, senior staff, support staff, a rota system using staff on ‘no contact time’… unwilling staff!) it will be very difficult to provide anything other than an opportunity for students to continue their work in a different environment.

Time out provision run by specialist teaching or support staff can make significant changes to the behaviour patterns of students. While it must provide appropriate academic work, time out is an excellent opportunity for students to undertake a range of activities aimed at making positive changes to their behaviour.

These may include:

  • problem solving activities
  • managing emotions (anger, frustration)
  • self help
  • group work
  • active listening skills
  • organisational skills
  • independent work
  • motivation
  • social skills

In order for time out provisions and units to offer any of the above there will need to be appropriate resources and trained staff to use them.

There should be a recognition of the students’ difficulties and an understanding that time out may be used not simply as a sanction for problem behaviour, but also as an opportunity to address these issues and start to make positive changes – changes that don’t just take place while the student is in time out, but which can be seen over the long term and in all teaching and learning environments.

Top tips are therefore:

  • workable systems for teaching staff to provide appropriate work
  • dedicated and trained staff in time out provision
  • appropriate additional resources to address behavioural needs
  • an established ethos that ‘time out’ is used as an opportunity to make positive changes to student behaviour and is not just used as a sanction.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2010

About the author: Dave Stott has 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher. He has worked in mainstream and special schools, and Local Authority behaviour support services. Dave is now a writer, consultant and trainer.