This articles discusses using the National Program for Specialist Leaders of Behavior and Attendance (NPSLBA) to transform behavior and raise attendance

South Gloucestershire local authority (LA) was interested in piloting the National Program for Specialist Leaders of Behavior and Attendance (NPSLBA) as it could see its potential to develop staff knowledge and skills and therefore bring about improvements in behavior and attendance. It decided to set up two pilot groups – one contained a mixture of staff from various local schools and support services and the other comprised staff who all came from one secondary school. It was hoped that this approach would help to inform the best way to incorporate the NPSLBA into its behavior and attendance strategy in the future.

South Gloucestershire LA was aware that, although behavior and attendance were good at The Ridings High School, it was a school open to new ideas and constantly looking for ways to improve. It would therefore be an ideal place to pilot this new staff development program.

Existing approach

Prior to joining the program, the school had a hierarchical approach to behavior and attendance issues. There were two heads of school at Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4, who took overall responsibility for all aspects of pupils’ learning. Heads of year were responsible for their year group and took them through from Years 7 to 11; they were the members of staff that dealt with day-to-day discipline and attendance issues. The school had a sanctions grid that was administered by heads of years, each in their own way with their own style, so there was a different interpretation, style and image in each year.

When the school was approached to take part in the pilot, the pastoral team saw it as an opportunity to work together to develop a more consistent approach and it agreed to form a cluster group to pilot the program. A group of 11 people started on the program but, during the year, as the group became established and its worth recognized around the school, the team expanded. By the end of the year, it had grown to 14, including the director of the lower school, heads and deputy heads of year, the learning support unit (LSU) manager and two teaching assistants.

The cluster group met monthly in twilight sessions to work together on the NPSLBA study materials. A member of the senior management team (SMT) or a head of department was invited to each session so that the whole school became aware of the program and the ethos, procedures and practices that were being developed by the group.

Actions arising

Actions that arose out of the program involved changes in the areas of staff training, the school behavior policy, how the school meets individual pupil’s needs and study skills. The school also decided to set up a learning support unit.

Staff training

Members of the group have delivered a whole-school in-service training session, based on ‘The child and the law’ study materials from the NPSLBA. The learning support unit manager now delivers training sessions for newly-qualified teachers (NQT) and graduate trainees on positive behavior management, using activities from the program materials.

The in-service training sessions for staff that have been led by members of the team have been positively evaluated by those taking part.

Revising behavior policy

The school’s behavior policy has now been revised to incorporate more positive approaches to managing behavior. The interventions that are used by the school are now based on meeting pupils’ needs. The message to all members of staff is to catch students being good and to focus on this. The ethos of the school is changing as staff push the merit system, as they develop an understanding of pupil behavior and as the range of strategies available to deal with poor behavior increases.

The school forms have been changed to include indications of positive as well as negative behavior. The school sanction grid is also under review, as is the detention system.

School context

The Ridings High School is a community comprehensive school that is located in Winterbourne, a semi-rural area to the north of the Bristol conurbation. With a mixed 11 to 18 intake of 1,904, it is much bigger than average. The school has held specialist status, with a technology focus, since 1998. Having technology college status has enabled it to develop and build on the links with local primary schools and also those with local and national businesses. It has also enhanced facilities to the benefit of all curriculum areas.

The school’s pupils are drawn mainly from white UK backgrounds; 3% are from non-white heritage and the free school meals (FSM) eligibility is 5%. The proportion of pupils that has been identified as having special educational needs (SEN) is average at 10%. There are 206 students at the School Action stage, 59 at School Action Plus and 21 with an SEN statement.

The standards of the pupils at entry are above average, with no marked differences overall between boys and girls. The 2003 Ofsted report found that, ‘Pupils and students show good achievement because of good teaching across the school; although they enter the school with above average standards, they continue to improve.’ For example, the school attained 75% A*–C GCSE grades in 2004, 80% A*–C grades in 2005, and 80% A*–C grades in 2006.

The school obtained international school status in 2005 and introduced the International Baccalaureate from September 2006.

Meeting individual needs

The pastoral team meet frequently to discuss selected pupils who are at risk of exclusion. The meeting focuses on positive behavior strategies and identifying the needs of the student that the behavior is serving. Finding alternative methods of meeting those needs is discussed and strategies are built into the student’s individual education plan (IEP).

Lunchtime case conferences are held with all the staff who are involved in teaching these pupils. At these conferences, staff discuss how to implement the strategies agreed and ensure a common and consistent approach.

Setting up a learning support unit

There was no learning support unit at The Ridings High School before the beginning of the NPSLBA training course. However, through work on the program, the school identified that a learning support unit would be a valuable resource and would:

  • help to reduce exclusions
  • help meet the needs of the most challenging pupils
  • support staff development.

The Behavior for Learning Centre (B4LC) was set up in September 2005. An existing head of year was promoted to the post of head of center. This member of staff had been very much the driving force behind initiating the NPSLBA program in the school. The center’s aim was to change pupils’ behavior through introducing positive strategies, rather than it being a ‘sin bin’ where pupils were sent as a penalty for poor behavior.

The center was driven and guided by the principles on which NPSLBA is based. The B4LC teaching assistant (who was one of the cluster group members) now goes into lessons to observe pupils who have been referred to the learning support unit.

Taking part in the program gave her the confidence, skills and knowledge to do this. Her observations and recommendations have been welcomed by teaching staff.

Mainstream staff who teach in the center are supported to develop positive behavior management strategies.

Study skills

Before the NPSLBA program was introduced into the school, the head of year for Year 11 had put on a study skills day for all Year 11 pupils each year. Following the NPSLBA group’s study of the program’s materials on learning styles, this has now been extended to all year groups, to give them the skills necessary to get the most out of learning.

Key changes

  • Whole-school staff INSET with training sessions for newly qualified teachers and graduate trainees
  • Revision of behavior policy to incorporate more positive approaches. Also revision of sanctions and detentions system
  • Attempts to understand problem behavior and find strategies to meet the student’s needs
  • Focusing on positive behavior strategies
  • Setting up a learning support unit, the Behavior for Learning Centre
  • Teaching study skills to all years
  • Ensuring behavior and attendance policies are consistent throughout the whole school, rather than different for each year group or key stage

Benefits

The program benefited the school in three main areas. It improved the role of the pastoral team, it improved behavior in the school and brought about a change in the school ethos that has affected the atmosphere in school.

Improved role of pastoral team

The strength and commitment of the pastoral team has grown considerably as a result of working on the program together. The biggest change has been the workforce agreement that established the team as core in terms of school improvement. As a result, deputy head of year posts have been enhanced and heads of year have had their salaries increased, within the new workforce agreement; they now enjoy greater status within the school.

There is now a dedicated head of Year 7, plus a dedicated team of Year 7 tutors, who work together to set the ethos and behavior pattern that the school wants to establish.

Heads of year now have regular meetings together across both Key
Stage 3 and Key Stage 4, rather than having separate meetings for each key stage. This has helped to bring about consistency of approaches across key stages throughout the school. The cluster group continues to meet to study the remaining NPSLBA materials, with a view to enhancing their knowledge and skills.

Improved behavior

Following the introduction of the program, there has been a substantial increase in pupils who have achieved 40 merits in the last two years (40 merits achieves a gold certificate under the awards system, when recipients also receive a £5 book voucher for their achievement). Fixed-term exclusions have reduced by 25%. There has also been a 20% reduction in pupils who have been placed on the ‘stages to exclusion’ ladder.

Change in ethos

The director for the lower school describes the differences as ‘a sea change’. She says that it has made a difference to the way staff interact with students. Pupils report that staff now listen to them more and that they now feel they have a voice.

We are currently concentrating on access to the curriculum because we have found that every pupil referred to the learning support unit has difficulties with accessing the curriculum.

Key advice

It is useful to have a core group of people from one school working together to bring about change. Working together on the NPSLBA in this way has given The Ridings High School a united approach to school discipline. The heads of year and heads of school now behave as a whole-school team rather than as separate year groups. The whole school has developed a shared vision and we all speak the same language.

The NPSLBA program materials are excellent for staff development and give a clear focus for each meeting.

Future plans

South Gloucestershire LA has recognized how working on NPSLBA in this way has had a positive effect on the school and is using it as a model for its roll-out plans for improving behavior and attendance in all schools.
An area for future development is to include partners from other agencies within cluster groups to support the Every Child Matters agenda and bring in a more diverse perspective.

Carolyn Waterstone, South-west Regional Coordinator of the NPSLBA, with information provided by Sandrina Gay, Director of Lower School, and Russ Hewkins, Head of B4LC at The Ridings High School