Diary of a headteacher: A focus on behaviour

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:
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According to the statistics, behaviour seems to be getting worse in primary schools – yet this is no reason to abandon our ideals...

Is it just me or do we seem to have more children in our schools with challenging behaviour year-on-year?! It definitely isn’t just me because if you refer to the data on exclusions in primary schools it shows an alarming upward trend over recent years.

In 2012, there were 37,790 fixed-period exclusions in primaries and a similar number in 2013. In the subsequent three years though this figure rose by approximately 5,000 per year. By 2016, we saw fixed term exclusions in primary schools reach 55,740. The picture with regard to permanent exclusions shows a similar increasing trend over those five years from 690 to 1,145 in 2016.

Here at Anton Junior we have had a reasonable number of challenging children over the years, including a number who had been permanently excluded from their previous school. Currently we have more pupils than ever who present a challenge on a fairly regular basis.

At the start of this academic year it was a daily occurrence for me or my deputies to be called out to the playground at the end of breaktime because children were refusing to come back to class. Fortunately this seems to have settled and the sight of me with my mobile phone and the folder of parents’ contact details has, for the moment, done the trick.

Talking to colleague headteachers I know that this sort of behaviour (and worse) is being replicated in schools across our area and when we attended Team Teach training we were amazed by how many schools were signing up their staff on a course that teaches participants how to safely physically restrain children. I am not sure these courses would have been so packed out 10 years ago.

I have to say that I thought the course was excellent and we have subsequently put 10 of our staff through the training. While we did come away with knowledge on restraining pupils, what was much more powerful was the knowledge we gained on de-escalation strategies.

As a junior school we get a heads up when there is a trickier cohort of children coming our way, so in anticipation for our current pupils we did a lot of work last summer preparing ourselves. We visited another local school who had established a successful Nurture Group and talked to staff and pupils there about how it works and what sort of impact it has had. This helped our own nurture provision to have a positive impact fairly swiftly. The key to the success of our facility is that the staff who run it have genuine affection for all the children who attend – clearly the kids have picked up on this and it has meant that trusting and respectful relationships have developed.

To support one of our most challenging pupils we worked with superb staff from Wolverdene, a special school for children aged five to 11 who have social, emotional and mental health needs. Wolverdene is outstanding in every sense and we were very lucky to engage one of their excellent staff to do some outreach.

During an observed lesson, the pupil was displaying some difficult behaviour and at the end of the lesson the class teacher was clearly upset. Now, this is an outstanding teacher who really cares about the pupils in his classroom. So I went down at lunch to reassure him that it was no bad thing that the staff from Wolverdene saw the pupil’s behaviour.

He replied: “I know, but if they see her misbehaving she might have to go to Wolverdene and I really don’t want to lose her from my class.”

It was an admirable sentiment about what might be the trickiest pupil in the school. Recently, when somebody insinuated to me that primary schools could be more inclusive, I relayed this story. My teacher’s attitude could not be more inclusive and is typical of many great teachers across the country. 

  • Tom Donohoe is the headteacher of Anton Junior School in Hampshire.

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