Behaviour and Discipline in Schools - Education Committee Contents


Annex 1: Visit to New Woodlands School, 19 October 2010


The Committee visited New Woodlands School, a London Borough of Lewisham-maintained special school and outreach service for children with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. The Committee held a general discussion with the Headteacher, Duncan Harper, and his deputy, Liz Davis, before splitting into two groups to tour the school and to meet children (one group of primary-age children, one of secondary-age).

The establishment

There are approximately 130 children in the school, 17 of which have a statement of special educational needs. Originally, the school had been a small special school for children with social, emotional and behavioural needs. Most of the school's intake is now of children without statements referred from mainstream schools in the London Borough of Lewisham for short-term spells of alternative provision (i.e. a period of anything between six weeks and several months - (typically 5 to 6 months). Initially, the placements of children without a statement of SEN had been unofficial: it was now formalised through use of the "power to innovate" under the Education Act 2002 and subsequent legislation. The model is unique in the Borough: other institutions might have the same philosophy but were constrained by law from offering the flexibility of provision for children without a statement of SEN: attempts to do so in Manchester and Oldham had been blocked by the Department. Provision elsewhere tended to be fragmented, catering for specific age groups. New Woodlands had valued the trust placed in it by the local authority.

At the time of the visit, New Woodlands had 12 classes, staffed by 16 teachers, 13 teaching assistants and nine outreach teachers who work with pupils (as opposed to staff) in mainstream schools. In addition to classroom work at New Woodlands, outreach staff worked in Lewisham schools, managing behaviour within those schools but referring children to New Woodlands if those efforts were not working.

Funding

Fixed costs (including overheads and staffing) were met by the London Borough of Lewisham. New Woodlands has a Service Level Agreement with all schools in the local area who pay to be 'in the club' on a pay-per-pupil basis. This is worth £0.5m per year to the school. Much of the surplus funding is targeted at supporting students to stay in mainstream schools; this includes funding one to one support for a set period, paying for breakfast clubs and after school clubs etc.

Ethos

The School's Mission Statement is "to provide the same standard of care and education for all our students as we would wish for our own children". The aim is to instil in children an understanding that, in order to fit in to society, they will need to "learn the rules". To do that, they need to think about how they present themselves, what they should aim for in future and how they could meet that aim. The headteacher described the school's approach as "quite old-fashioned": there is an emphasis on strict boundaries, good manners and respect. There is a deliberate effort not to make things too comfortable: exotic adventure activities would not give any incentive to children to return to their mainstream school. Children had to eat lunch at New Woodlands and had to eat together and properly.

The school gives a very strong emphasis to literacy and numeracy. Many of the classes observed during the visit were focusing on basic skills in arithmetic or phonics. New Woodlands' teachers felt that poor literacy was a major issue amongst the pupils referred to the school. A dyslexia specialist working with a pupil with SEN told Members that many behavioural problems could be avoided if mainstream schools used New Woodlands' methods for improving literacy, such as teaching phonics.

Incentives are provided through a token economy system: for instance, good behaviour would be rewarded with an activity at the end of the week. Behaviour was partly measured through "true time", during which staff discussed with individual children their behaviour and invited them to grade it, negotiating towards a mutually agreed grade. This was designed to develop the children's ability to regulate themselves.

Exclusion is avoided, not least because it releases children from responsibility. Parents are also thankful not to have to expect phone calls notifying them of imminent exclusion.

The headteacher and his deputy had worked together for many years and had a common understanding of what needed to be done. They were willing to take risks.

Re-integration

Easier for children of primary age than of secondary age, simply because there were more alternatives for children for whom a fresh start at a different school was needed. Pupils returning to mainstream education are tracked (for instance through assessments of their reading age). Pupils are not returned to mainstream school until they are completely ready - no time limit is set on their stay at New Woodlands. Success in re-integrating New Woodlands' pupils in mainstream school is very high.

The children

The large majority are living in one-parent families; many had witnessed domestic violence, sometimes of a very serious nature. Staff had noted an increase in referrals of 5 and 6 year olds.

In a meeting with five primary age children, children's perceptions were that:

  • The environment at New Woodlands was stricter than at their mainstream school, and they were keen to return: children acknowledged that this could happen if they behaved
  • There were a lot of fights
  • They would like more free time: children acknowledged that this could be earned
  • Swearing was done "for fun" or to annoy other children

In a meeting with secondary age pupils, children's perceptions were that:

  • New Woodlands teachers were nice and able to talk to pupils at their level
  • Pupils learn a lot at New Woodlands
  • Lessons are more interactive and more interesting
  • Pupils receive more 1-1 attention at New Woodlands - this is welcomed by pupils

Special educational needs

The number of children in Lewisham with a Statement of SEN had reduced; in order to get a statement, there needed to be a clear need, and parents needed to be able to show that they had engaged with efforts to improve their child's behaviour. Perhaps 60% of children at the School had specific language or communications needs, in some cases because they had never spent fruitful time with adults. Local schools are required to work in close partnership with New Woodlands and prove that a pupil has significant learning difficulties before a referral can be made. Referral forms must be used, with the mainstream school being specific about the nature of any behavioural issues which need to be addressed.

Parental engagement

This is recognised as very important. The leadership team had considerable success in engaging all parents and was persistent in its attempts to secure meetings with them, either at the School or in homes, at times to suit parents. Home-school agreements with parents might specify that any television or games console in the child's bedroom should be removed until the child had re-integrated into mainstream provision. Efforts are made to ensure that New Woodlands provides a welcoming and non-judgmental environment for parents and carers. For example, tea and biscuits are offered when parents/carers attend for meetings with staff.

Teaching environment

The Committee saw classes of four or five children at Key Stage 3 and 8-10 pupils at Key Stages 1 and 2, with two or three staff (teacher, teaching assistant and perhaps a behaviour team member), although class sizes would probably rise once autumn term referrals came through. Teaching staff were mostly from a mainstream school background. The senior management team and behaviour staff regularly walked the corridors. Classroom doors were locked during lessons.

The school uses a 'primary' model for teaching secondary age pupils, with the same teacher staying with a class for all subjects.

The fabric of the building

Older parts of the building dated from 1998; an extension had been built for Key Stage 3 children in 2007. All areas of the building were light and spacious and were painted in calm, attractive colours. The headteacher believed that the quality of the environment mattered. While new premises offered advantages, older Victorian-era buildings in good repair also served well. Shoddy buildings (often those built during the 1960s) merely indicated to pupils that "they didn't matter".

Learning from the Woodlands experience

Deputy Headteacher Liz Davis felt that all local authorities should be prepared to devolve more of their responsibilities for behaviour management to schools to allow them to innovate in their local areas. Lewisham Council has devolved to New Woodlands all responsibility for managing the highly challenging behaviour of 5-14 year olds, allowing for much greater central co-ordination of support.


 
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