An incompetent tale – a failing way to address lateness/ behaviour/ exclusions as a Head

I’m not sure if I can do the incompetence of this tale justice, but I will try.

If you work in a shit challenging school, you probably know that behaviour is crap in most schools. It’s worse in shit challenging schools, probably because it’s the behaviour that made the school challenging.

I don’t think I’ve heard of a challenging school with good behaviour. That doesn’t mean a school that OFSTED say has “good” behaviour, because how would they know? They see schools put on a show, and even in the worst schools, kids and staff tend to act better for OFSTED.

Anyway, a while ago I worked in a school where the longstanding and respected Headteacher retired. Behaviour wasn’t great, but it wasn’t as bad as in some other schools where I have worked. The school couldn’t appoint a new Head, or the Governors didn’t move quick enough in order to – I’m not sure which. In any case, we had the Deputy step up, then we had an Interim Head, then we had the new Head.

The new Head came in and announced he was dealing with lateness to lessons. This was in his view the worst behaviour in the school. Often, pupils would be fooling around in the spacious corridors, or in stairwells, or wherever. They would then fail to get to lessons for fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes of the lesson. This wasn’t properly dealt with so the new Head said he would.

He didn’t ask staff to support him. He just announced that every time a pupil was late they’d add 30 minutes to their detention – with the Head – on a Tuesday after school.

The first week, there were fifteen kids in detention. That was impressive. The school was a great place that week.

Nine turned up. The remaining six were excluded for a day. I was a Head of Year, but I wasn’t asked to be involved in the detention, the exclusions, or the return from exclusion meetings. The Head did them, with all six sets of parents in the same meeting. The six students invariably owed their detention – to be done the following Tuesday.

The second week, five of those six were back in detention (and didn’t turn up), and there were more than fifty in detention. About twenty kids didn’t turn up. They were excluded. The Head did the return from exclusion meeting in the theatre. The five pupils now owed 2 detentions.

You might think this might not continue, because the kids would get the message. They didn’t (get the message). I can’t really describe the Head’s demeanour, but he didn’t exactly have presence.  And the I’ll sort it attitude of the Head while things were getting worse was actually pissing off the staff, who thought they could help – but were being told “no, I’ll do it”.

We were asked to help two weeks later, because there were too many to manage.

Twelve weeks in, some pupils owed 12 detentions. Missing a detention meant you were given a chance to redo. There were still over 30 exclusions a week – I remember one kid had nine exclusions of a day – and the Head sometimes didn’t bother inconveniencing the parents with meetings, let alone personal ones.

So the Head wiped the slate clean. All kids who turned up for detention that week would have their backlog wiped for the holidays.

All the kids apart from two turned up! The detention had been reduced to 20 minutes for all by then. So they all turned up and the Head pronounce this a success.

As anyone reading this blog might predict, the week we were back after the holidays was probably worse in the corridors, with more lateness than ever.

The system withered away a few weeks later. The “staff suggestions book” he’d introduced in the staffroom disappeared. The Deputy who had previously stepped up returned to holding the school together. The Head was barely seen again as he retreated to the sanctity of his office.

I believe the school would have been better (though still crap) if he’d left the lateness issue alone. That’s how incompetent his attempt to deal with it was. He made things worse

The Head left just before the summer, put on gardening leave to work with the Local Authority. I had resigned with no job to go to, but withdrew the resignation following that announcement.

Shockingly, he has since seen another school into special measures and currently presides over a repeatedly satisfactory/ requires improvement school. I have no idea how either governing body didn’t realise this might be a risk – and there’s probably a shocking tale of incompetence in there as well.

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