Case Study 32, November 2002

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Positive Approaches to Discipline and
Developing the Rights and Responsibilities of Children and Young People

This is the first Case Study of five during the 2002-03 session. We offered volunteer schools this year a variety of themes, including last year's 'Overcoming Barriers to Participation'. Other themes suggested, all of them intertwined to some extent and all heavily dependent on establishing a positive school ethos, were: 'Including the Potentially Excluded', 'Involving Pupils in School Decision-Making', 'Education for Citizenship', 'Promoting Positive Approaches to Discipline' and 'Developing the Rights and Responsibilities of Children and Young People'. Last session's SSEN Ethos Award winner, Alloa Academy, has chosen to focus on the last two of these themes which played an important part in its drive to improve its ethos and its educational attainments. The school has still to meet more challenges to its further progress, but the Ethos Award judges recognised that, despite this, successful efforts were being made across many fronts.

This Case Study was published by the Scottish Schools Ethos Network.

Contact for this Case Study
Alloa Academy
FK10 2EQ
Tel: 01259 214979
Fax: 01259 211022


Alloa Academy is the smallest of the three secondary schools in Clackmannanshire, Scotland's smallest Council. Our roll is 750 and we have 61.4 fte teaching staff in the school, together with five supervisory assistants to help pupils with significant special educational needs, as well as two classroom assistants, one full-time librarian, three technicians, two janitors and five fte administrative personnel. The school serves the town of Alloa only. It has a large intake of pupils from an area of multiple disadvantage. Our efforts over the last few years have centred on building up the expectations of pupils, improving exam success and developing the rights and the responsibilities of pupils and staff. We were delighted when we won the SSEN Ethos Award this year. However, although we knew that this recognised our efforts and successes, we also knew that it did not mean that our struggles were over - far from it!

Picture A shows some of our pupils relaxing in front of a pupil-painted mural in the nicely decorated social area of the school, listening to piped music of their own choice. But this is not handed to our pupils on a plate. Positive experiences like these come about as a result of complying with a well-understood school-wide positive behaviour strategy and of accepting that pupils have responsibilities as well as rights.

One of the key elements in the improvements we have achieved to date has been improved behaviour. This is not easily achieved. It might have been tempting, given the level of provocation sometimes, to go down the road of 'clamping down' on unacceptable behaviours with a punitive system. However, the Head and SMT of Alloa Academy were convinced that a more secure baseline of desirable behaviours could be laid by positive, rather than negative, strategies. This does not preclude the use of 'zero tolerance' towards certain forms of behaviour that have been recognised through general SMT, staff and pupil prior agreement as unacceptable.

Initially it was quite hard to get the message about positive approaches over to all the partners in the process - staff, pupils and parents. Generally, we tend to think about punishments for wrong-doing rather than rewards for right-doing! Pupils in a negative reinforcement system may experience quite a high level of privileges and entitlements but lose them if they fall foul of the rules. Such an approach is negative in pupils' experience, it results in loss which can, in turn, lead to resentment and then to further negative behaviours. We found the better way was to decide what were the baseline 'norms' of behaviour that would enable progress in pupils' attainments and that would also enable the school to be a more pleasant and safe place for all. Pupils then received recognition and rewards for complying with these baseline behaviours such as attending school, being on time, doing homework and wearing school uniform.

Plainly, some pupils might have complied with some or all of these behaviours anyway. However, by highlighting them as a focus for positive attention, we think that we also make explicit some of the important principles about enabling better learning through better behaviour. In doing so, we win over some members of the school community who might be more resistant. For instance, some pupils, parents and staff might have felt either that all pupils should wear school uniform simply as a matter of pride or to enable the quick recognition of misbehaving pupils going to or from school. The problematic reality was that pupils wearing their own clothes emphasised inequity of various kinds and offered a major focus for bullying behaviours and inter-pupil strife. We negotiated an economically practicable and aesthetically acceptable school uniform with parents and pupils and sell it on a non-profit making basis. In doing this, we reduce bullying, time spent sorting bullying out, and socio-economic pressures on parents and children, and increase time spent learning and teaching and the feeling that all our pupils are equal members of the community. Those who wear the school uniform are now about 99% of the pupil population on any day (Picture B). The saving of time and emotional energy for all is very considerable, if harder to quantify!

We strive to ensure that pupils know and understand what is expected of them and why. In classrooms, for example, our discipline code is visibly in place in that a set of rules is agreed and displayed in every room. We have basic common rules plus some that refer only to a specific class, such as, for example, those that are essential for safe working in a technical workshop. Alongside this we have the requirements for receiving praise on display for all pupils to read.
Pupils who meet the baseline requirements for behaviour, such as the wearing of uniform, the bringing to school of homework diaries, conforming to classroom or out-of-class codes of behaviour, and who thus enable better learning, safety and comfort for all, are rewarded in a variety of ways. They are served lunch before those who do not meet the baseline. At exam times, the privilege of study leave is linked to compliance with the agreed behaviour codes, as is permission to stay inside at break times and participation in the many lunch-time clubs and activities. These clubs and activities in themselves have also contributed hugely to a better ethos and better behaviour in the school.

Other kinds of reward are registered by stamps (See Picture C) in the homework diary that can be accumulated and converted into the purchase of items in school colours with our badge and motto. Homework diaries are specially printed to take praise 'stamps' (an ink stamp with a praise word and the school badge) at the back. We strongly believe that no stamps should be issued unless the pupil has the diary with them - having the stamp pages as part of the diary is essential here, rather than having a separate booklet for the stamps to be collected. Stamps are counted up and are worth 1p for S1-4 and 2p for S5/6 - this reflects the reality that the older pupils tend to mature and behave better and that staff come to expect this and reward older pupils less often! Stamps can be exchanged for various items, selected after consultation with pupils, e.g. pens, pencils, torches and radios. They may also be accumulated by the far-sighted towards disco and School-leaving Prom tickets.

Every instruction or rule in a school can be written in a positive way. The linking of privileges to expected behavioural outcomes is a very effective way of ensuring a basic acceptable level of behaviour in the school. It does take time to establish and continuing attention to ensure that all pupils and staff have it in mind. In our experience the application of these principles has contributed to a substantial reduction in exclusions from school and to better exam results (see data below), together with improvement in the ethos of the school.

Number of exclusions
SQA Examination Data
% of candidates achieving
3+ Highers at Levels A-C
18 (20 after appeal)
5+ Highers at Levels A-C
5+ Standard Grades at Levels 1-4
5+ Standard Grades at Levels 1-2
19 (before appeal)




Picture A: Pupils enjoying well-earned privileges in the school's social area.
  Pupils' verbal comments from discussions with Case Study editor  
It could seem like, well, some pupils get rewarded for what seems to us (prefects) as quite normal behaviour but I suppose it is harder for them and so they deserve a reward.
(S5 Pupil)
I think it's good that you can earn being inside at breaks. That's when the young ones get up to mischief or there can be bullying. Inside, they're all busy.
(S6 Pupil)
Sometimes the teachers over-reward the younger pupils. They forget us older pupils want to be rewarded too.
(S5 Pupil)
I think I'll have enough stamps to pay my Leavers' Prom.
(S6 Pupil)
The rules are pretty decent - we agreed them, then they're put on the wall.
(S2 Pupil)
They (teachers) remind you a lot, then they remind you at assembly, then the prefects tell you. There's no chance you'd forget them (rules) really.
(S2 Pupil)
Och, rules! But I wouldn't want to be outside at lunch without my pals and the clubs and everything.
(S1 Pupil)
  Parents' comments  
The school always seems to be trying to improve discipline and improve relationships.
(Parent of S5 pupil)
My daughter likes the reward systems in operation and has received positive referrals for homework handed in and credit stamps for well-presented work. This acts as good feedback to parents. I can check the homework diary and sign it.
(Parent of S1 pupil)
Picture B
Picture B: 99% of our pupils on any day wear school uniform.
Photo C
Picture C: Publicity for the stamp system of rewards is widespread and the messages are well understood.
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