What was your school like before relational practice?

Our school is a larger-than-average Catholic Primary School in a deprived area of Bury. Before relational practice, we had a number of internal exclusions, some children at risk of exclusions, numerous low-level behaviour incidents occurring daily and some extreme classroom behaviours that disrupted the flow of teaching and impacted learning.

Our previous behaviour system was a traffic light system, that used three warnings and then a punishment such as missed playtime or moving classrooms. After three repeated incidents, children were required to spend some time with a member of SLT.

We used phone calls home as part of our sanctions and also issued letters about negative behaviour to parents.

What triggered the change?

We noticed a rise in negative incidents since moving to an electronic safeguarding and behaviour-tracking platform. When reporting to governors, we identified that certain children in identified year groups had many repeat incidents of the same behaviour and that things were not improving with the systems we had in place.

We then had a change in Headteacher and as such, our SLT changed dynamic. We restructured to a Head. Two deputies, a PPG Lead and the SENCO, as well as developing a tier of middle leaders. This gave us a more definitive structure, targeted roles and responsibilities and a renewed mission to restructure our behaviour system in line with our catholic ethos, values and mission.

What were the expectations/hopes?

Our motto in school is ‘dream, believe, achieve’ and after rewriting our mission statement with the children, staff, parish and wider community, we strongly believed that our behaviour policy and principles needed to be part and parcel of this mantra, not an add-on. As such, we hoped to transform the culture through a positive behaviour system, based on restorative justice practice and relational practice.

We hoped for a reduction in physical behaviour incidents at lunchtimes, lesson walkouts, persistent disruptive behaviour and reports of bullying. We expected the process to take time to embed and expected to achieve buy-in from all staff after periods of training using Paul Dix materials, including both books. As such, we were determined to achieve a calmer, more purposeful and inclusive school environment, conducive to high-quality learning for all.

What happened – what have you done, how did it pan out?

Our first step was to create a shared vision as a staff. After rewriting the mission statement, we then took it further by looking at our current behaviour policy. We identified strengths and areas for improvement and together noticed that the policy was written using negative language and was built around sanctions rather than rewards and a drive towards consistency.

We bought each member of staff, including lunchtime staff, cleaners, caretaker etc a copy of ‘When the Adults Change’ and set this as part of ongoing CPD to read and discuss together in teams. We also gave staff a chance to reflect on the chapters they had read using PADLET. This opened up a great discussion. From there, we used this book and its principles to rewrite our behaviour policy.

We started with our consistent expectations. We simplified our code of conduct to ‘Ready, respectful and safe.’ We then went further to underpin each expectation with the SJSB WAY – what we expect to see as examples of ready, respectful and safe. The SJSB Way was then rolled out across the school.

We removed the negative traffic light system and implemented engaging Boards of Positivity in each classroom from nursery to Year 6 and in our shared areas and intervention spaces. We greet children at the door every morning, we use house points as a school-wide recognition system that brings children together into wider teams at key periods across the year to promote shared accountability and collaboration. We started Hot Chocolate Friday, with the Headteacher. We simplified our many certificates to focus on effort rather than attainment, and learning attitudes rather than specific reading, writing and maths certificates.

Additionally, we engaged parents with parent working parties to explain the changes. We then included the policy and expectations in our parent meetings, open evenings and in children’s planners, as well as on the website. We also use positive postcards and phone class homes and emails to let parents know of the positive behaviour children have shown in school.

For children with SEND or severe SEMH needs, we really started to personalise their pathways. We introduced ‘choose time’ encouraging children to work towards achieving some free choice time and manage their own learning more effectively.

We have peer mediators, mental health and wellbeing ambassadors and play leaders who are there to support the promotion of positive behaviour at lunchtimes. We also have a buddy bench where children can sit if they feel lonely and then children know to include each other. We trained staff in playground games to engage children and give lunchtime more of a structure. We also have a lunchtime ‘drop in’ for children who need time out from the yard, run by our pastoral lead (a new post created in school to support our vulnerable children through targeted intervention.)

We also have silent signals that we use in each class in school to aid staff with daily routines, such as standing up, lining up and coming to the carpet. These are embedded and all children know them, so when they transition from room to room, or staff member, to staff member, the children know the expectations. This has had a huge impact on reducing low-level disruption and reducing lost learning time.

We also have ‘fix it time’ across school, using ‘fix it cards’ which are restorative conversation cards that support children in solving their problems more independently. This session begins with a restorative prayer, aimed at bringing the children together in a moment of calm before the discussion begins. We also have calm down pods around school, with access to the Calm app for children, where they can go and take a minute to themselves, listen to relaxing music or meditation tracks to ready themselves for learning again.

We are working with staff all the time to develop positive scripts for de-escalating behaviour. Our restorative pathway is called ‘St Joseph’s Way’ which is a pathway for children who are still consistently breaking the code of conduct, where they give back to the school community and plan a pathway of how they will do this, with SLT support. However, the number of pupils needing this support has drastically reduced over the last 2 years.

What was easy, what was hard?

As with any new initiative, our plan has developed over time. The hardest was the initial implementation, ensuring all staff were using the BOP boards correctly, that children were adhering to the SJSB way and that the positive behaviour scripts were used by all staff. It required a lot of SLT modelling, SLT being present and re-modelling consistently. We used co-coaching triads to allow staff to observe positive classroom practice and learn from each other and this had a big positive impact.

It was easy to implement simple systems like the silent signals with the children as they took to this structure really quickly. They knew this was something that would help them around school and in class and they really embraced them. The children also loved the BOP board, hot chocolate Fridays and house point teams that we implemented and again, this was consistent across school and gave them a framework to work within and offered consistency and an element of safety and security – our children like clear, consistent rewards and boundaries.

Where are you now?

Our school is in a really positive place. Behaviour incidents have decreased, the most significant decrease has been in the persistent disruptive behaviour in classes and children walking out of lessons. This is a rare occurrence, apart from with our children with EHCP for severe SEMH needs who have 1:1 support. We have no exclusions. We have had no reports of persistent bullying this year. After a recent Ofsted, where we were graded ‘Good’, we actually achieved an ‘outstanding’ grading for Personal Development of pupils, which is a huge amount of progress from our previous report.

The inspectors identified the respectful nature of pupils and their dreams for the future and their understanding of how they can make a positive change in the world as elements of outstanding practice. This made us extremely proud as a staff and reflected everyone’s effort to transform our school culture.

We are now in the process of ‘tightening up’ our procedures and practices and looking at how to ‘finetune’ what is working well to ensure that we continue to move forward. For example, we are revisiting the SJSB WAY each half term, focusing on a different element, such as ‘respectful walking’ and ‘ready to learn’ and using our coaching triads to model best practice, as well as revisiting the principles and expectations in assemblies.

The most reports of negative behaviour occur at lunchtime. As such, we are continuously developing our lunchtime provision for the children and have recently invested in a multi-use games area (MUGA) and aSTEM area, to give the children as many opportunities as possible at lunchtime. As ever, these areas require some codes of conduct and rules to ensure safety – so the children are working in teams to develop sets of rules and expectations themselves, taking ownership.

We are working together with our teaching assistants to develop a programme of games and activities for lunchtimes, led by staff and children and investing in more playtime equipment – this is the school council’s summer term project.

We have recently developed some called ‘Seeds and Gardeners’ where our Year 6 children are the Gardeners to a Reception ‘seed’, teaching them how to play and behave in line with the SJSB Way and building relationships, as well as giving our Year 6 children a lasting legacy before they leave school. This is having a big impact on positive relationships and behaviour across school.

What advice would they give to others?

  1. Read ‘When the adults change…’
  2. Work collaboratively with the whole staff – gain staff voice and do not be afraid as an SLT to open the doors for open and sometimes challenging feedback from colleagues – only then can you move forward together.
  3. Build on what you already have that is working – decide what to keep and what needs reforming.
  4. Reframe language – positive language before the negative.
  5. PIP – praise in public.
  6. Where possible, put in school-wide changes that support transition, expectations and consistency – this not only supports staff and builds
    cultural expectations, but it helps the children to understand what is expected and makes them feel safe and secure.
  7. Revisit, revisit, revisit – it will not happen straight away.
  8. Be present as leaders – show you are there driving the change.
  9. Smile.
  10. Be 10% braver – making the change is hard. Maintaining progress is hard – but the results are worth it!

Any other comments:

Thank you for giving us the tools as a school to transform our culture over time.

We are always moving forward and are by no means perfect, but the progress- using your books, training and top tips- has ensured that we have a vision and ethos that we are now proud of and will continue to nurture and help to evolve as our journey continues.