What was your school like before relational practice?

Before we implemented our new Rewards and Sanctions Policy, making use of the ‘When the Adults Change…’ book, Oak Wood School (previously Abbotsfield School for Boys) had been judged as Requires Improvement or Special Measures for 10+ years, and had a poor reputation within the local community. Lessons were regularly interrupted due to disruption and serious incidents of misbehaviour, staff were
verbally abused on a regular basis (and good staff would then leave), and there was a poor culture of low challenge and low aspirations for our pupils.

What triggered the change?

All of the above!

The staff at the school knew that change was needed, and when a new Headteacher was appointed and began to set a clear vision, all staff were on board.

What were the expectations/hopes?

We knew we had to get behaviour under control in the first year, before focusing on teaching and learning in year 2 and then trips/careers etc. in year 3.

We had lots of discussions about whether it was best to focus on behaviour or teaching and learning first, but we felt we had to get things under control before focusing on teacher pedagogy. In truth, after a really challenging start (Autumn 2020), most pupils began to follow instructions, show respect and listen to staff within 6-8 weeks.

We then sped up the rest of the plan and by Christmas, felt that we had a ‘normal’ school with a few challenges but a majority that wanted to do well.

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

We started off by launching a new Rewards and Sanctions, based around several books and research that we felt fitted our ethos (‘When the Adults Change…’ being one of the main ones). We call it a Rewards and Sanctions Policy so that rewards come first, as we see 1,000+ amazing things completed by our pupils every day but our minds always focus on the 1 behaviour issue you faced.

We reviewed everything we did, including detentions, seclusion, removing a pupil from a lesson, contact home, and began to see instant results. Our focus was always on consistency and clarity, and not being afraid to challenge pupils on their poor behaviour if it helped to improve the culture of the school.

What was easy, what was hard?

It was easy to get staff on board because of where we had been and the instant need for change. This was all during the covid lockdown, so we certainly benefitted from the time out of school as we were able to reintegrate pupils to a new school with new expectations.

It was difficult in the early days of seeing the pupils struggle with the changed rules and expectations, although it did lead to a safer, better school.

Where are you now?

After 13 years in Special Measures/Requires Improvement, we were judged as Good by Ofsted in May 2022. Whilst it is not all about Ofsted, this was so rewarding and has significantly helped us to further improve as a school. Our reputation is improving, and we are likely to be full for the first time ever in September 2023. Whilst we still face some challenges as a school (40%+ PP, 16%+ SEN, 4%+ EHCP), we now have systems and procedures in place that help things run smoothly.

What advice would they give to others?

Don’t be afraid to challenge things and change things if they aren’t working at your school.

Keep raising standards and expectations.