Newly qualified teacher Crystal Collier was undaunted about starting her career in a school that had been described as failing by Ofsted. She saw the behaviour problems as a challenge rather than a reason to look elsewhere. It's difficult to imagine that six years ago the junior section of Briscoe Primary School in Basildon was a failing school put under the Office for Standards in Education's special measures. For four years the school struggled to improve until it was released from Ofsted's grip in 2002.
The bright atmosphere strikes all visitors as they walk into the foyer. Clean, colourful rooms and halls in blues, lilacs and yellows, showing the work of young artists, meet the eye.
The "named and shamed" Essex school had serious behaviour problems, a string of temporary teachers, poor teaching and bad planning and curriculum management, which left the bright pupils bored and the slow learners struggling, according to Ofsted. But Miss Collier, 22, is undeterred by the past: "Don't be afraid of taking on a school like this. You can do it. It's possible. And you learn how to control them through doing it. You will never get the NTQ support mechanism again so it's worth doing."
Melissa Eades, Briscoe's head teacher says of the old school: "It was a very challenging place to work." Mrs Eades, who led Briscoe infants school before it was amalgamated with the juniors, freely admits that this description is putting it very politely.
The "huge" behaviour problems included pupils refusing to work, walking out of the classroom, aggression, and the failure to work in a focused, consistent manner. Recruiting good staff had long been a problem and as soon as the school was labelled a failure, recruitment became even more difficult and many parents voted with their feet.
Miss Collier, who was brought up in Basildon and specialised in English and drama at Kingston University, has learnt how to handle Tom, a difficult boy who shouts all the time. To keep him quiet and busy she feeds him constant praise to make up for the lack of attention he gets at home. The six-year-old's good work is rewarded with a sticker and when he has earned enough stickers, he is allowed to take home a piece of paper to write on at length - something he enjoys doing.
Another difficult boy shows no remorse for any wrong-doing, even though he knows the difference between right and wrong. Unlike Tom, Henry does not respond to praise, so Miss Collier takes minutes off his playtime. He can only earn the minutes back by good behaviour.
These tools of the trade are part of a system developed by the school and Essex County Council's primary advisers to bring Briscoe back into the fold. A key part of the system is negotiating with the children. At the non-profit-making, healthy tuck shop young children helped by older pupils and adults choose the tuck and taste cereal bars to decide which one to sell.
On the opening day the plums were so popular they sold out. The system works on giving credits to children for good behaviour, which is eventually rewarded with bronze, silver and gold certificates.
Parents have commented on how much calmer the school is since the credit system was introduced, and Mrs Eades says she can now work in her office - in the old school she could not sit down for longer than five minutes because of the "chaos" in the playgrounds, classrooms and corridors.
The credit system has been bolstered by a painting and decorating transformation. Gone are the grey walls and tatty carpets. In are the bright colours and modern wooden flooring.
Miss Collier made the mistake of sticking rigidly to the school timetable when she first started full-time teaching at Briscoe. That was one of the worse things she could have done in a school in the heart of a Northlands Park regeneration area where up to 40 per cent of the children are entitled to free school meals and unemployment is high, she says.
"Don't be afraid to let go of the timetable now and again and teach what your children need," says Miss Collier, adding that flexibility is condoned by the Government in the document Excellence and Enjoyment.
She has also taught in a school in Twickenham but though the children were bright and well-behaved, she was bored because she felt unchallenged. The only pressures came from the parents, whom, she says, were always anxious to see their children reach the right attainment levels.
Both Mrs Eades and Lynne Blount, a senior advisory teacher for behaviour in Essex, advise that good behaviour stems from keeping the children involved. Establish the ground rules of good behaviour with them and they are more likely to cooperate. John Bangs, the head of education at the National Union of Teachers, says NQTs should take time to establish a relationship with the kids and never attempt to deal with a serious behaviour problem on their own. "There are good days and bad days. Don't brood on them," he says. And Sue Cowley, the author of Getting the Buggers to Behave, takes it one step further: "Even in your worse lessons no one died. Things go pear-shaped but at the end of the day it really is not the end of the world. Even I get it after years of experience. Without perspective you would not survive. Good enough is good enough."
Back at Briscoe, the school's 2003 national test results for seven-year-olds were good and above average compared with similar schools, but the results for 11-year-olds are below average for English and well below average for science and maths.
The staff has set a 2004/5 target of 60 per cent for children reaching English level 4 (the normal level of achievement for 11-year-olds) and 73 per cent for maths level 4. While the school fights for steady improvements, issues such as school uniform - only 50 per cent of the children wear it - remain a low priority.
GETTING THE BEST BEHAVIOUR OUT OF PUPILS
* Be 100 per cent clear about what you believe should be allowable in the classroom and what is not allowable.
* Find out what the school allows and disallows.
* Appear confident.
* Stay positive.
* Ask for help when you need it.
* Have lots of strategies and apply them in a flexible way.
* Avoid confrontations in tough schools - know when to pull back.
* Watch out - give them an inch and they'll take a yard.
* Stay calm. Misbehaviour often leads to strong emotions - the moment the children see you emotional, they know you've lost it.
* Keep a perspective. Even in your worst lessons no one died.
The children's names have been changedReuse content