Zero tolerance pays off for head who suspends two pupils a day

Michael Savage
Tuesday 11 November 2008 01:00 GMT

A headteacher who suspended pupils 478 times in a single year has defended her zero-tolerance approach to discipline after results at the school dramatically improved.

The number of suspensions handed out to students at Tendring Technology College, in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, works out at more than two pupils being sent home each day – or one in every nine children.

More than 220 of the school's 1,880 pupils were sent home during the last school year, many of them being sent home several times. But GCSE pass rates at the school have improved by 65 per cent since the principal, Caroline Hayes, introduced the tough disciplinary regime. "We put the interests of the majority of the class, who are behaving well, first. I make no apologies for that," she said. "We believe that pupils have to realise you are serious when asking them to behave. They need clear boundaries." She said that the improved results showed that her pupils liked the discipline used at the college.

The school's performance in gaining A* to C GCSE grades improved from 48 per cent of pupils in 2004, when Mrs Hayes took over, to 74 per cent this year.

A student can be sent home for disrupting a class twice in one day. Swearing at a teacher earns a five-day suspension. But if pupils at the school are feeling a bit on edge about the hard line of their teachers, they only have themselves to blame – the principal implemented the zero-tolerance approach after discussions with the students.

"Overwhelmingly, the students we surveyed said that the most frustrating part of school was being disrupted in class by other children," she said. "Children respond to the discipline we have here. In the end, I think they rather like the discipline and knowing where they stand."

Mrs Hayes, 49, said that while Tendring College was not afraid to use suspensions to improve behaviour, other schools were reluctant to take the same action because high exclusion numbers damage a school's record in government assessments.

Under current assessment rules, a high number of fixed-term exclusions damages the disciplinary score given to the school by Ofsted inspectors.

"Our exclusion figure may look high but, unlike other schools, we are not afraid to use suspensions," she said.

"The way the system works at the moment, the threat of a poor Ofsted assessment means schools try to find ways of avoiding excluding pupils, by using measures such as "internal exclusion" and placing students on their own within the school."

She also maintained that the school's steadily improving exam results performance had not been achieved through simply excluding poor performing and badly behaved pupils. Just two permanent exclusions were made last year.

"Though we are not afraid to use fixed term exclusions, our number of permanent exclusions is very low," Mrs Hayes said.

Parents have largely supported the headteacher in her approach, and she insisted that there had not been any major resistance from the parents of suspended children. "Sometimes parents feel that they have to defend their child at all costs, but that is the only time we have problems," she said. "We expect high standards here, but the result of our strategy is that the school is a lovely place to work and the children here are lovely as well."

A spokesman for the Department of Children, Schools and Families, said yesterday: "Headteachers have our full support to permanently exclude pupils where the behaviour of the pupil warrants it. We trust their judgement to decide what sanctions will work best for the individuals and the school."

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