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Clare with students at Henbury School

Be bold - it could transform your school

Clare Bradford discusses the impact of Henbury School's Ready to Learn behaviour programme

Posted by Stephanie Broad | July 11, 2016 | Teaching

I've been in teaching a long time and headteacher at Henbury School in Bristol for 12 years but I've never seen anything have the impact of our Ready to Learn (RTL) programme. 

This simple, clear system means we can promise parents that their children are learning for 100% of the time they are in lessons.

Our students love it and so do our staff. Four out of five teachers now say they are satisfied with their workload, compared with only three out of five a year ago. Crucially, the proportion of staff happy with discipline in our school has rocketed from 50% to 87%. 

Importantly, the scheme is aimed at raising the quality not just of behaviour but of learning.  RTL is just a tool to ensure that teachers are able to teach and students are able to learn effectively for 100% of their lessons

Henbury, an independent secondary converter academy in a disadvantaged area of north Bristol, did not have a big problem with pupil behaviour. Ofsted rated it – and the school overall - as good in May 2015. But we felt we could do more. In any school, experts reckon that many hours of learning are wasted in a class as a result of teachers having to re-focus students’ attention, or issue reminders, with children then often wanting to explain why it wasn’t really their fault. So we started visiting other schools to find out what worked for them. A team of 15, including staff and students, worked on developing Ready to Learn, adapting the best ideas and practice to meet the needs of our children, one in five of whom has special educational needs. 

So what is Ready to Learn? It's a set of rules for conduct in lessons and around school. Anyone breaking them is given a warning; a second transgression sees the student sent to isolation for a day, including an hour at the end of school. 

Importantly, the scheme is aimed at raising the quality not just of behaviour but of learning.  RTL is just a tool to ensure that teachers are able to teach and students are able to learn effectively for 100% of their lessons. 

While it might sound draconian, RTL works because it offers clear sanctions backed by extensive personalised support and encouragement to allow individual students to meet the high expectations the school has for them. The key is consistency – the one thing children dislike most is unfair application of the system. Alongside RTL, we have introduced an old-fashioned merit scheme that enables students to earn rewards.

Our approach is working. Children are not only surviving, but thriving. It's encouraging them to be more independent in their learning. Fears that the scheme might be stifling are unfounded – rather, it's the opposite. Our staff have found it truly liberating, and are encouraged to plan and deliver creative and risk-taking activities for their classes, which are of course highly engaging. 

RTL is operated by a Behaviour Team, which frees up time for teaching staff to plan and deliver better and more creative lessons and organise other trips and activities. Because expectations are clear and everyone knows the system, problems are tackled before they escalate. The scheme is easy to deliver because it is not personal.

Students have to take responsibility for their actions. Those with SEN have a 'refocus' card; this enables them to request 10 minutes with the Behaviour Team if they are struggling after receiving their first warning. The threat of isolation – working in total silence and having to stay at school until 4pm – is proving a strong deterrent.

Parents are extremely supportive. As expected, there were some concerns when we brought it in, but doubters have been won over once they come in and see the impact it is having in lessons. 

Ready To Learn is valued by all teachers, but especially by student teachers, NQTs, Teach First teachers, and supply teachers. The fact that only one of our teachers is leaving this summer is testament to the scheme's success in providing an excellent learning environment.

Previously, Henbury had a strong behaviour system that involved SLT on call to deal with incidents. Now SLT are in every lesson every day for positive reasons, looking at teaching and learning and talking to students. It is enabling us to be more ambitious for our school, which is really exciting.  And of course, students’ outcomes are rocketing.

Ready to Learn has had some unexpected side effects too – incidents of bullying have decreased, as have the number of child protection referrals. Parents are reporting that children are calmer and easier to manage outside school. 

The more chaotic a child's home life, the more they like Ready to Learn. Our special needs students, including those with Down's Syndrome, value the system, even when they fall foul of it. We believe is has tremendous potential for inclusion. At a time when schools are facing severe budget pressures, a scheme that reduces substantially the need to place students in alternative provision is a huge advantage. 

Ready to Learn is absolutely revolutionary. I only wish we'd thought of it sooner.   

Clare Bradford is headteacher at Henbury School in Bristol. 



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