Highbury headteacher’s hard line has ‘revolutionised’ behaviour at school

Pic of students playing their instruments at Highbury Grove School, Highbury New Park, N5. Must cred

Pic of students playing their instruments at Highbury Grove School, Highbury New Park, N5. Must credit Dieter Perry - Credit: Archant

But 300-detention-a-day start saw head accused of ‘ruining’ school by parents

Highbury Grove students collect results. Picture by Dieter Perry.

Highbury Grove students collect results. Picture by Dieter Perry. - Credit: Archant

A headteacher who handed out 300 detentions a day to tackle bad behaviour has told of strong opposition from parents and pupils who accused him of “ruining” his Highbury school.

Tom Sherrington, who took over at Highbury Grove in September, gave out automatic one-hour detentions for pupils arriving late to lessons or wearing uniform incorrectly and a full day in an “isolation room” for any child who disrupted lessons.

The head said that the majority of pupils had taken to the new strategy but admits that a “handful” are “reaching the end of the road” and are rarely in mainstream lessons – which could “potentially have damaging consequences for them”.

Parents have complained about what they call an “Orwellian” behaviour strategy, but writing in the Times Education Supplement, Mr Sherrington said it was now beginning to work – part of a turnaround that saw the school included in upper-class glossy magazine Tatler’s guide to the best alternatives to private education.

Mr Sherrington, who has been teaching since 1987, wrote: “Soon after my appointment at Highbury Grove I realised that behaviour was an area I needed to explore.

“After 15 weeks, the impact has been clear. Uniform standards and punctuality improved dramatically almost overnight: students run into school now instead of dawdling and 99 per cent have perfect uniform.

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“Teachers are extremely positive, too. They have a high level of control and have the levers to improve behaviour without needing to raise their voices.

“The early weeks were tough. Parents complained about the ‘Orwellian’ detentions. I was told: ‘We didn’t choose to send out child to a grammar school’ (as if high standards shouldn’t be expected here), and even that I had ruined the school.”

In 2005 a Channel 4 dispatches documentary exposed high levels of classroom disruption at the school and one lesson descending into a riot, but things clearly improved dramatically by 2010 with Ofsted rating the school as outstanding.

But Mr Sherrington said a policy of restorative justice had led to “constant negotiation”, “inconsistency” and a “lack of clarity around the rules and consequences”.

“It wasn’t terrible in general, but some classes were just too hard to teach,” he said.

“Clearly, I needed to act.

“The basic principle of the approach is that there should be clear rules for behaviour in class and around the school, with a set of coded warnings and consequences.”

One parent told the gazette that she believed pupils were “being made to feel depressed and not wanting to attend school”, saying she feared for her son “more than ever before”.

The new head said that some students were struggling with the new rules.

“The greatest challenge is with the 20-30 students who find the standards difficult to meet,” said Mr Sherrington.

“We’re reaching the end of the road with a small handful.

“Our behaviour support centre allows us to create a buffer zone where students are outside of mainstream lessons but not permanently excluded, which could have damaging consequences for them.”