The SG Way
At St George’s, we have tried to take the best ideas from academies, schools, the independent sector and abroad. No individual element of our practice is revolutionary. Others have said that it is the way in which ideas have been combined and embedded with rigour and simplicity that has allowed us to make such a strong start on our 5 year journey. We don’t believe in off-the-shelf strategies or practices; there is no silver bullet. It is really about being values driven, having clear vision, focusing relentlessly on results, operating strict routines, doing the simple things well every day, and building strong relationships at all levels.
Our ‘no excuses’ approach instils strong learning habits ‘The SG Way’ ultimately helping pupils become better qualified, more successful and happier. We expect pupils to follow homework and equipment rules, wear uniform with pride and always be ‘on task’, fully engaged and ready to learn.
Those who have visited our schools have recognised that our structures liberate teachers to teach and pupils to learn – because pupils know why we do things, they buy into them.
In our achievement-oriented culture, it is cool to be smart, and all pupils work hard to climb the mountain to university or a real alternative.
We have no doubt that the achievement-oriented culture at St George’s School the is the main driver of our success. As Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Of course, no school is better than the quality of its teachers and we now have the best; however, there is only so much that even the best teacher can do with pupils who have low aspirations and poor learning habits. Conversely, create a truly aspirational culture with extremely high expectations and all teachers can secure exceptional outcomes for all pupils. What we have learnt from the best schools is the power of a vision-led culture – it is not a means to an end, but an end in itself.
Being wholly committed to our mission & vision is not that intellectually sophisticated, it is just common sense and we, as a team, need to have the persistence and humility to return to it every day; to sustain our routines and live our values over and over – the humility to commit is critical.
Our rationale for creating a system that leads to a highly disciplined school is that it enables us to focus on learning to the greatest extent possible; the system is not an end on itself – we need it so that learning can flourish. We hold a shared belief that every pupil is capable of meeting very high expectations of behaviour, albeit with support in some cases. We do not do any pupil a favour by expecting less of them than we do of others or by allowing the challenges in their lives to lower our expectations of them.
High standards of behaviour and uniform are entirely compatible with a friendly, happy, relaxed school and form the platform for high expectations of academic achievement. Compliance is not a negative; it is a positive as this frees us to focus on learning and positive relationships; compliance helps us to channel energy into productive learning and appropriate means for expressing views. Pupil Voice matters; but it needs to be formalised such that learning and order have priority.
Staff-pupil interactions need to be characterised by a blend of ‘unconditional positive regard’ to and assertive authority. Teachers will be assertive without being autocratic; teachers will not say or do anything that actively harms pupils’ self-esteem: no sarcasm, no put-downs; no public humiliation. We seek to resolve conflict where it arises and repair and rebuild relationships where they break down.
All staff are involved in the system without exception; pupils should be expected to cooperate with any staff member regardless of their job role or perceived status. Similarly, all members of staff follow the agreed protocols. We act as a team, supporting each other.
Our sanctions system is presented and enforced so that, to the greatest extent possible, pupils are making clear choices, if and when they breach the agreed rules and teachers are simply issuing sanctions based on pupils’ choices; it’s not a personal decision they make. Action A leads to consequence B; it is a choice pupils know is theirs to make – or not make. Some rules will require automatic sanctions in order to be effective. e.g., if the uniform rules are broken, it is a deliberate choice leading to an automatic sanction, not a matter for negotiation. Other rules, particularly those in classroom, need to be enforced through the assertive discipline system which teachers use to lever the improved standards we’re looking for. Pupils know they will receive warnings but that repeat offending will be met with a sanction regardless of who the teacher is. The goal is that everyone knows the rules, the mechanics of the system and what will happen in any given circumstance.
Our sanctions are delivered in a fashion that generates a significant disincentive for pupils to repeat their transgressions. Detentions are long, silent and boring; not opportunities to catch up on work or talk. Isolation days are tough; a hard day with minimal contact with others; a day that you do not want to experience again in a hurry.
Inclusion does not mean that we are afraid of exclusion where it is necessary. A bottom line is that no pupil can be allowed to disrupt the learning of others. The needs of the majority outweigh any challenges an individual may have in meeting our expectations where their actions impede the learning of others. At the same time, we need to anticipate that there will be small number of pupils who will find the new system very challenging and will need pre-emptive support to prepare them.
Rewards associated with behaviour are problematic; the rewards need to intrinsic – through the affirmation of teachers and peers or the positive experience of learning and being able to participate. We can’t get into rewarding pupils through extrinsic rewards simply for doing what is expected.
These are a set of learning habits (The SG Way) that as a group of stakeholders we have defined to make them simple to communicate and to enforce. They focus on behaviour in lessons; behaviour in corridors and around the school; behaviour outside the school. We agreed the aspects of uniform that will be enforced by automatic sanctions, what we mean by ‘late’, what we expect in terms of personal equipment, use of electronic devices, noise levels, movement in and between lessons and the extent to which homework can or should be included among the other issues.
The bar is already high and our systems demonstrate clarity, consistency, fairness and justice and, when the bar is going to be raised significantly, it is important for everyone in the community to see this.