Rachel Tomlinson is the headteacher of Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire. Her guest blog shares the school’s Relationships Policy and their ‘fully inclusive’ approach.
Barrowford Primary School’s motto is ‘Learn to Love, Love To Learn’. This reflects the ethos, values and philosophy underpinning our approach.
Our practice is based on the philosophy that we are ‘in loco parentis’. It is developed around attachment-based parenting theory, combined with the metacognitive skills that we promote through our Rounded and Grounded framework.
It is interesting to note the success of our ‘sanction and reward free system’ and our Relationships Policy (rather than Behaviour Management Policy) given the recent debate around zero tolerance and silent corridors.
Our approach is intended to help to tackle the problem of exclusion of people from our schools and society- and the moral, ethical, societal and financial costs of this. Indeed, each cohort of permanently excluded children costs the country an additional £2.1billion in education, health, benefits and criminal justice costs.
At Barrowford we pride ourselves on being fully inclusive and successfully meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and challenging children as well as the least. One of the most oft used and close to our heart phrases at Barrowford is that, for the most vulnerable children, school must be what home is for the least vulnerable.
We shape our school and our provision around the needs of our children rather than expecting them to adapt and fit in with a rigid and inflexible environment. The restorative approaches that we employ rely heavily on our children feeling valued, trusted and respected, as well as on their emotional literacy skills.
This is something we teach explicitly as soon as children enter school in their reception year. We start by reading the book ‘Have you filled a bucket today?’ which helps us to explain compassion and having empathy for others. We have regular scheduled meditation and mindfulness sessions and circle time sessions. We also have timetabled sessions where we discuss metacognitive and epistemic character skills and where, when, how and why they are useful. For children who find this more difficult, we have an extensive care provision that includes nurture groups, play therapy, counselling and other therapeutic groups to support emotional wellbeing.
Through these, we ensure each of our children has an adult that they can trust and who they know believes that they can be successful.
When there is conflict of any kind, at any level, with any member of our community, we respond with a restorative conversation or conference. These range from brief interchanges in the playground, where two children resolve a situation to their satisfaction, to more formal conferences involving parents and the wider community as well as school staff and the children. The system is responsive, personalised and appropriate to the situation and age of the individuals involved.
Restorative conversations are always structured in the same way and involve the same questions:
- What happened?
- What were you thinking / feeling at the time
- Who has been affected?
- How have they been affected?
- What needs to happen to resolve the situation?
Our children are very clear about acceptable and appropriate behaviours and understand that mistakes happen in relationships just as sometimes we misspell a word or get a calculation wrong.
Consequences & sanctions
The resolution may involve practical consequences – tidying a mess or making an apology; but there are no pointless sanctions. The children suggest what needs to happen and understand fully the purpose of it.
In the same way, we praise children when they get things right – there is no need for a reward if the intrinsic joy of achievement is there.
We strongly believe that this approach is the route to developing citizens who are intrinsically motivated to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, and who are equipped to resolve conflict in a peaceful and respectful manner.
This helps to bring to life Whole Education’s vision of an education that helps young people develop the skills, qualities and knowledge they need to thrive in life, learning and work.