A school in Hornchurch has reintroduced old-fashioned rules to combat bad behaviour.
Pupils at the Albany School must travel to lessons silently in 'orderly lines'. They must also line up silently at the end of break before going to their classes. Teachers must thank students for obeying these rules, and said it has already caused improvements.
In 2015, Ofsted marked the school as 'requiring improvements'. It said 'Leaders and managers have not secured consistently good teaching'; that sometimes work planned by teachers 'is too easy for students to achieve their best'; that teachers failed to 'always follow up on marked work' or 'always insist on the highest standards'; and that 'students do not make enough progress in Key Stage 3.' It did however say that 'behaviour is good and students are safe in school. They value the very good relationships they have with each other and take pride in their appearance and their school.' It seemed to see leadership, rather than the students themselves, as the issue.
Val Masson was made headteacher in 2016 and revived stricter teaching methods and said her silence rules had halved the number of children in isolation for bad behaviour in just a month.
Masson said 'There are several reasons why we did it. We wanted a calm and academic atmosphere like a high-end institution. The second reason is that we believe in equality for all so even your meekest, most under confident child should be given the space to grow. And the third thing is that silence creates a very mutually respectful relationship between students and staff. It encourages a no raised voices environment. I don't agree with raising voices to children and usually staff only need to do that if there is a lot of noise.'
Students in years 7, 8 and 9 must queue silently in the playground before school, and after morning and lunch breaks as part of the new rules. They are then thanked by teachers for their hard work and participation. Another rule is that year 10 students will have to spend an extra hour at school doing silent work 4 days a week from September.
Masson said 'Students have three minutes to queue and they line up in their form group. When the second bell goes, they're expected to fall silent. Then a senior staff member or a head of year, including myself, will encourage them to enjoy and get the most out of their next lesson. We take the time to praise them for high standards of things like uniform and punctuality.'
Masson noted how 'divisive' the regime was when first broached to staff members, but said all have seen a significant difference in the calmness of their pupils, which number just under 900.
Masson also stated 'We've seen far fewer lessons starting late. Regularly lessons are starting way before the late bell. Before we did this, students were still arriving at lessons then but now they're beginning on average three minutes earlier. If you multiply that, it's 15 minutes extra teaching a day. When students don't settle, we have a relocation system that sees them sent to another classroom to settle down. That system has almost reduced to zero. We almost get no relocations any more and that's because a lot of distraction was happening at the beginning of the lessons.'
The success of this scheme prompted Masson to ask year 10 students to stay an hour later 4 times a week from September to work in silence.
Year 10 student Ronnie Brooks expressed his support for the scheme, saying 'It's completely changed the school, it's made it so much calmer. It used to be quite boisterous when you walk into lessons and now its very calm, everyone is mentally prepared.'
Another pupil, Olivia Hazel, said 'I think it's really good to be honest. When you walk to lessons, you can remain focused on your work because you're already in the calm mindset. It's helped a lot of people. When you walk into lessons, you aren't getting pushed around or anything. It makes studying for my GCSEs a lot easier.'
Dr Helen Lees has suggested that minimising the noise made by pupils is beneficial. She said 'It's a very bold experiment and it sounds amazing. From everything I've read on the uses of silence in schools, it's stood to work and have the effects that its having. The key to it is regularity. It's the fact that these students are expecting it and they are dwelling in the silence because they know it has a purpose. It's part of the school environment and in general, they are happy to take part in it.'
The regime also received praise from Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. He said 'Schools use a range of techniques to encourage orderly behaviour and create a climate for learning. Headteachers work with the school community - including governors and parents - to establish the approaches which work best for their school and build a shared commitment towards the expected standards.Short periods of silence can encourage reflection and calmness in an age which is often noisy and frenetic.'