Why banning phones was the catalyst for stamping out bullying
When Ofsted visited Jewellery Quarter Academy (JQA) in May 2022, they wrote of bullying: “Bullying is uncommon, and staff work hard to resolve any disagreements. Pupils feel safe, in part because they can easily report any concerns.” Flange Stamping
This wasn’t always the case, though. According to a prior Ofsted inspection in 2018, behaviour at the school had been problematic since it opened in 2014.
However, CORE Education Trust took over the school in 2018 and, when I arrived as deputy headteacher in June 2019, things had improved.
But there were still fractured relationships between students, sometimes rooted in intolerance, which lead to daily confrontations and conflict; a mistrust of adults; and a culture of silence.
There wouldn’t be an overnight fix but it was something I was determined to tackle. The Ofsted report shows we achieved just that - so, here’s what we did:
When I arrived, one of the most obvious issues I saw was that there was no policy in place on mobile phone use.
As a result, phones were out a lot of the time: in lessons, on the playground, at lunch - and this was causing lots of problems as students were often using their phones to go online and create derogatory posts about students and staff.
Obviously, this led to conflict that overspilled into the classroom and was creating lots of extra work for our pastoral team.
To combat this, we implemented the rule: “Not seen, not heard”, which essentially banned mobile phones.
We introduced a 60-minute same-day detention with a senior leader where there were lapses. These instances were rigorously tracked and meetings with parents would take place if the threshold of three strikes was met.
Now, mobile phones are rarely seen - but the same system is in place.
Following this, we also instigated a firm zero-tolerance approach to bullying and poor behaviour.
Previously, policies were fragmented, and either not well understood or inconsistently applied. This led to a sense of unfairness, which exacerbated a lack of trust and respect, and did not contribute to good behaviour.
To tackle this, I devised a simple, clear code of conduct that applied everywhere: the classroom, the corridors, the canteen and the community.
We made sure everyone knew the boundaries, which we communicated clearly and repeatedly to students and parents, and made sure staff applied consistently the clear student code of conduct, centred around our values.
Furthermore, in order to ensure we could apply these policies when required, we wanted to make it easier for pupils to report issues, either that they had experienced or seen among others.
So we introduced simple tools, such as the SHARP System platform: an easy-to-use system, available via our website and app, through which students can log a comment or issue about themselves or a peer. This can be done anonymously.
All requests go to me as headteacher, sending a powerful message about what priority this has at our school, before being delegated to a colleague to progress - with final feedback about the situation also coming back to me.
We made sure awareness of the SHARP System was obvious by getting form tutors to raise it every form time, putting posters in toilet cubicles, information on the student app and so on.
We still see spikes when we promote it more but I usually get one or two referrals a week now, way down from the height in 2019.
Every incident reported is also logged on our CPOMS system, which helps us keep a track of incidents and allows us to identify trends across year groups or types of bullying. This means we can address it in assemblies or the PSHE curriculum in a more targeted way.
Additionally, all staff are trained to spot and support any instances of bullying and we have a non-teaching member of staff who is also a trained designated safeguarding lead to support them.
As well as better policies and processes for reporting, we also realised we needed to create a more respectful and welcoming culture at JQA.
To do this, we set out to secure Refugee Welcome status in 2019 so that existing students, and those joining us from places like Syria, Afghanistan and East Africa, and later Hong Kong and Ukraine, felt welcome.
We set about finding ways to celebrate students’ cultures. This included one-off events, such as celebrating the European Day of Languages, LGBT Pride Month, Black History Month and Refugee Week.
We also embedded more day-to-day change, such as adopting the Halo Code, which champions the right of students and staff to embrace all afro hairstyles.
What mattered was giving cultural inclusion a high profile in the school, and giving students time to discuss their customs and cultures together in structured sessions.
Since this effort, we’ve seen a reduction in the number of fights that occur at school and we are also no longer seeing students either socially excluded, or socialising in distinct groups with little cohesion.
I believe banning phones also helped with efforts here, as now, at break times, they don’t stare at screens in solitude and instead engage in more positive social activities.
Finally, to make the above work, we knew we needed to build more trust between students and adults. I saw little sense of “team” when I arrived, and generally, the relationships between students and adults needed improving.
To do this we set up a student parliament, with every form group returning an elected member to speak for them.
Our student parliament meets every half term and is led by the head students in Year 11. Each form elects a member who then canvasses their form and brings ideas to the meetings.
These ideas are then compiled by the head students who present them to the school’s senior leadership team.
The SLT discusses the ideas and then action and feedback to the head students who relay this to the wider student body through assemblies and newsletter articles.
From small things like installing water fountains and allowing coats to be worn in corridors, to more significant changes such as better sports facilities and opportunities, it meant students saw that change was possible and working with the adults was key to making it happen.
We were also proactive in bringing parents in on our vision, too, and almost “over-communicated” the steps we intended to take to help them recognise what we were doing to help their children.
I spent a lot of time with parents, too, in coffee mornings, meetings and through emails, and that’s time invested to help them see the vision and their role within it. We now have two new parent governors on our governing body and open our doors each week for coffee mornings to help parents.
The relationship also changed during the lockdowns - we delivered laptops and free school meals to families and this helped parents see how much we care.
As a consequence, the concept of Team JQA was born - staff, students and parents all working towards the same goal and on the same team.
Overall, this work has been transformative in creating a culture of respect, tolerance and togetherness that is crucial to allow pupils - our “gems”, as we call them - to shine.
Jamie Barton is headteacher of Jewellery Quarter Academy in Birmingham, part of the CORE Education Trust
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Why banning phones was the catalyst for stamping out bullying
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