Student behavior problems that once blighted life on the John Gray High School campus appear to be decreasing, according to statistics from the school.

The total number of school days lost to exclusions is down from 1,083 in the 2014/15 academic year to 428 in the last school year. The number of exclusion incidents is also down from 319 to 200 over the same time period.

Students are typically excluded from school for anything from a day to a week as a disciplinary measure for a variety of serious offenses, ranging from assault on another student, verbal abuse of an adult, or incidents involving alcohol or drugs.

Problems with student behavior were highlighted in a 2012 consultant’s report, which suggested staff were essentially “firefighting.” The report indicated a small minority of students influenced by “criminal intent and drug abuse” were having a disproportionate effect throughout the school, allowing other students to exploit the “sense of crisis” and disrupt learning.

School principal Jon Clark, who arrived in February 2016, said things were improving dramatically. He insisted the school was not taking a more lenient approach and that the figures represented a clear and genuine improvement in student behavior.

“We have had less serious incidents and less days lost to suspension in total,” he said.

Armed police were called to the school in September after a fight ended up with one boy suffering a head injury and three students being excluded.

Mr. Clark said such incidents still occurred occasionally but were increasingly rare.

“You will never avoid it completely,” he said.

“There are certain incidents that are non-negotiable and the students involved were excluded. The important thing is that when they come back we do the proper restorative work and help ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

In this case, he said, the boys involved in the fight were brought into school with their parents and staff helped mediate a truce.

He said addressing the root cause of conflicts like this had helped keep recurring incidents down.

He also credited the Positive Behavior Intervention System with impacting the school climate.

The system has involved establishing a leadership team at the school, a cross-section of cleaners, bus drivers, security staff and teachers, who are responsible for encouraging and rewarding good behavior.

He also seeks marginal gains through seemingly small changes. Senior staff greet the children off the bus every morning. Data analysts look at the times and locations of offenses to find and address patterns driving bad behavior. School report cards now carry a grade for “Attitude to learning.”

“I think these small things can add up to a big difference,” he said.

“We have 1,060 kids on site. There are always going to be confrontations, [but] the majority are solved peacefully.”

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