How To Transform Behaviour At Breaktimes (Without Wasting Time Or Money)

How To Transform Behaviour At Breaktimes (Without Wasting Time Or Money)

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While student behaviour is often good in class, it often deteriorates once pupils get outside - leading to arguments and low-level behaviour that have to be sorted out in the following lesson.

In today's episode, we talk to Tim Davies about how to transform the systems and environment in your school (without spending a fortune!) to improve pupil behaviour and relationships at break time.

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Conway Primary School's website:

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Show notes / transcription

Tim Davies  0:00  

It was really vital to just look at what we had resource wise and look at the zones and go right what activities have we got? What provisions have we got? How can we utilise these zones that children can engage them that we're not having to spend lots of money. So it was really important when building the zones to make sure not only the staff knew what was happening each day, but then actually educating the children.

Simon Currigan  0:24  

Welcome to Episode Six of the school behaviour secrets podcast and today we have an interview with Tim Davies, who's going to talk to us about how to improve the experience at break times and lunchtimes in your school without spending a fortune. I'm here with my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:21  

Hi there. Also, just to remind you that time is running out to enter our prize competition where you could win over 100 pounds worth of behaviour related resources will tell you how you can enter a little later in the show.

Simon Currigan  1:35  

But before we go any further, Emma, I've got another question for you. Something's been plaguing me. What is it about lunchtime, some playtime that cause so many arguments or problems? 

Emma Shackleton  1:45  

Ah, this is an interesting one, isn't it so many schools that we visit tellers that generally behaviour in classrooms is okay, but lunchtimes? Well, that can be a completely different story. I think the key factor for many kids misbehaving at lunchtime is that they just get bored. Often there are loads of children in a fairly small and uninspiring space with not much for them to do. And these days, many children's spend a lot of their free time on computer games. So at school, when they've got free time, they interpret that as free to do whatever you like time. The trouble is that some kids just don't really know how to play with children, especially when adult supervision might be lower than it is in the classroom. So lots of children not much to do lower levels of supervision pretty much adds up to a recipe for disaster.

Simon Currigan  2:36  

Well, today we're going to talk to Tim Davies from Conway Primary School in Birmingham. Now, I've personally seen the playground of Conway and if you look at that blank canvas to be fair, it's pretty uninspiring it's an urban school. It's got a concrete square for a playground. And what he and the team at Conway have done is remarkable. They've invested lots of time and effort rather than money, changing the systems and the environment for outdoor play. And now behaviour and relationships are really improving. So today he's going to share what they found works well and what to avoid, so you can get the same results in your school. So let's kick off with that interview straightaway and find out more about transforming outdoor play with Tim Davies. 

I'd like to introduce you to our guest today. Tim Davies from Conway Primary School Tim's the learning mentor at Conway primary and he's here to talk about enhancing playtimes and lunchtime so they're more engaging and the practical steps involved in creating systems and an environment that leads to successful break times without spending a fortune, and all with the benefit of improving behaviour in school. Tim, welcome to the show.

Tim Davies  3:41  

Thank you very much Simon,

Simon Currigan  3:42  

can you start by telling us a little bit about Conway primary school? 

Tim Davies  3:45  

Yes, we are an inner city Birmingham Primary School we've got a two form entry with nursery and SEN provision, old Victorian school but in the 1900s based in one of the most deprived areas, and although a lot of our children may be second or third generation families, we still have a lot of first generation families joining us school so a lot EAL regularly joining us as for me Yeah, I joined as a learning mentor 2017 over my time, my roles developed a lot and but adaptive play types of school provisions for after school clubs and lunchtimes has been kind of key along with DSL duties.

Simon Currigan  4:22  

Okay, so can you tell us about what lunchtime some playtime is like before you started your work in 2017?

Tim Davies  4:28  

Maybe one or two footballs will come out playtime probably amongst six classes or so. And then lunch times children had the additions have been able to collect skipping ropes or hula hoops. We do have a climbing apparatus in the playground. And that would be accessed by two or three classes. The supervision would have been through dinner supervisors, and they'd been stationed at different areas just for kind of safeguarding purposes. And then we had one or two lunchtimes members of staff that were responsible for behaviour.

Simon Currigan  4:57  

So with that kind of physical layout and that kind of organisation What was the impact on behaviour?

Tim Davies  5:01  

Dinner supervisors were definitely there to try and instil some consistency. But otherwise, things would then go to their senior members of the lunchtime staff who would then be responsible for behaviour. So behaviour would have been sporadic and maybe not consistently dealt with. 

Simon Currigan  5:19  

Now you've changed the outside environment quite considerably. Can you tell us what kinds of changes you made? And I'm not just thinking here about the physical environment, but also what kind of systems you've got in place,

Tim Davies  5:30  

The playground is, is quite raw, we have made improvements physically with like fake grass, there had to be a lot of changes and the outside environment. So talking about what we provide, and the normal would be, it was zoned up into lots of different areas. So just using cones that we actually had in the school building, and we'd zone off for specific activities. So we'd have football or hockey, basketball, cricket, we introduced the friendship zone, then equipped play leaders with gains and activities and equipment, as many things as we could so that they could expand using their little workbooks, to be able to make sure that they had gains and activities for people to engage with. We also expanded into the school building, so sections for reading or art, board games, as well as specific homework groups. As for making this happen, there had to be a lot of investment with the supervisors, first of all get to grow their confidence and engagement in their zones, specifically, within the rotas, they would rotate every half term. So we didn't have members of staff just becoming experts at one little thing.

Simon Currigan  6:39  

That sounds like a more sort of proactive role than they were doing in the past. How did you find that affected the relationships between the kids and the adults? 

Tim Davies  6:46  

Yeah, they were positive straightaway. So alongside of INSETs, we invested with the supervisors with the Beacon Successful Supervisors training that gave them a lot more confidence and consistency. So that actually, children wouldn't necessarily be running to the one or two members of staff that were dealing with behaviour, but they would be going to the person who was closest to them. And that was really key. There was some dinner supervisors that were just love it on certain rotations, so you get a lot more engagement and positivity from that improve relationships. 

Simon Currigan  7:16  

What kind of activities did you find that the students engaged in the most?

Tim Davies  7:20  

The introductions of things like den building, were incredible, we took it off the back of doing one of the national days, then building and that just gave children the creativity to build whatever they wanted to roleplay in different areas, instead of this historic out football is what happens on the playground, we then just got into the creativity, the same with actually some of the other arts and games, we start off with children not knowing how to play traditional board games. By the end, they are the ones that are teaching the children how to engage with these games as well. So it's just being able to have children experience things that they might not necessarily experience outside of school life.

Simon Currigan  8:03  

Den building sounds very cost effective. When people think about changing the environment, often they're thinking about putting in climbing frames or specific play areas that are really expensive, but the things you're talking about seem very financially accessible.

Tim Davies  8:17  

It's really vital to just look at what we had resource wise and look at the zones and go right, what activities have we got? What provisions have we got? How can we utilise these zones that children can engage them that we're not having to spend lots of money. So it was really important when building the zones to make sure not only the staff knew what was happening each day, but then actually educating the children and educating that they should move away from this idea that football is the only thing that you can do outside to then having the children running out on the playground, and then telling you Oh, it's Thursday. That means I've got hockey in this area.

Simon Currigan  8:53  

How did you do that? Was that something you did solely outside? Or was that something that you prepared them for inside with the teachers? What was your approach?

Tim Davies  9:00  

First of all, it had to be the staff had to get their buy in until they got their heads around it it was then being able to communicate it the children so obviously through assemblies, and through the dinner Hall, when they're queuing up for their food displays, just clarifying the different activities and different areas. And obviously just being able to use the older children as the ones to update the younger children with what's happening, and especially with play leaders as well.

Simon Currigan  9:26  

So on a daily basis is the person who's coordinating this, what kind of practical steps do you have to take to make playtime and lunchtime successful at Conway Primary?

Tim Davies  9:36  

First would be making sure you've got your full stuff in. Obviously, when there were changes of attendance for staff, then obviously that had an impact to the provision, then it was just the practical of making sure people in place communication is really important. So we would have radios because you can't imagine everyone can see each other or speak to each other and then making sure resources are still in place.

Simon Currigan  9:58  

So you've been through a big change. You put in all these stones, all these different kinds of activities to engage the kids, what has been the impact on behaviour at playtime during lunchtime.

Tim Davies  10:09  

At the same time as investing in the lunchtime supervisors, the senior leaders of the school were reviewing the behaviour policy. And within my role, I've been up to support children with interventions where behaviour may have escalated to extreme, but to be able to provide clarity of escalation within the school system and phase leaders and class teachers, that's really helped bring consistency for the children. So actually, we don't have the opinion or approach of one individual. But we've got that unity, which just have to provide clarity to every member of staff of the escalation process, and to see what the first engagement should be with the children. If you're looking for consistency, children are just the same as adults, they want to know they're being treated fairly, not differently to anybody else. Initially, we would then think behaviour had escalated, then pray that to the zones, because we had this way of recording and impacting behaviour rather than it just going unseen, unnoticed. But then once children have now got this knowledge about how to repair a problem, so for me, the interaction is really important when people reach the word sorry, instead of just going sorry, that's the end of it, great move on carry on playing, there needs to be more of an interaction.

Simon Currigan  11:29  

So it sounds like the mixture of sort of guided conversations and repeating those conversations over time. That's kind of improved the kids social skills and their empathy. Is that right? 

Tim Davies  11:40  

Yes, it takes time can feel like a hard slog at the start. Because you're thinking Actually, I've got to deal with all these behaviours, I've got this not script, but this pattern to flow through in your mind to be able to bring that consistency, children then know where you're going, if they are repeat offenders, and that they can start answering the questions and pre empting what they need to do to resolve the problem. Children are very, very quick to be able to resolve these problems themselves.

Simon Currigan  12:08  

How have your new systems impacted on engagement apply to my lunchtime, how has it affected the incidents of low level behaviour?

Tim Davies  12:16  

A lot of the low level behaviour is recorded it's not resulted in consequences other than maybe timeouts for a few minutes. But then once the children have experienced that a few times, they're like it has just improved that family feel to go you know what we are all still come with family we are still come with children.

Simon Currigan  12:36  

What additional support have you put in place for kids with more significant needs who had issues with behaviour or managing it and that kind of busy lunchtime playtime environment? What sort of support have you put in place to help those kids?

Tim Davies  14:16  

That's really kind of key. For me, it's kind of my starting place and working backwards. So although we would have maybe some SEN children that needs more one to one support on the playground, we would assign specific zones. They're looking at their engagement and then needs to what activities they might do, where children might just feel the playground is far too noisy. That is too big that's too chaotic. It's about providing smaller quieter zones and the edges and they are happy they've got an adult to facilitate the space and they're safeguarded and having fun, then that's a successful zone did open up the avenues for us to be able to bring children inside as well like the games area.

Simon Currigan  14:58  

So when you started this process Did you have sort of a specific end goal in mind? Did you imagine the way that the playground looks now? But did your plan sort of evolve over time? What was your approach?

Tim Davies  15:09  

When starting the job and just observing how it was operating, I just moved from a youth worker job where I'd already seen the success of zones, the execution has definitely changed over time. So I'm sure if I look back at what we had for the initial zones three years ago, I'll be thinking, Oh, that's a bit basic. The idea of zones helps provide things that our children might not always access. So talking about our community, our families don't always access alternative after school clubs. So if they're not accessing them, how can we bring those activities into the school building onto the playground for them?

Simon Currigan  15:44  

So now you've got the benefit of experience, and you've made some mistakes along the way, what do you think separates a successful zone from a unsuccessful zone?

Tim Davies  15:53  

We've had plenty of unsuccessful zones, I think that be afraid to make the adjustments if there is a zone and space where children are not interacting with it. Because there's something more appealing that you've introduced that is new, then don't be afraid to alter those spaces during the lunchtime. I think that's definitely been one of the learning curves, where actually we can make a slightly bigger because it's engaging more children because in the design isn't. If the zone is consistently not occupied by children children engaged in it, then that's definitely a space to review it with the members of staff review it with the children that would normally engage with it. As long as there is an adult or a play leader that is taking the lead to be able to ensure rules for those activities are engaged to ensure the consistency of that space, then that should provide a successful zone.

Simon Currigan  16:42  

How many supervisors do you have per zone? Do you have one supervisor just responsible for one area? Or do they overlook several areas at once?

Tim Davies  16:50  

Lots of us will have had the challenges of lunchtime supervisors no longer being with us. We are one of those schools. So we now have our ta is looking after the spaces. It doesn't mean that some teachers will look after two or three spaces from a safeguarding point of view and a behaviour point of view. But if that's the case, then that's definitely where we would use our your five year six play leaders, children who will be able to act like a leader who will gain some respect from other children whose decision people won't argue with Yes, we've had to equip leaders to know how to deal with behaviour and they have their own approach. But in the biggest sporting areas, definitely try and use your members of staff.

Simon Currigan  17:29  

And of course, the biggest challenge in the last 12 months has been the pandemic. How have you kept your playtimes and lunchtimes running successfully?

Tim Davies  17:37  

Yes, we've had to respond very, very quickly, as I'm sure everyone has, it really depends on how we assess the class. Or year group as a bubble. So once we've got to a final decision of how we were going to make it work for us school, we've then had to split zones into very specific areas of the playground. So there's kind of like a playground corridor where the children will walk along, and then they'll feed into a different zone, then we've tried to incorporate as many activities as we possibly can in times of limited children and national lockdown. So we have to equip the children with their own individual spaces in the playground, and their own individual equipment. Now, when we are fully operating with all the children in school is using those new class zones to make sure they're not interacting with other bubbles. And that does take finances to be able to have to give each class their own equipment, their own area to engage with, we also have to obviously close all the internal zones because of just bubbles, one way systems working around the school building. So the big change with play leaders has really made a big impact with the COVID bubbles and the COVID zones, we now have play leaders for every class, whereas in the past we'd have used here from year six and a more experienced children, we have now got two volunteers in every year group, although the younger ones year one year two would only have the responsibility of maybe just getting their play equipment out into their zone that year threes and fours have been able to take on this new responsibility, this new identity to actually try and resolve conflict. Obviously COVID has had an impact on different things we're able to provide as well. So interclass tournament's children are consistently asking for those to take place. That's one thing that we haven't been able to replace at all.

Simon Currigan  19:18  

If you're going to start the process over again, just putting the issue of COVID to one side, is there anything you do differently this time around?

Tim Davies  19:25  

Maybe spend a bit more time on my approach? So my advice would be for anyone who wants to introduce any of this is to work backwards? And by that, I mean, think what provision is right for your community? Do they need interventions? Do they need quite a space, it's like we discussed what structure is needed for those children to excel First of all, and maybe with some of our SEN children, provide them with their zones and their provision First of all, and then look at working out how many other zones you can realistically facilitate. So looking at your zones and Putting a maximum capacity how many children are going to engage in this day? Once those things are in place, then you can work out staffing and safeguarding and which zones your school need paid members of staff to facilitate stretching children, give them those opportunities to lead, I probably could have done that sooner, stretching the play leaders and equipping them with training and resources to be able to grow in confidence.

Simon Currigan  20:23  

So if you're a teacher, a school leader listening to this podcast, what's the first step they can take to improve playtime and lunchtimes in their school based on your experience?

Tim Davies  20:33  

Obviously, if you've got budget to be able to invest, great, fantastic, really make sure you have trialled your zones before investing in your equipment, because the worst thing would be to then have a pile of equipment that's taken up storage in your school that you can't utilise. And then communication, as always, make sure you sell it to the adults first sell it to the leaders that will be outside in the playground, if that is lunchtime supervisors, if that's ta is its members of leadership team, sell your vision, make sure there's consistency with your behaviour strategies, finally, then focus on the positives with the children, there will be backlash, I'm sure from some children that do not like change, the positives completely outweigh that where the children are excited to engage in zones where they are the ones that are engaging and telling you what they would like in different zones, obviously, get the children's feedback, as you look to tweak, get the members of staff that are using the zones, get their feedback and just tweak it over time.

Simon Currigan  21:31  

Tim, who's the key figure that influenced you, or what's the key book you've read that's had the biggest impact on your approach to working with children,

Tim Davies  21:40  

It would have to be a church youth worker that I had when I was younger, he role modelled, so well, the idea of consistency and trying to be inclusive and engaging with everyone. Sometimes it would be incredible from the off. And then sometimes it was kind of like building a plane was flying it they would take a lot of points of view and direction is having that flexibility, he was just able to make a group make a resource functional for the children that are there. And the young people that were there, those qualities have definitely shaped my approach. So when I was a youth worker and doing designs in a really big youth club in Dudley that's helped me experiment has helped me establish that actually changes to our playground and our facilities would need it because it needs to be children focused. I think it put a big personal challenge out there for me as well that if aid has made such a long term impact on me and my approach 2025 years ago, what's the approach for me Do I need to make sure that actually I am consistent, I am inclusive, and I do my best to engage with everyone because there might be that one child out there who just to provision at lunchtime or play time sees what's happening. And then we make that impact on the adult that they're going to be

Simon Currigan  22:55  

Tim you've given us lots of practical ideas and strategies for transforming playtimes and lunch times in school. Thank you very much for being on the show. Thank you My pleasure.

Emma Shackleton  23:05  

I've really liked that interview, because what him and all of the team at Conway are doing is translating the theory about relationships and environment into everyday practice. And it's made a huge difference to the kids everyday experience, because lunchtimes are a part of the day that they really value.

Simon Currigan  23:25  

If you're interested in proving lunchtime behaviour in your school, we've got a completely free resource that goes with this episode called the dining room checklist. It gives you a complete audit of the way your dining room is set up and the systems you've got in place to encourage positive behaviour over lunch. Not only that, but it also helps you organise your findings into a simple prioritised action plan.

Emma Shackleton  23:48  

Get the dining room checklist now by going to clicking on the free resources option in the menu, and you'll find it near the top of the page. It's completely free. So go ahead and get that today. And we'll also drop a link to the checklist in the show description.

Simon Currigan  24:06  

Thanks for listening to the show today. Next week, we're going to look at six plus one common mistakes we see in behaviour policies, why the cryptic plus one? Well, that mistake is a controversial one. So you're gonna have to listen to the show to see if you agree or disagree with it.

Emma Shackleton  24:21  

And when you finish listening to this, don't forget to enter our competition. We've got just under 100 pounds worth of books about behaviour in schools to give away including running the room by Tom Bennett, assertive discipline by Lee Canter and take control of the noisy class by Rob plevin. We're also going to throw in a three month subscription to our very own inner circle online programme, which contains over 20 videos and resources about successful behaviour management in schools and that's worth almost 40 pounds in itself.

Simon Currigan  24:54  

Want to win? All you've got to do is give this podcast an honest rating and review on Apple podcasts. Email a screenshot to me at Simon at beacon school support code at UK and we'll pick one lucky winner at random one entry per person, no purchase necessary. Get your entries to me before February the 28th 2021. Remember, we can only accept screenshots from Apple podcasts.

Emma Shackleton  25:18  

Finally, if you like what you've heard, and you don't want to miss that interview about behaviour policies, open your podcast app now and press the subscribe button that would encourage your podcast app to automatically download each and every episode of school behaviour secrets when it's released each Tuesday, so you never miss a thing.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)