- Concerns about behaviour and approaches to it have influenced government policy for many years.
- It is now recognised that mental health can be an important driver of how children and young people behave.
- This updated guidance provides some strategies that staff should be aware of.
There is a strong and obvious link between pupils’ behaviour, their attendance, exclusion and their progress. Successive Secretaries of State have set up reviews of behaviour in schools, hoping to identify current trends and offer solutions.
The 2009 Steer Report, ‘Learning Behaviour’, commissioned by Secretary of State Ed Balls, built on its 2005 predece. 'It is clear that ever greater expectation will be placed on school leaders to tackle society's problems".
Steer wrote, 'Consistency is not a dull word, it's actually extremely exciting, incredibly sexy.'
However excited Sir Alan got about consistency, it did not resolve the issue of behaviour in schools. Indeed, three years later, Sir Michael Wilshaw reported in his Chief Inspector’s annual report for 2012/13 that: ‘Almost 700,000 children languish in schools where behaviour and attitude are an issue.’
That year, the incoming Education Secretary, Michael Gove, commissioned a former special school headteacher, Charlie Taylor, to review behaviour in schools and suggest some solutions. Interviewed in the press at that time, Taylor said: ‘I set down rules quickly. The behaviour expected from them was explained and nothing less would be tolerated.’
‘Zero tolerance’ became the new Department mantra. Working with Taylor, the DfE published its new guidance, Behaviour and discipline in schools in 2016. The message from Westminster seemed clear: schools must not put up with disruptive behaviour at any price. However, the price, it seemed, would be paid by the still-rising number of excluded pupils.
Still looking for a solution
A new ‘behaviour tsar’ was appointed by Nicky Morgan. Tom Bennett was chair of the Initial Teacher Training Behaviour Review Group and his independent report, ‘Creating a culture: how school leaders can optimise behaviour’ was published in 2017.
These reports all add to the body of knowledge about managing behaviour in schools. Nevertheless, Damien Hinds reported at October’s Conservative Party conference that there was to be another ‘substantial government review of behaviour guidance’, supported by £10 million to ‘spread best practice’.
All of this suggests that behaviour is a much bigger issue than at first it seems. One clue may lie, perhaps, in the latest guidance to emerge from the DfE.
‘Mental health and behaviour in schools’ was published in November 2018 to outline how schools can identify whether a pupil’s behaviour may be related to a mental health problem and how to support them in these circumstances.
Link to mental health
If Behaviour and discipline in schools summarises the statutory powers and duties of schools and approaches they can adopt to manage behaviour, the new guidance supplements it by recognising the link between behaviour and mental health.
It comes at a time when funds are simply not available to put in place the support that schools really need. So, the latest document reinforces schools’ responsibilities but does no more than provide some advice, based on existing practice.
The updated ‘Mental health and behaviour in schools’ document draws on Tom Bennett’s notion of a school culture, on case study schools, on advice from psychologists and a number of national agencies and public health bodies. Probably unnecessarily, it points out that, ‘schools have a central role to play in enabling their pupils to be resilient and to support good mental health and wellbeing.’
Despite the green paper promise to train teachers to support mental health, it reminds us that, ‘school staff cannot act as mental health experts and should not try to diagnose conditions’.
It identifies the kind of systems and processes that might exist in a school to support pupils’ mental health and points them towards the sources of help.
The role of the SENCO
The guidance highlights the important role of the SENCO, indicating that this is likely to include working with and supporting pupils ‘whose persistent mental health difficulties mean they need special educational provision’.
The SENCO will need to:
- have the knowledge to ensure colleagues understand how the school identifies and meets pupils’ mental health needs
- know how to liaise with relevant external agencies.
Helpfully, Chapter 4 outlines the services that are available to schools. Some, like Children’s and Young People’s Mental Health Services (CYPMHS) are obvious but the guidance is especially useful in making schools aware of the wider range of agencies and providers and how they might be accessed. In the final chapter, there are invaluable hyperlinked references to no less than 47 sources of support and information.
The guidance identifies a ‘graduated response process’, including:
- an assessment to establish a clear analysis of the pupil’s needs
- a plan to set out how the pupil will be supported
- action to provide that support
- regular reviews to assess the effectiveness of the provision and lead to changes where necessary.
It’s quite a logical process of Plan, Do, Review but it is worth checking your processes to make sure that you are staying true to this kind of reflective practice.
A document to refer to Schools often struggle with managing mental health and well-being, so much of the report should be essential reading at the least for senior staff, inclusion managers and pastoral staff. With the Home Secretary telling the Party conference that schools will shortly have a statutory duty to help tackle youth violence, it is clear that ever greater expectations will be placed on school leaders to tackle society’s problems.
Many of our pupils have poor behaviour, sometimes accompanied by patterns of often unexplained absence and these could be indicators of a mental health issue. This guidance document may do little more than re-state a known problem, but it does help school leaders and staff to recognise what may be going on for some of their pupils and suggest strategies and actions that they might adopt.
It should be, at the very least, an element of staff training and professional development. Seen in the context of a steadily growing knowledge base, it would be unwise simply to discard it as just another DfE document. The supporting form sets out some checklists and actions to help a school review its provision.
- Behaviour and discipline in schools: Advice for headteachers and school staff, DfE, 2016: https://bit.ly/2LAE9vo
- Mental health and behaviour in schools, DfE, 2018: https://bit.ly/2ONZxOU
- Creating a culture: how school leaders can optimise behaviour, T. Bennett, 2017: https://bit.ly/2OV6bDy
Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:
About the author
John Viner has taught in both primary and secondary schools, with a long history of successful primary school leadership. He is now a full-time writer, inspector and adviser.