Reviewing your approach to behaviour


Students’ behavioural issues did not disappear when schools were closed. On the contrary, they are likely to have been compounded with other problems at home. What is the DfE’s advice and what practical measures can schools take to keep behaviour in check? Suzanne O’Connell reports.


  • It is important that your behaviour policy is clearly explained to your school community.
  • Review the way you are managing students’ behaviour and what amendments are needed.
  • Additional time should be dedicated to explaining the reasoning behind new rules.
  • Clearly communicate any control measures implemented and the reasons for them.
  • Reinforce the importance of cooperation and team work.

The pandemic might have dominated our discussions over the past year, but it has not removed the many other mental health and behavioural challenges that schools were already dealing with before lockdown. On the return to school, behavioural issues for individuals, groups and the school community in general surfaced again and some with greater ferocity than before. Add this to the unusual mix of new school norms and there was potential for exclusions to soar.

Some schools have also been forced into a situation where they have been using their support staff to plug gaps in staffing rather than supporting the pupils they were originally intended to be with. During the first closure of schools, for the majority, the duty to provide provision for SEND pupils was temporarily modified. This modification ended on 31 July 2020 and it is now expected that full provision is being restored.

However, it is likely that many schools are without all the measures in place that they had previously. Now it is time to take another look at the school’s behaviour policy and how you are achieving the balance between expectations, new procedures and the right to reasonable adjustments.

DfE advice

The DfE’s ‘Checklist for school leaders to support full opening: behaviour and attendance’ provided some general advice for schools as they began to open. Schools were advised to:

  • plan
  • communicate
  • be consistent
  • support
  • monitor and improve.


This includes the revision of behaviour policies to incorporate new routines and requirements. For example, expectations for arriving at and leaving school, hygiene practices and restrictions on movement.

Some students may have found new ways of causing disruption in the classroom and shared areas. The DfE advises that sanctions and rewards are clarified, taking into account that some types of behaviour could now bring increased risk to the student population. For example, how might you respond to a pupil who deliberately coughs on another?


It is always important to ensure that your behaviour policy is clearly explained to your school community, now more so than ever. As parents have less opportunity to come on-site currently, you will need to ensure that other methods of communication are used effectively.

You might want to check that you have systems in place that allow all families some means of communication without coming onto the school site. The DfE advises, ‘Establish new ways to communicate, use visual reminders around the school and make use of technology where appropriate’.

Be consistent

The DfE advice here is very brief and provides no explanation as to how schools might ‘maintain a culture where excellent behaviour and attendance is valued and expected by everyone in the school community’. Schools and their SEN departments will need to consider where there may need to be exceptions and adjustments made.


The DfE does acknowledge that there will be some pupils who will need social and emotional support. These include those who:

  • previously had poor attendance
  • had fixed-term exclusions
  • are new to the school
  • have SEND
  • had not engaged with school during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Staff should be able to identify where there are changes of behaviour that could indicate an underlying issue. These might include being:

  • fearful or withdrawn
  • aggressive or oppositional
  • excessively clingy.

Responses might include:

  • considering additional support and/or reasonable adjustments as part of a plan
  • updating education, pastoral support or multi-agency plans
  • working with local services.

Monitor and improve

The DfE advises comparison with neighbouring schools and local and national averages and inviting feedback from staff and pupils.

Time to review

It is likely that, in preparation for your return, your leadership team hastily reviewed your behaviour policy, risk assessments and other documents which required changes and amendments in the light of Covid-19. Now is the time to engage in a more considered review of how you are managing your students’ behaviour and what amendments you need to make for the future.

The toolkit Checklist – Managing behaviour provides some specific actions that you might take to ensure that you are giving all your students the best opportunity to behave positively in the current environment. It includes the following:

1.   Update risk assessments.

2.   Review behaviour policy.

3.   Communicate any changes to behaviour policies to staff, parents and children.

4.   Review individual plans to incorporate changes.

5.   Consider the need for the introduction of individual plans for some students.

6.   Review arrangements for support staff.

7.   Consider how SEND children might be prepared for further changes.

8.   Research any additional support that might be available from external sources.

9.   Build and maintain the school ethos.

Over longer periods of time, schools may find a gradual shift in their ethos as larger groups no longer meet and there is less whole-school contact. School leaders need to monitor carefully the tendency to break away and find new ways of confirming your whole-school ethos.

Expectation versus adjustment

Return to school should not be accompanied by an increase in exclusions. Of course, neither should it be accompanied by worsening behaviour.

It is expected that settings:

‘Ensure that they implement sensible and proportionate control measures which follow the health and safety hierarchy of control, to reduce the risk to the lowest reasonably practicable level.’

The government guidance, ‘Guidance for full opening: special schools and other specialist settings’ is available online.

 Any control measures should be clearly communicated, along with the reasons for them. Implementing controls that the community considers unreasonable will make enforcement more difficult and potentially confrontational. Equally, where adjustments do need to be made for individuals, the reasons for this may need to be understood by the school community. This may also need to be balanced sensitively with the individual’s need for privacy and confidentiality.

Taking a holistic approach

It isn’t only your openly-challenging students that need to be encouraged to see the reasons behind changes in school routine. This is now the time to reinforce throughout your school community the importance of cooperation and teamwork. The involvement of peers in supporting those with more challenging behaviour is crucial to this and you might want to consider how, without the use of large gatherings, you can involve and consult your students in a way that makes them feel they are part of the solution rather than the problem.

The current climate is one that can easily lend itself to the breaking of rules and regulations. For young people who are trying to work out their part in all this, unexplained changes that limit their personal freedom can invite confrontation. Children and young people, perhaps more than anyone, have seen their emerging world thrown into confusion. Now they need to feel involved in its restoration.

Further information

  • ‘Checklist for school leaders to support full opening: behaviour and attendance’, DfE:
  • ‘Guidance for full opening: special schools and other specialist settings’, DfE, April 2021:


Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:

Use the following items in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice:

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About Author

Dr. Suzanne O'Connell

Dr Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance writer specialising in education. She is also the Managing Editor of Attendance Matters Magazine. Prior to this she taught for 23 years and was a headteacher of a junior school in Nuneaton for 11 years.

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