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?
The pandemic might have dominated our discussions over the past few months but it has not removed the many other mental health and behavioural challenges that schools were dealing with in March 2020. On the return to school, behavioural issues for individuals, groups and the school community in general are likely to have surfaced again and some with greater ferocity than before. Add this to the unusual mix of new school norms and there is 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 closure of schools for the majority, the duty to provide provision for SEND pupils was temporarily modified. This modification ended on 31 July and it is now expected that full provision is being restored.
However, it is likely that many schools are still limping into the new school year without all the measures in place that they had previously. Now, with one term under your belt, 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.
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: https://bit.ly/34zC8KU
Schools were advised to:
- Be consistent.
- 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.’
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
- were new to the school
- have SEND
- have 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 on return and what amendments you need to make for the future.
The accompanying ‘Checklist – Managing behaviour’ toolkit 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 advice to:
- update risk assessments
- review behaviour policy
- communicate any changes to behaviour policies to staff, parents and children
- review individual plans to incorporate changes
- consider the need for the introduction of individual plans for some students
- review arrangements for support staff
- consider how autistic children might be prepared for changes
- research any additional support that might be available from external sources
- build and maintain 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 carefully monitor the tendency to break away and find new ways of confirming your whole-school ethos.
For the students who normally struggle with the routines and rules around school, the return following school closures will have proved to be an additional challenge. Schools grappling to find the right balance between life as normal and reducing the risk may feel exhausted when it also comes to dealing with the additional resistance that a child with behavioural needs might present.
If possible, additional time needs to be dedicated to explaining and reasoning around new rules. This is particularly the case when it comes to children on the autistic spectrum who are likely to have found the changes particularly difficult to absorb, especially given the period of instability prior to schools’ return.
It is likely that there will continue to be changes to schools’ routines throughout the coming year. The SENCO will need to consider those pupils who may need to be alerted to changes prior to them happening and additional support provided as they meet them for the first time. Try to ensure that the parents of autistic children can easily communicate any problems they are having in the transition and keep them involved in prospective changes that they might need to alert their child to.
Expectation versus adjustment
Schools are required to make reasonable adjustments for their SEN pupils. Return to school should not be accompanied by an increase in exclusions. Of course, neither should it be accompanied by worsening behaviour. Individual plans will need to be revisited for those who demonstrate challenging behaviour in the light of new rules and issues relating to contact.
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.’
(‘Guidance for full opening: special schools and other specialist settings’)
Any control measures should be clearly communicated along with the reasons for them. Implementing controls that the community consider 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 barking 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.
Use the following item in the Toolkit to help you put the ideas in this article into practice: