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Positive Behaviour and Education Services Supporting Children, Young People and Families

 

The New DFE Behaviour in Schools Guidance is Useful and Informative, but a Missed Opportunity - John Murray Thursday, 8 September 2022

 

 The New DFE Behaviour in Schools Guidance is Useful and Informative, but a Missed Opportunity

 

The first thing that I noticed on first reading of the guidance was the sections, not so much the titles but the order they are presented. At first glance, the titles are unexciting in terms of adding anything new to the decades-old debate on how to manage or support behaviour. I mean, who can argue with sections on

·     Creating and Maintaining behaviour

·     Responding to behaviour

·     Prevention

·     Guidance on Specific issues such as sexual violence and harassment, online behaviour, mobile phones, and criminal behaviour  

It was more to do with the order. For example, should not the section on prevention be first or at least part of the creating behaviour section, with Maintaining Behaviour being Section 2? This might seem a very trivial issue, but I think it does give an indication of where the guidance is coming from or the point of view it represents.

But then, on reflection, that may be part of the issue with this guidance. It's not in the parts; they are useful, informative, and practical to a degree. The difficulty is in its entirety as it continues to propagate a narrative that behaviour is a problem that needs solving rather than supporting.

However, let us not be too quick to judge. This is a serious document issued by DFE that is published following a consultation from February to March 2022. It was a consultation that began in response to the 'Timpson review on school exclusions.’

This could be problematic as it indicates guidance is based on developing a response to a review on exclusions. It once again comes from the view behaviour is a problem, we need to solve not understand and respond to. It may be useful to look at the Timpson Review of school exclusion, May 2019.

Before we do, I would like to note that in recent weeks and months there has been a rather lively debate mostly on social media about a zero-exclusion policy. The debate at times seems to be a little polarised. Where one side is characterised by the other as been anti or pro exclusion. As with all these debates there is merit in both. However, surely all professionals no matter what side you are on, would welcome a situation where there were no exclusions or a system that delivered to the needs of all without having to exclude.

That position can exist within the context of accepting that exclusion is and needs to be part of our responses to behaviour. It's a question of how that response is implemented and why and when it is implemented.

This takes me to the Timpson Review. A report that runs to 121 pages can be quoted to support either side of the pro/anti-zero exclusion debate. However, I believe it is the review that gives a well-researched and thoughtful response to this issue.

The review fully supports ‘Headteachers in using exclusion', saying it is 'an important tool' to develop effective responses. It goes on to say ‘OFSTED should 'recognise those who use exclusion appropriately and effectively... where strategies to avoid exclusion have failed.’

This last part of the quote is important to note and starts to look at the issue of exclusion within the context of prevention, strategies and interventions. In other words, behaviour is not just a problem that needs solving, exclusion being one of those solutions. I believe behaviour is something to be understood, responded to and supported. If we engage in this process first, then exclusion becomes the last resort. To put this assertion into context, the review looks at the implications of exclusions, variation in practice and rates of exclusions with different groups. It also raises concerns about a funding system that does not reward schools' for meeting the needs of all and says, 'it cannot be right to have a system where schools could stand to improve their performances and finances through exclusion'. Recommendations include

·          DFE ensures 'Meaningful and Substantive training

·          The establishment of a Practice Improvement Fund to support a range of initiatives, including creating inclusive environments, Nurture groups, transition support and training on issues such as attachment, trauma and strategies and interventions to deal effectively with behaviour.

 

These recommendations represent a position based on prevention and developing responses to behaviour.

The point of referencing the Timpson Review is that the new Behaviour guidance is clearly written within the context of the consultation document and the review and the new guidance on exclusion. In fact, the guidance on Suspension and Permanent exclusion says in its introduction it is ‘a companion piece’ to Behaviour in Schools guidance. Having said all that, it does attach importance to responses by ‘developing and implementing whole school cultures with high expectations of behaviour'. However, I still think the context in which that advice is given, and the guidance is written is important.

Regarding the specific sections, let us have a look at a few of them in isolation.

CREATING AND MAINTAINING BEHAVIOUR

This section looks at a number of areas including communication, curriculum, leadership, staff, parents, pupils and SEND. Without bisecting each area, there are a few key themes running through the section.

Policy should reflect the culture and values of high expectations and clear rules. However, it is important that the policy should be clear how staff 'will support pupils to meet expectations.' Like the Timpson Review, importance is attached to regular training, inclusive environments and consistent implementation.

It also states that additional support to some pupils may be necessary and given 'consistently and predictably' to help meet expectations. The guidance seems to point to the development of policy that leaders and staff should not feel slaves to. In other words, rules, expectations, routines, structures and boundaries need to be clearly established and communicated. However, adjustments should be made for pupils with additional needs and not all pupils needing this will necessarily have an identified SEND. When a pupil is identified as having SEND the approach used should be one of assess, plan, do and review.

RESPONDING TO BEHAVIOUR

This section does acknowledge that maintaining the culture is a never-ending process and the importance of responses that are fair, appropriate and consistent. What is interesting is the aim or reason given for these responses. They are varied such as maintaining culture, restoring calm, acting as a deterrence, protecting others and improving pupil understanding of expectations.

This does seem to be a very one-dimensional approach to supporting behaviour. In fact, it is disappointing that having referenced the assess, plan, do and review model in relation to SEND, this is forgotten when responses to behaviour are developed. There is no mention in the aims or purposes of needs or reflecting on what the function of the behaviour might be. In other words, no guidance to assess the behaviour and plan a response.

Section 44 does ask staff to consider 'Contributing factors' but is followed by a list of acceptable sanctions. The guidance does state that sanctions need to be reasonable and proportionate and that it is important to 'try and understand the underlying causes'. However, it also says the purpose of a strategy following a sanction is to help pupils understand how they can or should behave to defined expectations. Once again, no mention of need or assessment of need to help develop the strategy.

PREVENTING RECURRENCE OF MISBEHAVIOUR

The section suggests once again some pupils need support more than others, and there should be a proactive response to these pupils. It also suggests support needs to be seen within the context of need. It states some support may need to be in and outside the classroom, some support delivered in groups and some on a 1:1 basis. An idea not radically new as this was called the waves of intervention approach some years ago.

The list of suggestions of interventions is disappointing. Some are just sanction suggestions such as report cards and others are so general such as 'frequent and open engagement' to make them less than useful. However, this is guidance and as such schools are encouraged to develop their own responses and interventions within the context of the guidance. It should also be pointed out that it suggests interventions should address any underlying reasons and a Multi-agency approach would be useful in certain circumstances. But both approaches are within the context of more serious concerns and needs.

Surely guidance on preventative approaches needs to look at behaviour across the spectrum in particular those low-intensity behaviours. The guidance should and could include suggestions on how to develop interventions based on de-escalation; however it assumes escalation or intervention when the situation has escalated. This could be the reason a large part of the section is about support units, reintegration and analysing data. I have no issue with the content on these topics, but it feels like the section is preoccupied with interventions reacting to behaviour rather than on pro-active responses and de-escalation. We need to look at issues such as reintegration and data, plus how they assist in developing responses. But this guidance looks at these issues first and foremost with a cursory mention on real preventative measures. Priorities in this guidance need changing.

In conclusion, I welcome Behaviour in Schools - Advice for Headteachers and school staff DFE July 2022 and can see it being of help to Headteachers, Staff, Governors, parents, and pupils going forward. However, I can't help feeling it is a missed opportunity to look at responses to behaviour based on prevention, assessing need and the function of behaviour when developing culture, expectations, boundaries, strategies, and interventions.