Teachers' leaders have backed a petition calling for £10 million government funding being set aside for a pupil behaviour improvement programme to be spent on their mental health support instead.
The Department for Education’s £10 million behaviour hub programme, being led by pupil behaviour tsar Tom Bennett, involves 22 high-performing schools working with schools that are struggling with poor discipline.
The DfE says the scheme being launched at a time when "a minority of pupils may need extra support from their schools to re-engage with education following the pandemic".
Gavin Williamson: DfE wants to remove mobile phones from the school day
But campaigners, who are among the 2,709 signatories to the petition on change.org so far, say a pandemic is not the time for such a programme.
School behaviour funding 'should be spent on mental health'
Teacher trainer Lucy Harding, who started the petition, said: "As teachers and teacher educators, we are asking ...why [Tom Bennett] thinks, in a pandemic, children need consequences for poor behaviour rather than support, care and love?”
She is asking, instead, for the money to be to put towards dedicated counsellors in schools.
The 22 schools were unveiled last week, as education secretary Gavin Williamson said his department would consult on how it can "help heads remove phones from the school day" as part of its drive to improve behaviour.
But Ms Harding said mobile phones helped to provide “access to education and communities of support”.
She said: “In line with the NEU [teaching union], we believe the links between mental health and a high-pressure curriculum are the biggest factors when it comes to behaviour, and that the government should address these issues first.”
The petition has received support from NEU president Robin Bevan, who tweeted the link, saying signing it was a question of “priorities, values, humanity”.
It's a question of priorities. ⬇️ Sign.— @NEUpresident (@neupresident) April 14, 2021
It's a question of values.⬇️ Sign.
It's a question of humanity.⬇️ Sign.
Department for Education: Stop £10million being spent on behaviour hubs & instead spend it on mental health support. - Sign the Petition! https://t.co/IBeDVG0sDf
Mr Bennett, who will lead of a team of seven behaviour experts in the programme, which starts next term, said the campaigners “appeared to have misunderstood” what the initiative was about.
“Our strategy is to match schools with other schools in supportive and professional relationships to explore ways they can build equally supportive systems into their school cultures," he said.
"It's based on the premise that children need help to learn the habits that will help them to flourish in school environments, because all children deserve to be safe, and to learn in a calm space.
“It's far more proactive than reactive. We believe that children need guidance and teaching to help them flourish, as well as a blend of consequences for their actions – eg, rewards, pastoral approaches, therapeutic interventions and mild sanctions.
"We know that as the programme develops, schools will see this as an exciting and high-quality initiative.”
Education secretary said at the launch of the programme last week: "Behaviour and discipline are the cornerstone to so much of what defines this country’s most successful schools.
"Whether it’s supporting some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children with the routines and structures needed to help them fulfil their potential, or helping prepare young people for the expectations of the workplace, parents and teachers know that orderly and disciplined classrooms are best.
"That is why I will always support schools taking a firm approach".