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SEND Focus: 'When managing behaviour, we may not be able to treat all students equally, but we can treat them fairly'

Good differentiation is not just about adapting your lesson plans, says one SENDCO, it's about having a flexible approach to behaviour too

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Good differentiation is not just about adapting your lesson plans, says one SENDCO, it's about having a flexible approach to behaviour too

Most teachers are used to planning for differentiation. They know about adapting tasks and objectives to meet the needs of all the pupils they teach – in other words, they know how to do the explicit part of differentiation. 

But there is also a less explicit part: differentiating for behaviour. 

Behaviour was removed as a distinct SEND category for the 2014 Code of Practice, under the assumption that undesirable behaviour is a communication of an unmet need in one of the other categories of SEND.

As schools have become more inclusive, teachers have increasingly been expected to manage a range of behavioural needs. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to behaviour. 

So, how can one teacher meet the behavioural needs of 30 students in a way that is deemed equal to all?  

To start with, I think that “equal” is the wrong word to use when it comes to managing needs. 

I tell my students that they may not always be treated equally, but they will be treated fairly. 

I use the following anecdote to illustrate this point: if student A has a paper cut on her finger, then I can meet her need by putting a plaster on it. But if student B has a bruised elbow, then a plaster would not help. In this scenario, the students may not have been treated equally, but they have been treated fairly, according to their needs.

Schools need to adopt a culture in which staff personalise their approach to need, and students accept that while their needs will be met, it may be in a slightly different way to others. 

Here are a few tips to help you differentiate for behaviour while treating students fairly:  

  1. Listen first, explain later Let the student explain their point of view first. This is especially important while you’re still getting to know each other at the start of the school year.  The student may need to be explicitly taught why their behaviour was inappropriate. Doing it this way helps them feel heard, minimises their defensiveness and gives you the opportunity to understand how they perceive a situation.   
  2. Slip in something positive about them  The most vulnerable students will need to know that you still value them, even if they have behaved inappropriately.  This means that they will be keen to regain your positive regard as quickly as possible, giving you the opportunity to praise them again for turning things around.   
  3. Suggest how they can fix it  We all need to learn that it’s possible to gain forgiveness when you’ve done wrong.  Inappropriate behaviour usually results in a consequence or ‘sanction’, but I would suggest taking a further step after that to encourage the student to rebuild and restore. This means accepting responsibility for their behaviour and should, ultimately, result in behavioural change.  
  4. Give time  A student may need a bit of time to process what you’ve said to them.  It’s best to give your instruction and walk away immediately ─ tactically ignoring any secondary behaviour, if possible. In this situation, I usually busy myself with another task so that the focus is taken away from the student.  

Lowri Scourfield is a SENDCO.

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