Balls, not behaviour, is suspect

16th October 2009 at 01:00

The Schools Secretary Ed Balls' answer to tackling bad behaviour is already having an effect on inspection gradings ("'Satisfactory' behaviour rating unacceptable for schools by 2012", October 9).

As yet, it is not as pernicious as proposed, but it still does not allow for exceptional circumstances. As a parent of a child on the autistic spectrum and as a governor of two special schools and a college for students on the spectrum, I find the latest rulings discriminatory. Low-level misbehaviour in a mainstream school will interfere with the learning of all pupils, and should be tackled. However, blanket policies discriminate against those whose behaviour is affected by special educational needs (SEN), especially those with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).

Enter a class of children on the autistic spectrum and, at any time, a child's behaviour may be challenging. It is not this that needs to be judged, but how the staff deal with the problem and the cause of the problem. It is not "bad" behaviour, but a result of other factors: inability to communicate or be understood; fear of a change in the classroom environment; a sensory overload that may be imperceptible to others.

The present framework will not allow these situations to be acknowledged and will affect the grading.

In the majority of schools assisting children and young adults with autism, the parents will describe how their child's behaviour has improved after receiving help form the school.

Thus what needs to be judged is how the school has benefited the child's behaviour. There may still be times when there is a challenge, but if there is an overall improvement the school has succeeded and value has been added to that child's learning. If there is a significant impact on others in the class, a good school will move the child to a quiet area until they are settled. The only way to avoid any impact at all would be to have children taught in single pupil classrooms - a solution that would be expensive and socially undesirable.

I have learnt that inspectors cannot allow any loopholes when judging behaviour. As in many other instances, macho solutions to problems in education fail to take account of the adverse impact on SEN and the morale of staff. Is it too much to ask that before a policy is finalised, somebody consults with special schools as to how that policy can be modified to allow for their issues?

Owen Gray, Chair of governors, Ilkeston, Derbyshire.

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