It is common to hear schools demanding consistency in behavioural practice. This is often taken to mean that the response to a particular misdemeanour will always, without exception, be the same. And you can see why people might think it’s a good idea. But such an approach is unrealistic and likely to result in one of two things: a school that operates contrary to its stated behaviour policy, which is problematic in its own way; or a school that excludes children, both formally and informally, unnecessarily.
The reason is often, but not always, children with SEND. For example, I once hosted a Sendco, teaching assistant, parent and Year 8 child for an admissions meeting during which I was told that the boy was continually in trouble for not doing his English homework: “He doesn’t do it, so he gets a detention. His mum does it for him to get it out of the way, so we give him another detention. He’s now stopped coming to detention.”
Everyone acknowledged that the reading age of the boy was very low, but when I suggested giving him different homework – such that he would have a fighting change of completing it – I was told, firmly, that this would not be possible because the school was utterly committed to treating all children the same. “If we do that, the other children will want easier homework,” the school said.
That issue, coupled with a few other related problems, resulted in the boy leaving the school. The school kept its behaviour policy intact, but only because the cohort had been changed to one that could cope with the demands of the policy. This is a common occurrence.
That’s clearly the wrong way around. A good, inclusive behaviour policy will support action consistent with the values of the school, and will not demand consistency that is blind to context.
To paraphrase a colleague of mine, if the behaviour policy of a school doesn’t work for everybody, then it doesn’t work.
Below, I have outlined the basics of creating an inclusive behaviour policy.
1. Write inclusion in from the start
The behaviour policies of maintained schools must be informed by a statement of behavioural principles from the governing body. This can be used to ensure the policy is committed to inclusion, ie, by setting out clearly that reasonable adjustments must be made to ensure children with SEND are not disadvantaged by the policy (this should be a given owing to the 2010 Equality Act, but is sadly far from guaranteed).
No such requirement exists for academies, unfortunately, but a good academy or multi-academy trust (MAT) will still do this to avoid situations in which headteachers or MAT leaders inexplicably decide, for example, that “reasonable adjustment destroys positive discipline” (see bit.ly/ReasonableAdjustment).
2. Ensure compliance
The behaviour policy of any school has to neatly align with, and complement, other school policies, such as those for SEND, attendance and equality.
For example, you may have an attendance policy that states, in order to encourage good attendance, that you publicly display each child’s attendance in their class.
This is likely to contradict any behaviour policy that makes much of dignity and respect. It may further disadvantage children with medical issues who have to attend unavoidable appointments on a regular basis. It’s also just a really bad idea, but that’s another story.
3. Clearly communicate the policy
As a parent, how many times have you been sent the behaviour policy of your children’s school(s)?
For maintained schools, the headteacher must publish the behaviour policy, in writing, for staff, parents and pupils to read at least once a year. No such regulation exists for academies, interestingly, but an academy that doesn’t is wasting an opportunity to truly listen to parents. As the parent of two children, with 15 school parenting years behind me, I have yet to see one.
Consultation with parents on the formation of a revised behaviour policy and its annual renewal with the governing body of a school, or board of trustees of a MAT, is an ideal way to ensure your policy is inclusive. I have received very helpful comments from parents and this really helps to not only develop a great policy but also build solid partnerships.
4. Review the accessibility of rewards
Good behaviour policies also ensure that good behaviour and positive progress in improving behaviour is recognised. Many schools have a reward system, but these can sometimes inadvertently disadvantage some children. A reward for 100 per cent attendance, for example, is certain to disproportionately disadvantage children with SEND. Other aspects of reward systems can favour certain children (and I categorically don’t mean “rewards for all” here). It is worth looking at your policy afresh to see if this is true for you.
5. Insist on better reporting
Lastly, given the gross overrepresentation of children with SEND in fixed-term and permanent-exclusion statistics nationally, it is crucial that a school’s behaviour policy is subjected to regular analysis, and subsequent reporting to governors or trustees, to see if children with SEND are disproportionately affected by it. I recommend reporting on:
• The percentage of behavioural incidents that involve children on SEN support.
• The percentage of behavioural incidents that involve children with an education, health and care plan (EHCP).
• The percentage of sessions of fixed-term exclusion that involve children on SEN support.
• The percentage of sessions of fixed-term exclusion that involve children with an EHCP.
• The percentage of permanent exclusions that involve children on SEN support.
• The percentage of permanent exclusions that involve children with an EHCP.
• Each case of a child on SEN support, or with an EHCP, being removed from the roll of the school before their expected leaving date, along with the reasons why.
Such reporting should improve governor or trustee oversight by helping them to ask the right questions because they have the right information. It should also help you to ensure your policy is equitable.
Jarlath O’Brien works in special education in London. His book, Better Behaviour: A Guide for Teachers, will be published by Sage this month