Schools' zero-tolerance policies on behaviour need more "flex" and to recognise that some misbehaviour may be linked to a child's special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), MPs were told today.
Giving evidence to the Education Select Committee inquiry into alternative provision, Jules Daulby, director of education at The Driver Youth Trust, said that schools needed more incentives to avoid exclusion.
Alternative provision (AP) is education provided for pupils who do not attend mainstream school for reasons, such as school exclusion, behaviour issues and school refusal; close to 40,000 children are currently receiving education outside of the mainstream.
Asked about zero-tolerance behaviour policies, which some say are pushing up the rise in exclusions, Ms Daulby said that while she did not believe these were not "completely to blame" for the increase, the policy did go "against the grain” when working with children with SEND.
“Zero tolerance with no excuses comes from the idea that there is really no flex in the system, that everybody has to behave within the rules of the school," she said.
While disruptive behaviour was a difficulty for the rest of a class, the issue was “much more complex”, she continued.
“There needs to be a flex around the system. For instance, if there is a child with ADHD that is impulsive, and then you look at their behaviour that they’ve got in trouble for, is it linked to their impulsivity?" Ms Daulby said.
"A great example is one of my students who once stole a bottle of water for a friend because they didn’t have any money in the canteen, and they came straight to us afterwards and said ‘I shouldn’t have done that, I know’. But it was his impulsivity that did that.”
Her comments follow a warning to the same committee in February from a group promoting the rights of SEND children, which said that zero-tolerance behaviour policies in schools could be illegal under equality and anti-discrimination legislation.
Ms Daulby told MPs today that vulnerable children experienced "quite a lot of shaming" around their behaviour.
“We need reasonable adjustments, and I think zero tolerance, unfortunately, does not seem to – and I might be wrong and somebody with a zero-tolerance mindset might come in and tell me – but don’t seem to recognise reasonable adjustments and they see them as excuses as opposed to reasons.”
This was not saying that a school should not exclude children who bring drugs and knives into a school, she said. The majority of exclusions were based on disruptive behaviour, said Ms Daulby.
Asked how teachers should spot the difference between someone with genuine difficulties and someone just misbehaving, Ms Daulby said: “That [would be] a really good school system, in my opinion. I’ve worked with schools that are excellent with inclusion but they have a fabulous Sendco [epecial educational needs and disabilities coordinator], they have a fabulous team around the child in the school, so they are the ones that would advise the teachers.
"Teachers are as much a victim in some of these situations as children, so I’m not expecting teachers to be abused all the time, but there should be a system within the school that doesn’t keep going back to AP, that can help that child and help the teacher. And that expertise, I think, is sadly going sometimes in schools.”
She cited Sendcos who attended exclusion meetings and headteachers who listened to their input, as an example of providing 'flex' in the system.