IPSEA submitted a response to the Department for Education’s recent call for evidence on managing behaviour in schools. We told the Government that schools’ behaviour policies should be applied flexibly for children and young people with SEND, as part of the reasonable adjustments schools are required to make for disabled pupils under the Equality Act 2010. 

The Department for Education intends to review and amend current guidance on behaviour and exclusion. We believe that national guidance should emphasise that pupils’ individual needs must be considered when implementing behaviour policies and applying sanctions. This may mean that pupils with SEND need to be treated differently to their peers, depending on what their needs are. 

Our response 

We emphasised that behaviour that is perceived as disruptive or challenging is often a manifestation of a child or young person’s distress when their special educational needs are not understood or supported at school. This is set out very clearly in current government guidance on school exclusion, and we are urging the Department for Education not to change it. But schools need to have a better understanding of what this means in practice, and of how they may need to change their behaviour policies accordingly. 

We are concerned that many schools do not currently have a good enough understanding of how particular types of special educational needs or disabilities can affect children and what the law on support for children with SEND requires. 

Experience shows that putting support in place for a child or young person who needs it reduces the risk that they will become distressed. Conversely, taking a sanctions-based approach to behaviour management can cause a child’s difficulties to escalate, leading to increase anxiety and in the worst cases school refusal or self-harm. 

Punishment may turn school itself into another trigger for children and young people with SEND. For this reason, we have told the Government there should be no blanket behaviour policies, such as a fixed sanction for a particular offence. Behaviour management strategies should recognise that children and young people are not all the same and a single approach will not work either for a school or its pupils. 

What do we hear from families of children with SEND? 

We also shared examples given by IPSEA’s volunteer advisers of what happens when schools strictly apply behaviour policies to pupils with SEND, including:

  • Child with SEND banned from the classroom and only allowed to be in school for 15 minutes if accompanied by their parent.
  • Fixed-term exclusions for a child with identified mental health needs ‘truanting’, when this was driven by school-related anxiety.
  • Repeated punishments for ‘lack of attention/organisation/distracted behaviour’ in a child diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD and attachment disorder. 

‘Removal rooms’ and ‘managed moves’ 

One of the things the Government is consulting on is the use of ‘removal rooms’, which are sometimes called ‘isolation rooms’. In our view it is never appropriate to place pupils with SEND in a removal room as a punishment. As well as not being an inclusive practice, these rooms are not settings for specialist intervention to support a child or young person with SEND. Our response stated that the right intervention and support for a child at an earlier stage should mean that ‘removing’ them in this way is not required. 

The call for evidence also invited views on ‘managed moves’, which are voluntary agreements between two schools, a child or young person and his or her parents/carers. We see from experience that a negative cycle often begins when a school perceives a child with SEND as a ‘problem’ and seeks to move them elsewhere. 

While a managed move can be a positive development if a child’s special educational needs are assessed and understood, and if the support they need is put in place at the new school, all too often a lack of support in one school is replicated at the next. We are calling on the Government to make clear that families should never feel pressured to accept a managed move for their child to another school under threat of exclusion from the first school.