May 2022

The Department for Education recently consulted the public on new draft guidance for schools on behaviour management policies and exclusion. Behaviour in schools is a particular priority for this Government, which has appointed a “behaviour tsar” and created “behaviour hubs”. 

The overall message is that policy-makers are more concerned about the needs of schools than the needs of individual children and young people. The tone and emphasis of the draft guidance is on controlling children’s behaviour rather than identifying and meeting their needs. 

IPSEA submitted a response emphasising that schools’ behaviour policies must fit with schools’ obligations to disabled children under the Equality Act 2010, and that a whole school approach must take account of different pupils and their different needs. 

Our view is that behaviour policies shouldn’t simply be about disciplinary measures to make children behave in particular ways but should aim to understand and address the underlying causes of particular behaviour. 

“Behaviour itself has a root cause” 

The Children’s Minister, Will Quince MP, seems to agree. When he gave evidence to the House of Commons Education Select Committee on 1 December 2021, he said:

“We need to look at the root causes of exclusion… Often exclusion is driven by behaviour, but that behaviour itself has a root cause and it is a matter of getting to the bottom of those root causes. In some cases it might be family driven, but in too many cases it is down to undiagnosed or unsupported needs, whether special educational needs or emotional needs; or there is some other underlying root cause that we need to get to the bottom of.” 

Minimum expectations of behaviour? 

The draft guidance proposes “a new national minimum expectation of behaviour”. We have told the Department for Education that any “minimum expectation” must take account of children’s individual special educational needs, and how these needs (whether met or unmet) might affect their behaviour. 

The point is not that expectations should be “lowered” for children with SEND but that the playing field should be levelled for every child, by supporting them according to their individual needs – as required by the Children and Families Act 2014. 

Treating every child in the same way is setting some children up to fail. The Timpson review of school exclusion, published in 2018, stated very clearly that the way some schools apply sanctions and exclusions has a disproportionate impact on children and young people with SEND. But paragraphs 33-37 of the draft behaviour guidance appear to endorse some of the things that often lead to the disproportionate sanctioning of children with SEND. 

It would be discriminatory to set as a behavioural norm or standard something that a child or young person with SEND may not be able to achieve as a result of their special educational need or disability. 

Behaviour is not always a choice 

We emphasised in our consultation response that education settings should not assume that all behaviour is deliberate and within a child or young person’s control. Children with SEND do not always make “poor choices”, particularly if they are struggling at school without the support they need. This was spelled out clearly in a landmark ruling in 2018 by the Upper Tribunal, and we think that the guidance should highlight this ruling. 

We know from our work with families, and our training work with SENCOs and other school staff, that the need to consider whether a child’s special educational needs might have an impact on their ability to follow a rule is not always well understood – even by SENCOs. 

Removal rooms are not appropriate for children with SEND 

The guidance refers to the use of “removal rooms” in schools. We don’t believe it’s ever appropriate to place a pupil with SEND in a “removal room” as a punishment. Removal rooms are unlikely to be the right place for a child with SEND to receive the specialist intervention they need. Further, if a child is receiving the special educational provision they need at an early enough stage, “removing” them in this way shouldn’t be required. 

Mainstream schools should be aware that the use of removal rooms could be discriminatory and may breach their legal duty to use “best endeavours” to secure special educational provision and make sure that children with SEND are able to engage in the wider activities of the school. 

Managed moves to other schools 

The draft guidance for schools on ‘Suspensions and permanent exclusion’ includes the use of managed moves as an early intervention measure for pupils at risk of exclusion. Our response is that the guidance should spell out that a managed move should only take place if it’s genuinely the best decision for a child or young person, not as a process for schools to remove a child they do not wish to support. 

We observe that a negative cycle often begins when a school perceives a child with SEND as a “problem” and seeks to move them elsewhere. A managed move can be a positive development if a child’s special educational needs are assessed and understood, and the support they need is put in place at the new school. However, too often a lack of support in one school is repeated in the next, which can lead to school refusal and other problems. 

Treating all children fairly does not mean treating them all the same. This is the main message we want to get across to policy-makers. We are also urging greater join-up within the Department for Education across inter-related policy areas. 

Policies on issues such as behaviour, exclusion and school attendance seem to be considered separately to the Government’s policy on support for children and young people with SEND. The ongoing consultation on the SEND Green Paper should be an opportunity to get this right.