Three weeks ago, the Children & Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC) published a report following their inquiry into mental health and behaviour in schools. The report considers the findings from the Behaviour and Mental Health in Schools Inquiry launched in 2022.
Khulisa submitted a written response to the CYPMHC’s Behaviour and mental health in schools inquiry last year (read our full response here).
Our response drew on a robust evidence base to emphasise the need to move away from approaches which rely on sanctions to manage behaviour towards more relational and trauma-informed approaches which prioritise nurturing relationships and student wellbeing. Such approaches are proven to work because they reduce the need for rewards and sanctions in supporting behaviour by empowering students and improving relationships between young people and the adults around them.
We called for:
- A whole system investment that promotes wellbeing on par with attainment. Schools often feel unable to prioritise pupils’ wellbeing in a system that places attainment targets above wellbeing.
- Increased funding for, and improved access to, Child and Mental Health Services (CAHMS) and other local services. These services are underfunded and oversubscribed resulting in many children falling through support gaps.
- An increased focus on developing relationships between young people and their teachers. Research shows that relational skills can help resolve low-level disruption without escalation through structure and support. Our response included a number of practical tips and techniques on how schools can do this.
- Training for staff on how to look after their own wellbeing. Studies show a close link between the wellbeing of young people and their adults in their lives. To create lasting change, we need to ensure all young people are cared for by adults who are trauma-informed, and systems that are responsive to their social and emotional needs. Supporting those professionals is the first step.
We were encouraged to see that the CYPMHC reached many of the same conclusions we put forth in our submission. Below is our response to some of the key findings and recommendations raised in the report.
1. Punitive approaches are ineffective
In our written response to the inquiry, Khulisa supported a move from punitive behaviour management measures to more relational and restorative models of support for young people.
We were pleased to see that the CYMPH report agreed with this. The report findings showed that whilst it was recognised that behaviour management techniques do have some short-term benefits, it was noted that in the long term, punitive measures were not effective in changing behaviour.
2. Disproportionate targeting of pupils
Khulisa outlined how behaviourist approaches (practices that rely on sanctions and rewards to manage behaviour) fail to account for different needs and circumstances. These approaches disproportionately target children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The CYMPH also recognised that behaviour policies which take a one size fits all approach can play a role in disproportionately targeting some groups of pupils. Parents and carers who identified that their child received SEND support or an Education Health and Care Plan were more likely to state that their child experienced behaviour management techniques.
3. Nurturing learning environments should be promoted
All children need the space to test and develop adaptive coping skills, such as the ability to confront problems directly, and how to change unhealthy emotional reactions. For many children, that safe space is school.
We were pleased to see that the CYMPH outlined evidence which suggested a shift from managing a child’s behaviour in a punitive manner towards creating spaces where children can learn how to thrive within school may be more effective in improving behaviour. Teaching a child learning behaviours involves educating pupils about the behaviours that schools want to see. It also involves proactively teaching children habits, behaviours and the knowledge of how to thrive within school while providing nurturing and supportive environments. We welcome this emphasis upon teaching learning behaviours, given that children who do not have responsive caregivers are more likely to miss out on this and instead rely on other relationships to develop their capacity to learn relational skills.
4. A school culture shift is needed
Khulisa recognises that adopting a whole-school approach can have a positive impact upon wellbeing and behavioural outcomes. The whole-school approach involves a culture shift whereby schools work directly with young people, while simultaneously creating school-wide changes which improve staff-pupil relationships to create a more nurturing environment. Ultimately, this means that all adults are trauma-informed and recognise pupil behaviour as often being the result of unmet needs. Adults adopt approaches that are responsive to pupils’ social and emotional needs, rather than using blanket sanction-based measures.
We were pleased to see that during the inquiry, the CYPMHC noted that a culture shift is needed in how behaviour is viewed in schools. The CYMPHC highlighted the need to move beyond viewing behaviour as something to be managed to instead viewing behaviour as a way of communicating unmet needs. Identifying these needs and supporting young people before behaviours become entrenched is key to improving their wellbeing and school-related outcomes.
To conclude, the CYMPH’s report – like our own response – highlights that whilst the Government has taken significant steps in recent years to improve behaviour within schools, this has added further pressure on schools as these policy developments have not been accompanied by sufficient resources to support implementation. Schools have long been facing financial pressure and reduced budgets over recent years means that schools are now among the worst hit by the current cost of living crisis, with already stretched budgets being stretched further to accommodate rising costs. This comes at a time where schools are already struggling to respond to the growing needs of pupils.
The report also recognises that the behaviour management techniques used in many schools are unsuitable, ineffective in the long-term, and do not address individual pupil needs. Behaviour policies that treat every child in the same way set up the most vulnerable children to fail. Whilst consistent approaches are important for children and young people to feel safe and secure, it is also important to differentiate expectations and approach according to a child or young person’s abilities, needs and experiences.
We welcome the report in whole and believe its recommendations have the potential to help create more restorative and trauma-informed school environments.