Centre for Mental Health responds to call for evidence on behaviour in schools

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31 August 2021

We recently responded to the Department for Education’s (DfE) call for evidence on managing behaviour in schools. Our response highlights the close links between pupils’ behaviour, mental health and educational outcomes, and calls on DfE to introduce effective measures which promote positive behaviour, inclusion, and mental health.

We are concerned that the department’s advice to schools appears to promote competing narratives on mental health and behaviour. For instance, the ‘mental health and behaviour in schools’ guidance recognises that behaviour can be the result of underlying factors, and states that where there are concerns about behaviour the school should trigger an assessment. In direct contrast, the ‘behaviour and discipline in schools’ guidance advocates a sanction-based approach where ‘poor behaviour’ has been identified, and makes no reference to the links with mental health. This leaves schools with contradictory advice that overlooks mental health.

We also highlight our concerns around current proposals for school-wide punitive and ‘zero-tolerance’ approaches to behaviour and discipline. Our briefing on the links between challenging behaviour, trauma and restrictive interventions highlighted the negative and often re-traumatising impact of such interventions:

We also know that restrictive interventions disproportionately impact specific groups of children and young people, such as those from Black Caribbean communities or with special educational needs and disabilities.

In the light of such inequalities, we are calling on the department to undertake an Equality Impact Assessment on any policies which extend restrictive or punitive practices such as exclusions.

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