There’s definitely, definitely, definitely no logic
To human behaviour
But yet so, yet so irresistible.

Human Behaviour – Bjork

A dare for you.  Go to Twitter and search for ‘behaviour’.  You’ll be astounded at the polarisation of views across the edu-sphere.  You see, nothing seems to divide educators at the moment as behaviour does.  But why is this so?

My concern is for those who cannot see behaviour for what it is; simply a form of human communication.  As teachers we should be tuning into these subtle conversations and acting upon them.  Don’t for a minute think I’m going all soft on behaviour and thinking we are all going to sit in a yurt, knitting lentils instead of dealing with unwanted behavioural traits but I think it is important that we deal with things properly.

Once, as a student teacher, I had a chair thrown at me by a year 4 boy.  I did the sensible thing and called in the head teacher who took the child away.  I carried on with my lesson as if nothing had happened and everyone was happy.  So what was that child trying to communicate to me through his angry outburst?

Let us give the situation a little more context. The child had a diagnosis of severe ADHD, was a LAC and was just back in school from a fixed term exclusion for exposing himself to other children and staff in the main corridors of school.

So what was he trying to communicate? A system that had repeatedly let him down from birth? A frustration that I, as a fully grown adult, couldn’t understand his lack of verbal communication in the classroom? Unfortunately I will never know…

Since then my mantra has to never fail a child in my charge. Where I work we still have a three-tier, middle school system. I teach Y4 which is our transition year. I’ve vowed to myself to never let a child go though transition with an issue that I have not done my absolute best to get them support for.

My concern then is that we seem to do this well in primary schools, perhaps as a direct consequence of the relationships we are able to build with our children over the course of a year. For me in a first school it is extra special, I don’t have the spectre of SATs on the near horizon and I can take the time to get to know the children really well. Without turning this into a them/us conversation is there anything that secondary can learn from primary here (and I’m sure there is a plethora of things primary teachers can learn from secondary colleagues) that can change the pastoral system in an average secondary school?

However, and this is a big however, I feel that many secondary schools are getting this wrong. Accountability measures mean that it is often tempting for schools to off-load disruptive pupils in order to improve their Progress 8 scores. Denying behaviour as communication is ending up denying these children an education (which I believe is a fundamental right in this country and many others). Shipping these children out instead of dealing with their issues places more strain on our alternative provision settings, meaning that children who really need that specialist provision cannot get places. We are using “poor” behaviour as a weapon against these children, often pushing their buttons to see if we can make them snap, which then provides the evidence to exclude/reschool.

What we need though is sensible policies and procedures in place that both inform and protect individuals. Nobody is suggesting that challenging behaviour should go unpunished; simply that we should look beyond the immediate actions and search out the underlying cause. Sometimes that is something as simple as boredom – as a GCSE student I would often “gang up” on the unsuspecting young supply teacher as a “test” of their behaviour management techniques. We still see this today except we couch it as a lack of respect when, in reality, it is just a young person testing the boundaries as I suspect we all did when we were younger.

Life is all about rules and I will give no argument against this. However we are repeatedly taught that rule-breakers and mavericks do well in life. Should we then be surprised if children start to test the rules in our schools?

I’m also not dismissing permanent exclusions. These must however remain the nuclear option in our arsenal rather than trotted out when it suits the school to off-roll a pupil around exam times. Safety of our students and staff must remain the number one priority for any school and I fully support a school that excludes a child under these circumstances, as I believe ANY educator would. What we must ensure is that our behaviour policies are robust whilst being flexible (not all children are equal) and that we do more to investigate cause/effect when behaviour is not as we’d wish.

Again though, this has become an issue that divides the edu world and is seen as yet another prog/trad divide. Maybe we all have more in common than you want to admit…

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