Behaviour, booths, exclusions and the current debate

There has always been a debate about how we approach and manage behaviour in schools, but recently, on social media at least, it has become more polarised and aggressive. Nuance seems to be difficult to find and those advocating a more inclusive approach are accused of not caring about staff or well-behaved children, whereas those who advocate a stronger response are accused of traumatising the pupils in their care. The truth, as always, lies somewhere between these two opposites, and it is unhelpful not to find the common ground or at least to articulate the range of approaches that may be needed. As someone who has led both secondary and primary schools, as well as virtual school for looked after children, my natural tendency (through experience) is that inclusivity works best if you are seeking sustainable improvements in pupil behaviour. This requires a system-leadership attitude to be adopted by all as the current arrangements allow some schools to be non-inclusive at the expense of the schools around them that pick up the students that they get removed from their roll in various ways. This is the relatively easy route to improving progress and outcomes, weeding out those students with difficulties, those that ‘don’t fit the mould’, and retaining those who are more malleable and therefore likely to succeed. If all school leaders aimed to work with their community as it arrives in Year 7 (or Reception) and kept all except those needing specialist provision on their roll then the system would have much more of a level playing field for both schools and students. This may take some bravery from leaders in a system that has rewarded academic outcomes whilst seeming to ignore exclusions and off-rolling until very recently. There has been some encouragement in the application of the most recent Ofsted framework, but it is too early to say if this is changing leadership behaviours. None of this means that schools should not retain the means to deal with the most extreme behaviours and to keep students and staff safe. However, if the focus is on building relationships of respect with students, staff and families, then the need for exclusions and isolation will decrease. Neither exclusion or isolation should be the first reaction to challenging behaviour and that brings us on to the current hot topic of booths. My personal opinion is that a space to which students can be removed if they are struggling in class is a useful resource, but that it should not contain booths and should enable students to continue to access the curriculum whilst they are there. Removal/isolation should go hand in hand with trauma-informed approaches in class and wraparound support for students and families. None of this comes without cost and needs a recognition at a national level that schools need resources and time to improve behaviour and offer the widest range of experiences for all students.

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