Promoting positive and inclusive behaviour approaches in education
‘Belonging’ is that sense of being somewhere you can be confident that you will fit in and be safe in your identity: a feeling of being at home in a place.
Exclusions, and who is excluded, tell a story about the inequalities in our education system.
Who is excluded, and which groups of young people are over-represented in the exclusion statistics, tells us about inequality and social exclusion in society. There are many policy decisions made at national level which impact on whether we are building the capacity of the education system to ensure inclusion. Affirming young people and their backgrounds, and ensuring the curriculum is relevant and accessible, is vital in reducing exclusions, but so is investing in staff development and creating a research-informed profession.
We think that proper support for children and young people at risk of exclusion requires:
The NEU wants to shape the future of the education system and to prevent and reduce exclusions. We want to highlight, explore and raise awareness of the inequalities and patterns of discrimination which affect who is excluded- including poverty, racism, stereotypes about gender and LGBT+ students, and the patterns of SEND. We want to provide materials and advice to help NEU members reflect on these issues in their setting and develop collaborative responses, which value staff safety and agency for children and young people.
'Zero tolerance' can sound appealing and effective in terms of an approach to achieving consistent practice across a school. Ensuring staff feel safe at work is vital, and creating a positive learning environment is the right goal. However, there is evidence that zero tolerance approaches can drive up exclusions, and the race and class disparities regarding who is excluded are concerning. It does not support young people to stay engaged in education or develop the skills they need.
Read the new NEU guidance on behaviour policies which sets out the pitfalls of zero tolerance models and draws on the Education Endowment Foundation evidence about what supports positive practices.
In 2020, the RSA worked with the Esmee Fairburn Foundation to explore why there has been a 60% increase in the number of pupils permanently excluded from England’s schools over a five- year period. The report explored the causes of rising exclusions; including wider societal factors; direct consequences of deliberate policy making; and unintended consequences of policy making.
The NEU agrees with the conclusions of the report. It concluded that, to reduce unnecessary exclusions, we need to address the systemic causes of rising exclusions and to create the conditions, within schools, which allow schools to hold onto, and meet the pastoral and learning needs of, at-risk children. Indeed, pastoral and learning needs are inextricably linked, and have a reciprocal relationship. One interesting suggestion from the research was that schools should make it clear that exclusion is an option available to the school rather than stating that it is a sanction for a pre-specified list of behaviours.
We support the following recommendations from that report:
The RSA report identified the conditions for change. The NEU supports these 5 conditions for change which connect with the vision of education that we must create, after Covid and the disruption which it has caused.
Schools can make a difference and must create spaces and professional opportunities to consider, and respond to, the impact of racism, poverty and mental health on their student population. This is more important than ever, after Covid.
The way a school or college operates its behaviour management policy can have a highly negative and exclusionary impact on SEND students. Following the Covid pandemic and the national emphasis on catch up, SEND students are facing greater pressures with reduced support from specialist TAs, LSAs and mental health professionals.
Children in care can be more likely to miss education because of the disruption in their lives. School staff can help improve attendance by talking to children in care about the importance of coming to school; how they feel about coming to school; and their ambitions for the future and how being at school will help them with further education or getting a job. There is much that school staff can do to make a difference for children in care and to support carers to engage with education.
Read our advice about support for children in care who may be at risk of exclusion from school. We’ve pulled together ideas from top experts into an accessible form and we’ve got a selected list of really useful references for further reading. Do use these in your school or setting to help promote positive outcomes for children in care.