What do we do about behaviour?
I work with ‘those’ kids on a daily basis and, to be honest, it is both the best job in the world and the absolute hardest. The sad thing is, it’s getting harder.
When considering the changes in education for young people, what do we do about behaviour? When I started working in a PRU (Pupil Referral Unit), life seemed simple. The excluded pupils we had were EBD (Emotional Behavioural Disorder) kids, those with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Generally they were lively, reckless and challenging, yet their future in education felt more stable as their SEN needs were clear.
Then, in 2014, the world shifted and EBD was replaced by SEMH: Social, Emotional and Mental Health. Even with my setting, the new areas of need caused contention. Were we equipped to label a pupil as having mental health needs? What did we do when we still struggled to get CAMHS (Children And young people’s Mental Health Services.) involved? What did we do with the continuing flow of pupils excluded for poor behaviour?
Nearly three years on and we have a better grasp of the world we work in. Within my setting, we quickly realised that behavioural problems would remain an issue. Instead of viewing that as the end label, we had to dig deeper and show where that behaviour had stemmed from; behaviour was a visible symptom of an underlying need.
Sounds straight forward enough …
However, at the start of this post I said that life was getting harder, and here are the reasons why:
- Trying to build a history of underlying needs that have led to challenging behaviour is hard when you don’t get a full picture from mainstream schools.
- Some pupils have attended many (or even all) their local mainstream schools and failed in every single one.
- Many pupils have families who are facing extreme challenges.
- Some pupils have never been referred to any outside agency.
Let me add some flesh to the bones.
Dear John …
‘John’ is permanently excluded in Year 8 for repeatedly breaking the school behaviour policy. His last act included ‘swearing at the headteacher and breaking a window’. He arrived at the PRU an angry and unstable young man. He doesn’t settle well in our provision and, as he has been on transfers to all his local schools, mainstream education is out of the picture.
John is working behind his peers, but this seems largely due to a lack of engagement with learning. His records from school don’t record any SEN, he has never seen an educational psychologist, nor had any additional support. Over the coming weeks, it becomes clear that John’s home life is chaotic. His father has recently come out of prison, he has witnessed domestic violence and his mother repeatedly threatens to put him in care.
So, what do we do about young people like John?
Does he have SEMH? Can we prove a history of need? Would he cope in mainstream if we could find one? Would his behaviour improve if his family was getting support? These are the questions faced by staff working in PRUs up and down the country.
So, I return to the question at the start of this post: EBD or SEMH? Just what do we do about behaviour?
Helen Woodley writes for Teacher Toolkit.