What we think the Government needs to change about the way schools approach behaviour and discipline

25 Aug 2021

In an effort to help stop young people from continuing to be unnecessarily excluded, we recently supported our School Exclusion Campaign Group to tell the Government what they think about the way schools approach behaviour and discipline. We worked with them to share their views in response to a consultation held by the Department for Education which seeks to gather views to help inform their forthcoming review of guidance on behaviour and school exclusions in the autumn. In their consultation response, the young campaigners call for reforms including a ban on the use of isolation as a punishment and for teachers to get the time and training they need to listen to young people and understand the reasons behind their behaviour.

“Schools need to get people who understand”

When discussing the need for schools to do more to listen to young people, one campaign group member highlighted the importance of schools understanding how to support disabled children and children with special educational needs, saying: “There’s so much missing. Especially when it comes to understanding the effects that different things can have on people – especially when they may not be neurotypical...For me, it would have helped so much more if they understood my condition and how it affects me. Something as small as the lights could really affect me and nobody understood that. It’d really affect me I wouldn’t be able to do my work at all. Schools need to get people who understand.”

"You’re setting a young person up for jail time"

The young people also voiced their concerns about the use of isolation rooms as a form of punishment, calling for them to be banned. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which has said that keeping children in isolation should be considered a form of violence, has also recommended that the Government ban the use of isolation rooms. We heard young people describe the experience as prison-like, as many of them have been forced to spend weeks in isolation, with no chance to learn, to go outside or to interact with others. One campaign group member said: “If children have to be removed from a classroom it shouldn’t be to go to an isolation room which looks exactly like a prison. You’re setting a young person up for jail time.”

What we think needs to change

Just for Kids Law and CRAE have also submitted a response to the consultation. In our response, we set out how overly punitive approaches to behaviour lead too many young people to be excluded for circumstances beyond their control. We demonstrate how the Government can support schools to take a different approach and make sure that all young people can have their right to education realised. Our response includes a series of recommendations to tackle the specific disparities faced by young people from ethnic minority backgrounds and young people with special educational needs.

We need the Government to help schools take an approach to behaviour that works. There’s lots of evidence that this means understanding the root causes of young people’s behaviour and making sure that staff have the time to provide support and care. Not only does this reduce exclusions – it improves pupils’ mental health, development and future outcomes.