New beginnings are especially important for pupils whose behaviour is a cause for concern; this issue we’re thinking about the various elements of effective behaviour management for BESD (behavioural, emotional and social development) – including giving youngsters a chance to start with a clean slate

The BESD (behavioural, emotional and social development) category as described by the CoP includes children and young people ‘who demonstrate features of emotional and behavioural difficulties, who are withdrawn and isolated, disruptive and disturbing, hyperactive and lack concentration; those with immature social skills; and those presenting challenging behaviours arising from other complex needs.’

Children who present challenging behaviour are usually the ones causing most concern for teachers because they can disrupt learning for everyone else in the class. These are the pupils who have difficulty in working collaboratively or concentrating for any length of time; they often have low self-esteem and may act the fool in order to win approval from their peers. They may become aggressive when things don’t go their way. Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are included in this group, presenting overactive behaviour, impulsive behaviour and difficulty in paying attention. They often find it difficult to fit in at school and make friends, and while some symptoms such as attention difficulties may improve as the child gets older, behavioural problems such as disobedience and aggression may become worse if not addressed. Medication is sometimes used to help children with ADHD. This is controversial, but many parents find that an appropriate prescription (the correct dosage is crucial) succeeds in quieting down a child, allowing him to listen and learn more effectively, thereby transforming his life and the lives of other family members.

Other children may have significant problems with concentration and paying attention but are not overactive or impulsive. These pupils may be described as having ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or may have conditions such as Attachment Disorders, Fragile X or Autism. These pupils can easily be overlooked because they are quiet and withdrawn rather than disruptive.

Why do they misbehave?
Pupils with BESD needs are often troubled children whose emotional state leads them into negative behaviour. They may seek attention – even the negative kind, or may lash out at a world where they feel everyone is against them. All of this leads to a lack of positive feedback and a downward spiralling of self-esteem. It’s important for teachers to understand why children misbehave rather than simply labelling an individual as ‘naughty’, ‘disruptive’ or ‘evil’. Using this sort of description within their hearing can be particularly damaging, and may lead to a self-fulfilling situation where the child ‘lives down’ to expectations.

As a SENCO, you may find that you are the first port of call for colleagues who are concerned about a pupil’s behaviour, so how do you support both the teacher and the child? Each school will have its own systems and procedures but there are common features of effective practice:

  • Enforcing an up-to-date and effective whole-school behaviour policy that everyone is familiar with. Every teacher and TA should know, understand and consistently apply the system of rewards and sanctions.
  • Explicit teaching of social and communication skills with opportunities for learners to consider cause and effect and the consequences of different responses to various situations (eg, SEAL)
  • Providing regular CPD on behaviour management. Teachers need to have a tool box of strategies; NQTs may need additional support.
  • Using an established route and format for ‘cause for concern’ information where teachers describe the situation and what they have tried to do to address the problem. This helps to keep things in perspective and emphasises the teacher’s responsibility in the first place – to meet a child’s needs. It also helps in spotting patterns of bad behaviour in different subject areas, particular times of the day, etc.
  • Talking to the child to establish (if possible) the cause of bad behaviour. This can be difficult with some children who may not recognise the cause or be unable to pinpoint anything in particular (‘I just hate school.’). Providing some starting points can be useful:
    • ‘Tell me how you feel about….
      • other pupils in the class
      • literacy/numeracy/science/PE class
      • your teachers or TAs
      • breaktimes or lunchtime
    • ‘What do you like most and least about school?’
    • ‘What would you like to change?’
  • Talking to parents and carers and possibly offering some guidance on behaviour management at home. Some parents feel powerless to influence their children’s behaviour in any way; knowing that you are on-side can give them confidence as well as helping them to develop effective rules, sanctions and rewards.
  • Having someone act as advocate for the child (a SENCO or mentor); confidentiality is an important issue, but colleagues are much more likely to be sympathetic to a student ‘throwing a wobbly’ if they know there are extenuating circumstances at home. Pupils who are caring for sick or disabled parents – for example, those in care, and those who survive in dysfunctional families – may be under a lot of stress. Flexibility in terms of handing in homework can help to lighten their load. Learning mentors can be a great support by being good listeners and helping pupils to make appropriate choices about how they conduct themselves.
  • Employing effective intervention programmes.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.