This evaluation of four approaches used in the Primary Behaviour and Attendance pilot study is relevant to the work of SENCOs involved in helping pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. It also identifies management issues pertinent to SENCOs involved in supporting similar whole-school initiatives.

Behaviour and attendance are key priorities for the Primary National Strategy. This evaluation, undertaken on behalf of the DfES by researchers from the Institute of Education, University of London, relates to four strands of a pilot involving 25 local authorities in the period 2003/05. The four strands consisted of programmes aimed at:

  • Continuing Professional Development (CPD), with additional funding to free school-based ‘leading teachers’ to work with colleagues observing their practice and to provide supply cover for all schools to send a representative to termly cluster/network professional development meetings.
  • School improvement, with additional funding for the employment of a ‘teacher coach’ to work with existing services (educational psychology and behaviour support) in schools experiencing difficulty, using systematic audit, action plan and professional development including on-the-job coaching.
  • Curriculum materials, with additional funding for supply cover for ten schools in each LEA to receive training and have time for planning their use of the curriculum materials, to develop social and emotional aspects of learning (SEAL).
  • – Small groups, with additional funding to appoint a specialist professional (usually a mental health worker) to work with children and families.

Continuing professional development

The CPD clusters were valued by LEAs as a means of communicating consistent messages about behaviour. The report’s finding that, for effective dissemination in schools, the CPD attendee needed to be in an influential position in school will come as no surprise to SENCOs familiar with endeavouring to engage colleagues in new initiatives.

Other key issues affecting the success of this strand, which may remind SENCOs of their own experience in similar cluster or LEA meetings, were:

  • variable attendance
  • lack of appropriate accommodation
  • difficulties for staff in travelling long distances
  • lack of information about who had overall responsibility for behaviour issues in school
  • work overload of CPD facilitators.

School improvement

This strategy had a perceived positive impact on behaviour, working climate, pupil well-being, confidence, communication and social skills and control of emotions. In achieving this, a whole-school approach to coaching successfully reduced defensive reactions from staff and ensured cross-phase consistency in behaviour policy implementation. The supportive, collegial non-judgemental model gave teachers the confidence to admit to problems and be open and reflective in finding solutions.

Contributory factors to the success of this strand, which are likely to be as crucial to the implementation of SEN policies, were:

  • the commitment of the senior management team
  • a whole-school approach, with the participation of all teachers
  • sufficient time being available for trust to develop and feedback to be given.

Curriculum materials

This programme had a positive impact on children’s behaviour and attitudes, though a small number did not respond well to it. Appointing a designated coordinator, presumably analogous to a SENCO, was another important contributory factor. Once again, the commitment of the senior management team and time for staff to understand and implement plans were considered important factors in the effective implementation of the programme. Other factors in its success were:

  • focus on topics over time within a spiral curriculum
  • a whole-school approach
  • building on the school’s existing work.

Suggestions for further improvements in using the SEAL materials, which might commend themselves to SENCOs with regard to other initiatives, included:

  • visits to schools where the programme had already been implemented successfully
  • provision of briefing sheets for non-classbased staff
  • greater involvement of parents.

Small group work

SENCOs will recognise the problems of the pupils who were selected for small group work: poor behaviour, risk of exclusion, a lack of response to rewards or sanctions, withdrawn behaviour, social difficulties with other children or fears of attending school. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the small group work revealed that some children required further support and one-to-one attention.

A multi-agency approach was considered crucial to small group work. However, as SENCOs often find when working with other professionals, there was often inadequate time for teachers and small group workers to communicate. As with the other programmes, success depended on the commitment of the whole school, teachers, parents and children. Another key factor was the integration of this work with other school initiatives, such as the SEAL programme.

Overall management

Overall the pilot was successful in achieving its aims, with evidence of improvement in school attendance, behaviour at school and in attainment, particularly at KS2 in all of the schools who participated in the pilot.

All of the elements operated successfully in some schools, though there were differences in the extent to which schools implemented them effectively. Some schools felt that there was an ‘initiative overload’.

Other management issues that arose included concerns about competition between the different initiatives, poor communication, joint line management and the need for an overarching strategic review.

Evaluation of the Primary Behaviour and Attendance Pilot, Susan Hallam, Jasmine Rhamie and Jackie Shaw.