Elizabeth Holmes looks further into the links between professional development and behaviour, focusing specifically on children with special educational needs and/or disabilities

If people are only good because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.
Albert Einstein

One of the most important development areas for many schools is the way in which we encourage children consistently to behave in socially acceptable and educationally sound ways. The recent installment of the Sir Alan Steer report on behaviour points to some useful ideas for professional learning in schools. This issue, we explore development specifically focused on children with special educational needs and/or disabilities. You may also be interested in the last issue which looked at defining teaching and learning as a basis for development for great behaviour.

Development for special educational needs, disabilities and behaviour
The latest report from Sir Alan Steer on behaviour in our schools advises on three main areas:

  • how school behaviour and attendance partnerships might be developed so as to maximise their effectiveness
  • the impact on pupil behaviour of consistently applied school policies on learning and teaching
  • the links between behavioural standards, special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities.

Those three areas can be a really useful basis upon which to develop and explore professional learning routes for colleagues. Last week we took a detailed look at teaching and learning policies and how the process of collaborative creation and consistent application of these policies can contribute greatly to the development of teaching and learning within a school. Now we will look at development for behaviour as it links to special educational needs and disability.

Professional learning seems inextricably linked to the standards agenda, and while this is necessary – we want to be a part of raising standards – the need to retain the links to the personal should be remembered. Professional learning which supports the personal experiences of teachers and pupils alike will always be of value.

The following ideas, based on the suggestions in the Steer report regarding special educational needs, disabilities and behaviour, will help in incorporating those themes in your plans for professional learning in your school.

  • It could be worth doing an audit of staff to find out how well equipped they feel to address the needs of children with special educational needs or disabilities as early as possible. Early intervention can help to dramatically reduce the frustration that can lead to behaviour problems. A fundamental question to consider as a school might be: What does inclusion mean to us in theory and in practice?
  • How are special educational needs identified in your school? It is essential to help staff to feel equipped to point out difficulties that children are experiencing; this is also a useful focus of whole-school development. Children with special educational needs may also have particular social and psychological needs too.
  • How consistent is the level of care received by children with special educational needs and disabilities in your school? Is there work to be done on smoothing out inconsistencies?
  • Where is expertise to be found in your school? In what ways can it be shared and disseminated? How might those with particular skills in teaching children with special educational needs and disabilities be involved in the delivery of professional learning for other members of staff? In many schools, the SENCo is involved in this process, but it’s important to know also the full spread of skills among other members of staff.
  • How do you use these skills and expertise to personalise the approach that your school takes to young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities?
  • Is the need for sound and regular opportunities for professional learning for staff embedded within your behaviour policy? Does this include development on the effective use of assessment data as a tool for tackling behaviour issues with a number of root causes?
  • Consider ways in which you might join with other agencies, such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, local health care providers and social care agencies, to develop multi-disciplinary training and professional learning.
  • Are all members of staff familiar with the legal context of teaching and assisting children with special educational needs and/or disabilities? Knowing the implications of this context, in which all schools must operate, is ultimately empowering but it’s essential to ensure that all children have equality of opportunity when accessing the curriculum. The Steer report highlights certain responsibilities which schools must honour with regard to young people with special educational needs and disabilities. These are detailed below and would usefully form a focus for training and development in this area (source: Review of Pupil Behaviour – Interim Report 4)

The Disability and Discrimination Act 2005 places a general duty on schools to have regard to the need to:

  • promote equality of opportunity between disabled people and other people;
  • eliminate discrimination that is unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (as subsequently amended);
  • eliminate harassment of disabled people that is related to their disability;
  • promote positive attitudes towards disabled people;
  • encourage participation by disabled people in public life;
  • take steps to meet disabled people’s needs, even if this requires more favourable treatment.

Where a child has special educational needs a school has statutory duties under the Education Act 1996, which include the following:

  • doing its best to ensure that the necessary provision is made for the pupil’s SEN;
  • ensuring that where the head teacher or a nominated governor has been informed by a local authority that a pupil has SEN, those needs are made known to all who are likely to teach him/her;
  • ensuring teachers are aware of the importance of identifying and providing for pupils who have SEN;
  • ensuring a pupil with SEN joins in the activities of the school together with other pupils, so far as is reasonably practical and compatible with the child receiving the SEN provision their learning needs call for, the efficient education of the pupils with whom they are educated and the efficient use of resources;
  • report to parents on the implementation of the school’s policy for pupils with SEN;
  • have regard to the SEN Code of Practice when carrying out its duties toward all pupils with SEN;
  • ensure that parents are notified of a decision by the school that SEN provision is being made for their child.

While it is true that schools have those obligations, there is absolutely no requirement for them to tolerate behaviour that is deemed to be unacceptable.

This central premise can help to guide any professional learning for behaviour, no matter who is undertaking it and which children are to be the beneficiaries: What standards do we want to achieve as a result of the development, and how do we want young people to behave?

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2009

About the author: Elizabeth Holmes qualified as a teacher at the Institute of Education, London and is the author of several books specialising in the areas of professional development and teacher well-being.