A Special Challenge – Inclusion and Behavioural Difficulty

Published in 2011, Mainstream Inclusion, Special Challenges: Strategies for Children with BESD predates SEND reform, hence the BESD categorisation, but its recommendations remain as relevant today as they were at the time of writing. With a deeply concerning Jospeph Rowntree Foundation report this week confirming that seven in every ten pupils permanently excluded from English schools have SEN (2014 data) it seemed worth revisiting the advice.

Focussing on leadership strategies, ‘Special Challenges’ explains how four primary and middle schools successfully included pupils who would have been labelled ‘maladjusted’, pre Warnock. The six key themes to emerge are outlined below but, taken together, they reflect the fact that inclusion can never mean treating all pupils the same way. A behaviour policy is, after all, no more the answer to behavioural difficulty than a literacy policy is the answer to dyslexia. There must be intervention and reasonable adjustment.

Theme One: identification

Having a member of staff who understood the nature of behavioural difficulty and could distinguish it from routine misbehaviour was essential if the school was to effectively support. All of the SENCOs interviewed were able to describe robust systems for identification and involved colleagues, from lunch supervisors to the heateacher, to build up a complete picture. Parents were also involved in the process, SENCOs understanding the importance of wider environmental factors in understanding a child’s behaviour in school.

Theme Two: an inclusive ethos

An overwhelming theme from the study was the positive attitude of staff towards inclusion. All saw it as preferable to exclusion of the children they were working with. The vision was maintained through regular staff meetings, which always focused on pupils in AOB, emails, CPD. The SENCO was part of the leadership team and took the lead role in communicating what inclusion looked like in each of the schools. Staff attitude was seen as vital and a positive attitude was modelled and promoted by the leadership team.

Theme three: support staff

Getting the staffing right was a crucial factor in managing challenging behaviour. Whilst job titles varied from school to school, all had appointed staff with the appropriate training to support BESD children. Many were using Inclusion Development Programme BESD materials to develop their knowledge. Whether key worker, behaviour mentor, HLTA, they represented a consistent adult who children could share their worries and problems with. In the best examples, they were ‘on-call’ throughout the day. Sometimes they worked to a skeleton timetable but were able to abandon this if needed.

Theme four: intervention

Whatever the arrangement, staff needed to spend enough time with the children to build up a meaningful relationship with them, and this time was spent in a variety of ways, as dictated by the needs of the child. Some children had one-to-one support in class, although this wasn’t considered universally helpful. One-to-one sessions were also provided outside the classroom, for example to discuss particular emotional or social issues. There were often scheduled first thing in the morning (particularly on Mondays, which many children found difficult), or after break times to resolve any playground conflicts and ease transition back into the class.

Many group interventions also ran, formal programmes including:

  • Circle of Friends
  • SEAL
  • Let’s Chill
  • Time to Talk
  • Socially Speaking
  • Hot Thoughts, Cool Decisions (provided by outside agency)

These programmes were most effective when they were part of a whole-school approach to behaviour, with all staff using the same strategies and giving the same advice, whether site manager or classroom teacher. In this way, skills were applied in a range of contexts, not just practiced through intervention work.

Theme five: a safe base

Pupils did their one-to-one or group work in a special place, a safe base also used for time-out. This, along with the designated adult to rely on, increased their sense of security and therefore allowed them to begin to address some of the emotional issues they were facing. Comfortable and relaxing, with bean bags, cushions, throws, it was also used for on-call.

Lunchtime was identified as a triggering time and some behaviour staff ran lunchtime clubs for pupils unable to manage the playground, or simply allowed them access to the safe base.

Theme six: peer support

Staff in these inclusive settings felt that inclusion, expertly managed, was beneficial to all children, often because of the interventions and social and emotional learning for all resulting from these. They also commented that including children with BESD increased the tolerance of peers and their awareness of diversity. Children consistently demonstrated caring and understanding behaviour towards those who were struggling.

Circle of Friends was used by one school as a strategy to close the social gap between one pupil and the rest of his class. This was seen to benefit all of the children involved, boosting self esteem.

Sometimes, parents were less tolerant of diversity. However, when the school’s commitment to inclusion was clearly communicated, this was easier to manage because there was no expectation that exclusion would be considered a solution – no mounting ‘out’ campaigns. School leaders also ensured that the benefits of inclusion for all pupils were celebrated.


Published by Mary Meredith

Working in schools for over 20 years, I've been a Head of English, a SENCO and a deputy headteacher. I'm currently Head of Inclusion at Lincolnshire County Council. I am a sucker for the underdog. Always have been, always will be.

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