Potential Energy (Part 8)

The section of the ASL Review which covers Theme 7: Relationships and behaviour is on the short side for such an important topic. But that it because it is largely reiterating things which are already well known and have been covered well in recent years by other documents and initiatives, including:

In particular, the review recognises as a “key point of principle” that:

All behaviour is communication.

Included, Engaged and Involved Part 2

Behaviour of pupils was clearly raised by a number of people in their responses to the review, in particular concerns about “verbal or physical aggression”. However, the review – right from the outset – notes the range of issues which can lead to such behaviour, including “[u]nmet needs”, “tolerance levels for external stimulation” and “continuing traumatic experiences”.

Also at the outset the need for staff to be properly supported is identified: “That support must enable anticipation, prevention and responses informed by an understanding of the child .. in the context of a trusting relationship.” Again, we return to this central issue of trusting relationships we have seen outlined in previous chapters.

Good relationships and communication with parents and carers are also seen as “invaluable” as they will understand the child’s behaviour (including likely triggers etc) better than anyone.

While pupil behaviour has been used to argue that more specialist placements are needed, the review reiterates that “resource must be directed to actions that increase inclusion, not actions that further exclude and stigmatise children and young people.”

However, disappointingly, the review refers to evidence that “not all professionals hold the belief that behaviour should be understood as communication.”

Distress call

As noted above, the review underlines the importance of trust, and relationships in supporting children and young people. They are essential, says the review, in avoiding a “behaviour management approach” to what it calls distressed behaviour. This (“distressed behaviour”) is terminology I have noted being used by the Health and Education Chamber Tribunals of late.

As the CYPCS report “No Safe Place” explains:

This is a reminder that children and young people with particular Additional Support Needs or disabilities may
display anxiety or distress through behaviour that presents to adults as challenging. However, too many local authorities explicitly frame this kind of behaviour in policies and guidance as ‘aggressive’ or ‘violent’. We do not think this is appropriate and often runs counter to some of the more reasoned messages contained elsewhere in documentation.

The review is clear that where a response to distressed behaviour is required “this should be grounded in relationships and based on respect for the child and their rights.”

And this is beneficial for everyone. In challenging exclusions, I have been sometimes accused of “defending bad behaviour”. No, I am promoting alternative, evidence-based approaches which are actually effective in reducing such behaviour (and reducing “the need to consider exclusion, physical intervention and seclusion as responses”). As the review notes: “Accepting, respectful approaches are more effective than those that are experienced as punishing and shaming by children and young people.”

Environmental issues

This section concludes by noting the impact that the physical (to which I might add, and sensory) environments of many schools “create significant difficulties” for some pupils, increasing the likelihood of distressed behaviour. Improving these physical environments (where this is possible) would benefit not just those with additional support needs, but all children and young people.


There are only two recommendations to this section, both of which refer to existing and ongoing work in this area:

  • The remit of SAGRABIS [Scottish Advisory Group on Relationships and Behaviour In Schools] must be reviewed, and widened, to bring it up to date and in line with emerging knowledge and recommended practices, including the findings of this Review. The membership of the group must be reviewed in line with the refreshed remit.
  • SAGRABIS should have a primary focus on relationships and behaviour, but also the ability to focus on wider additional support for learning issues, developing improvement priorities and ensuring those priorities are reflected at a national, local and regional level. In doing so, SAGRABIS must ensure they work closely with the Additional Support for Learning Implementation Group [ASLIG].

Up next is Theme 8: Understanding Rights.

Image by Maddy Mazur from Pixabay

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