Behaviour Hubs: A renewed focus on our approaches to behaviour in schools

Written by: Suzanne O'Connell | Published:
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The DfE has concerns that standards of behaviour are slipping. Their answer is new Behaviour Hubs, a more ‘traditional’ approach, and the promise of reviewed advice later this year. Suzanne O'Connell looks at what schools might do in the meantime...


Concern has been mounting that as the pandemic continues, the on-going restrictions and expectations might become too much for some students and that exclusions might climb as a result.

However, at a time when students may be struggling more than usual, the Department for Education appears to be taking a hard-line approach, with talk of “maintaining order and discipline” and strategies such as mobile phone bans and “quiet corridors” (DfE, 2021).

A key feature in ministers’ armoury is a £10m plan to establish new Behaviour Hubs (DfE, 2021).

It comes as education secretary Gavin Williamson has defended the use of exclusion, along with other traditional sanctions and has advocated a return to “good discipline” in a recent Telegraph article (2021). It is expected that new guidance on behaviour, discipline and exclusion will be issued later this year.


The Behaviour Hubs

A team of experts, led by Tom Bennett – who conducted the government’s 2017 independent behaviour review (DfE, 2017) – will be advising schools on how to address poor behaviour.

Behaviour gurus/tsars have been around for a while and we can expect a new set of guidelines and bullet points for our schools. Charlie Taylor will also sit on the group – he was the coalition government’s expert until 2012.

The Behaviour Hubs are intended to “transform 500 schools over three years” (DfE, 2021) and they will be driven by a number of lead schools.

The programme was set to begin at the start of this summer term, partnering struggling schools with one of these lead schools. It is intended that the programme will expand next year and again the year after.

So far, the majority of lead schools are secondary schools (nine) with seven primaries and three special schools. Of the 22 lead schools, 16 are academies.

The DfE states: “The programme will run on a termly basis, with lead schools and MATs forming hubs with a different two supported schools each term.”

It is unclear at this time what kind of approach these experts will be advising or promoting. Certainly, consistency across the school and clarity are likely to be in there as recommendations.

A key sticking point may well be how far schools should be prepared to allow for those pupils whose needs challenge their rules.


Students who struggle

Not everyone agrees that behaviour has worsened or, even if it has, that taking this kind of approach is the solution. There is particular concern about the situation for vulnerable children on their return to the classroom post-lockdown.

Pupils with autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD, Tourette’s and other neurodevelopmental conditions, for example, may struggle, as may other pupils such as those with mental health conditions.

The concern is that taking this hard line can make it almost impossible for some pupils to continue in school. The result being that they are back in the community looking for a school place and are likely to gravitate to those schools which do make more allowances.


Reviewing your policy?

Prior to further government advice, schools will already have been reviewing their behaviour policies in light of Covid-19. During the pandemic, new practices, different ways of working and revised expectations mean that temporary amendments have been needed.

Now, looking towards September, it is hoped that some of those changes will no longer be necessary as we return towards some form of “normal”, although schools will undoubtedly keep contingency plans in place.

In addition, decisions may be being made to hang on to practices that have worked well during the pandemic – the so-called “Covid-keepers”.

Any review of your behaviour policy is likely to follow the same pattern as you would normally apply for policy renewal. You will want to ensure there is consultation, clarification and communication. Keeping policies as simple as possible and ensuring that they are applied consistently is important. You will want to give additional consideration to:

  • The updating of risk assessments.
  • The Covid changes that you intend to maintain from September and how these will need to be incorporated in your long-term policy.
  • The implications of any changing approaches in terms of potential trigger points.
  • Gaps in provision that have emerged and how you intend to address these in September.
  • Changes in the use of support provision and external agencies due to their new arrangements and requirements.
  • Implications of budget changes and staffing adjustments.
  • Any increase in numbers of pupils experiencing behaviour lapses and how you might address these according to your capacity.
  • How to restore/consolidate your overall ethos in terms of your whole-school approach to behaviour management.
  • Any generic strategies to support mental health, such as an increase in sporting opportunities.

Primary schools are well aware of the need to make reasonable adjustments. It is likely that alongside those who have always needed reasonable adjustments, there will be a new group of students for whom adjustments will need to be made, at least temporarily.


Targeted support

There are a number of reasons why schools might be seeing different patterns of behaviour in some pupils. Looking more closely at these is a good way to begin to reverse some of the damage that will have been done during Covid. Some pupils will have experienced:

  • Tensions at home and family issues during lockdown.
  • Lack of consistency from staff as teachers have isolated, new bubbles have formed, and teaching assistants usually assigned to individuals/groups have been designated new roles.
  • Modification of SEND provision, which left some students without the support they needed or expected for a significant amount of time.
  • Overstretched budgets resulting in tired and anxious staff.
  • The routine of the usual school day has been disrupted.
  • Some students struggling with safety measures that are restrictive.

Focusing on individuals, you might consider which of these issues has potentially triggered or exacerbated behaviour issues.

As schools are reviewing their “Covid-keepers” for the future, it is important that they also consider those practices that have been lost or amended during the past year resulting in pupils being left at a disadvantage.

Most primary schools that Headteacher Update has spoken to in recent weeks are going out of their way to support pupils who have struggled during lockdown for a variety of reasons.

This has included making many exceptions to original rules in order to bring pupils back on track, while acknowledging that they may have increased mental health or wellbeing difficulties.

These issues were also flagged by the guests during a recent episode of the Headteacher Update Podcast focused on pupil wellbeing and behaviour.

Rather than academic “catch-up” and rhetoric around “lost learning”, the guests prioritised wellbeing recovery, including staff and pupil wellbeing, and supporting families.

Advice offered during the episode includes wellbeing evaluations, how to teach mental health strategies, character curriculum approaches, attachment awareness, issues of SEN, attendance, Ofsted, mindfulness, and the power of physical exercise (HTU, 2021).

It is to be hoped that sufficient acknowledgement is given nationally to the need for understanding before resorting to a traditional behaviour approach that would seem not to acknowledge the difficulties that our pupils have faced this year.

  • Suzanne O’Connell is a freelance education writer and a former primary school headteacher.


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