Date updated: Wednesday 7th September 2022

“A whole-school approach to behaviour and safeguarding”: the new Behaviour in Schools Department for Education guidance applies from 1 September 2022.

Rather than outlining schools’ legal powers to discipline students, as set out in previous iterations, the new Behaviour Guidance focuses instead on schools’ behaviour expectations; behaviour that is to be encouraged and supported. The change in emphasis is subtle, but pervasive in this substantially longer document. This is very much in line with the vision for schools outlined in the White Paper. The guidance is non-statutory and applies to all schools.

The guidance is much clearer that behaviour is intrinsically linked with the school’s safeguarding obligations, and that managing behaviour is a fundamental part of creating a safe culture for pupils. Accordingly, there is an expectation that the behaviour policy will be designed as part of the whole school approach to safeguarding, and the respective policies should complement each other.

The guidance also emphasises the link with the fulfilment of schools’ broader obligations towards students with special educational needs and disabilities (“SEND”) under the Children and Families Act 2014 and the Equality Act 2010.

Ofsted’s ‘good’ grade descriptors for assessing Behaviour and Attitudes are drawn upon to outline “national minimum expectations” for schools’ approaches to behaviour. ‘Dignity, kindness and respect’ are repeated terms. Not only the Behaviour policy but also its implementation by staff is important.  

The guidance refers to a ‘behaviour curriculum’, defining the expected behaviours rather than only a list of prohibited behaviours, which should be actively taught. Nonetheless, Behaviour policies should continue to include a range of possible sanctions. The wording implies the level of significance expected in terms of planning and embedding the behaviour expectations.

Support for pupils to meet behaviour expectations is a recurring theme, with the word ‘support’ in relation to pupils appearing 48 times in the document. Support should be pro-actively provided, and then reconsidered following a sanction. That such support should be given “consistently and predictably, applied fairly and only where necessary” is also acknowledged.

There is specific guidance for pupils with SEND, and schools should carefully review paragraphs 34-38 and 56-60. The main consideration for schools is whether a reasonable adjustment to behavioural expectations needs to be made proactively for a particular child with SEND and, if those expectations are still not met even after that reasonable adjustment, whether a reasonable adjustment needs to be made to any behavioural sanction applied to that child.  Appropriate support depends upon schools anticipating likely triggers of misbehaviour for pupils with SEND.  However the guidance recognises that even if a pupil’s SEND affects their behaviour, it does not follow that every incident of misbehaviour will be connected to their SEND.

In addition to reasonable adjustments which must be made for pupils with a disability, the guidance notes that adjustments should be made proactively for all pupils with additional needs, where reasonable and appropriate, to ensure all pupils can meet behavioural expectations.  Additional needs is clearly intended to be widely interpreted, with the example given of a student experiencing a recent bereavement, where the additional needs may be temporary.  

There will also be times when schools cannot know that a pupil has particular needs affecting their behaviour and so they “should consider whether the misbehaviour gives cause to suspect that a pupil is suffering, or is likely to suffer, harm”.

Given media criticism of the use of ‘isolation’, and the extremely limited guidance for its use contained in the previous iteration of the 2016 ‘Behaviour and discipline in schools’, that around 2.5 pages are devoted here to ‘Removal from classrooms’ is welcome. However, the guidance remains ambivalent. On the one hand, such a sanction can be used “for serious disciplinary reasons”, and “only when necessary and once other behavioural strategies in the classroom have been attempted, unless the behaviour is so extreme as to warrant immediate removal”.  

On the other, it “should” be used to maintain the safety of all pupils, to enable disruptive pupils to be taken to a place where education can be continued in a managed environment, to allow the pupil to regain calm. This rather implies that such a sanction is anticipated to be short-lived, and indeed any removals for “prolonged periods of time” should receive “the explicit agreement of the headteacher”. As with exclusions, parents and a child’s social worker should be informed. The guidance is that they should (not must) be informed on the same day, whereas for exclusions, parents must be informed without delay.  It is notable that this is not the case for detentions, though it is acknowledged that, “In many cases it will be necessary to do so …”.

Although Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022 incorporates the previous standalone guidance on child-on-child sexual violence and sexual harassment, there is further emphasis here that schools should adopt clear behaviour expectations in relation to such behaviour. It also clarifies the importance of schools setting the same standards of behaviour online as apply offline and that sanctions can be imposed when such behaviour “poses a threat or causes harm to another pupil”.

Pupil support units providing additional support to students who are at risk of permanent exclusion, are identified as “a planned intervention occurring in small groups and in place of mainstream lessons”. These have the status of ‘in-school Alternative Provision (AP) units’  if they accommodate pupils from other schools. The guidance here – not least that the pupil support unit [is] an integral part of the school – clarifies the status of such units which has been unclear to date. However, as the guidance is ‘advice’ rather than statutory, their legal status remains somewhat murky.

The guidance recognises that, particularly where a pupil is persistently disruptive and support or sanctions are not deterring misbehaviour, further action may be needed, in serious instances involving suspension and exclusion. The guidance cross-refers to the new statutory Suspension and Permanent Exclusion Guidance (which applies to maintained schools, academies and PRUs) in this regard. We outline this guidance here.

Finally, both in relation to behaviour culture and sanctions imposed, including removal from classrooms, there is a clear expectation that schools should be collecting and analysing data in order to identify possible factors contributing to the behaviour, system problems or failure to provide appropriate support. It is also suggested that schools further analyse the data by protected characteristic. Appropriately anonymised data might also be shared with governors, in relation to their obligations in terms of monitoring and oversight.

In light of this new guidance (and the update to various associated Guidance documents including the Exclusions guidance referred to above, and the updated Searching, Screening and Confiscation Guidance, it would be a good time to:

  • Review the school’s behaviour and sanctions policy, including the vision for the school’s culture. Note that the guidance includes specific reference to certain details which should be included. This should be considered alongside any inter-related policies, such as the Safeguarding policy, any separate Exclusions policy and the Anti-Bullying policy
  • Consider how the culture and policy is communicated to pupils, staff, and parents, and whether any further communication or training is required. In relation to staff, the behaviour policy must include reference to regular training for staff on behaviour, including induction, development and support
  • Consider how the data relating to behaviour and sanctions is currently monitored and evaluated, and whether any changes should be made in light of the guidance
  • Consider how the whole school approach to behaviour impacts pupils with SEND