Submission to the Department for Education consultation on behaviour management strategies, in-school units and managed moves

Children England and the ChildFair State Inquiry

August 2021

Children England’s submission to this consultation is based on youth-led research we and our partners at Leaders Unlocked facilitated last year as part of the ChildFair State Inquiry. We note that the consultation questions seem directly aimed at those working in schools, rather than other organisations with an understanding of children’s behaviour and wellbeing. They do not invite evidence directly from children and young people. Most sections of the consultation also appear to assume current behaviour management techniques such as inclusion / isolation rooms are appropriate approaches rather than inviting the full range of evidence on whether or not they are appropriate, and what alternative approaches might be considered beneficial to children. Nothing we have learned from the children’s sector we work within, or the young people we work with, leads us to believe these punitive and exclusionary approaches are right for children, and so we feel it’s important to contribute the relevant views expressed by children and young people themselves on education rather than to answer the questions as posed by the consultation. 

We also wholly support the submission of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition to this consultation.


Children England is the infrastructure body for the children and families voluntary sector. Our members range from small specialist organisations to major national charities and work with some of England’s most vulnerable children and families, bringing a wealth of expertise that enables us to build a big picture of children’s needs and wellbeing in England, especially children in care or otherwise interacting with children’s services. 

The ChildFair State Inquiry was led by 26 young people aged 13 - 21, who come from a diverse range of backgrounds and lived experiences around England’s cities, towns and rural areas. They conducted interviews, workshops and an online survey to find out their peers’ experience in five main areas of the welfare state, one of which was education. Our evidence below is based on their findings, and is backed up by their interrelated findings on topics such as mental health. 

NB: Our numbering does not correspond to consultation question numbering.

1. No child or young person responded positively about exclusionary behaviour management practices

In the wide-ranging questions to children and young people on their experience of school last year, not a single respondent offered a positive comment about behaviour management practices in school, and where they were mentioned, they were cited as being mistakenly applied to pupils whose needs hadn’t been understood and supported by the school. The context in which the questions were posed was important in enabling children and young people to be absolutely honest -  including allowing respondents to direct the conversation wherever they felt was important, and by the sessions being led by young people of a similar age, rather than by adults or professionals. 

One of the clearest references to any sort of isolation from peers by a young person in the research was:

When they put you in seclusion, people assume you’re a bad person, but they don’t try to understand the problem. We had a hard childhood, and I know my brother is a good person at heart, but those horrible experiences which end up with you in seclusion at school, they stay with you.

Bullying was the only behaviour by peers that children and young people felt more action was needed on by school staff. Described by one young person as ‘a big thing in schools’, another said

My school pretends they have the resources to deal with the bullying that happens in the school but I find myself breaking up fights between year 10s and year 7s.

While no respondent called for a punitive approach to bullying behaviour, many called for staff to be more understanding of individual pupils’ needs. 

2. Children and young people want schools to be inclusive and supportive places

Children and young people’s own priority is clear from across the research - schools should be inclusive, supportive places with the culture, resources and staff training to ensure every child’s individual needs are understood and met - not rigid hierarchies that expect all children to conform to the same patterns of behaviour. Flexibility is key in enabling staff to understand and respond to each pupil’s individual experiences and needs. 

All young respondents appreciated the purpose of school in educating them and giving them skills and qualifications for later in life. However the role of schools in providing a much more holistic experience, with support for young people’s social and emotional development, was just as important for them. As one young person summed it up:

Education should look beyond the subjects, they should look at what’s happening in young people’s lives and support them.

But many respondents feel this is not happening in their school. A common theme amongst respondents was being expected to conform to a pre-existing system, rather than the school system adapting to suit its pupils’ needs:

The school didn’t actually help me fit in socially, they were more interested in me fitting into the school system.

I feel that some people can adapt to the education system and it works for them, but for other people it doesn’t work. The system is old, as young people we’ve progressed and it’s not meeting our needs.

I got kicked out of college, but a college is a place for results and business. So if a student is going through something outside college, it’s not the place which helps you. I feel like a lot of the colleges say they’re helping students with their mental health, but I don’t see the evidence of it.

Children and young people speak very inclusively of their peers and the huge variety of experiences and pressures pupils bring with them to school each day - they appreciate that young people will communicate distress or anxiety through their behaviour and that this could affect any pupil, not only those who have a diagnosed need or family intervention. 

At my school there were a lot of kids who would shout and argue with the teachers, lots of behavioural issues that weren’t looked into. If you had your head on the table because you were sad you would be seen as slacking, there were loads of times I walked out of the classroom and they just assumed you were being bad, rather than trying to talk and understand you.

They’re very strict in how we can express our emotions. We don’t get any time to talk about our feelings, and if we do, it’s in assembly. We don’t get a lesson on it, and yet we get lessons on ‘elasticity’ and we’re not going to use elasticity when we’re older.

You’re taught that the world is black and white, there are ‘naughty kids’ and there are ‘good kids’ there are the kids who get detention and the kids who get As. Everyone in the real world is a mixture of the both, you might get someone who’s very clever but has a few years in their life where they don’t succeed, where they don’t succeed as much as they could and that’s never taught.

It’s evident from the quotes above that many young people don’t feel seen as individuals by their schools, with the capacity for good and bad days, as well as to develop socially and emotionally at their own pace. They want a much broader educational experience that both teaches about and supports all young people’s wellbeing, recognising that understanding and having good mental health and wellbeing is essential to being able to learn and succeed educationally.  As one young person said,

I would like to see more emotional support for students in schools and more teacher training to make them feel understood. The more emotionally safe students feel, the happier they are and more ready to learn.

3. Pupils want good quality support for their mental health and wellbeing - but it’s lacking

Whilst many young people reported valuing the quality of academic education in their school, most comments about pastoral support indicated patchy, if not downright poor quality, implementation of mental health and wellbeing policies. One young respondent summed up:

In regards to learning my needs are most definitely met however the mental health support in schools is shamefully bad.

Perhaps indicating stretched resources, one respondent said "it can still be just the ones with diagnosed mental health issues that are helped." Yet young people are clear that anyone - teachers included - can go through challenging phases where they need the school system around them to be flexible and supportive. 

Communication about and access to support was regularly described negatively:

I found that the lack of support in schools was a negative experience including going into higher education. The support written and displayed in policies and on the websites provide you with a positive insight into the support that is there but in my actual experience, none or little of the support displayed on open days etc were given and was being discriminated by the teachers due to my disabilities.

The [mental health] services aren’t advertised very often, and despite places like schools or groups recommending them the process is difficult and often very off putting.

As is also clear from some of the comments above, young people perceive a lack of skill and knowledge amongst school staff when it comes to understanding how emotional issues might affect pupils’ behaviour and ability to learn, and insufficient space for mental health in the curriculum as well as in the wider school culture. 

One college student commented:

Mental health is not funded well enough. There are too few mental health support workers so we need more to be able to get help. We need more coverage on mental health in college, conversations need to be talked about it more widely. If it’s talked about in lessons, you’re more likely to talk about it in private. We’ve done more PHSE sessions on terrorism than on mental health.

4. Support for good relationships between staff and pupils is essential

Related to the point above, young people don’t find school staff have a consistently supportive attitude to pupil wellbeing, whether through lack of resources or different styles of training. The variation from bad to good - and what each looks like - is apparent in the following comments:

Teachers that listen to you, they pay attention to you, they give you the space to grow. They’re really important.

The education I get at school is really good, the teachers are really good. My teacher is really kind, he doesn’t really get mad. He makes a lot of jokes, laughs a lot.

Bad teachers, not passionate, there are not enough of them, they’re overstretched, can be old fashioned and rigid.

Schools should have more teachers and people to talk to, we can’t always trust all the teachers. It tends to depend on how the teachers perceive the young people’s issue. 

Teacher stereotyping at school and having subconscious labels for certain students.

Young people feel supported to learn when their teachers are kind and have the space and time to talk and listen to them. They do not feel well supported when their teachers don’t build those trusting relationships - perhaps because they’re pressurised, or implementing a behaviour policy that makes assumptions about young people’s needs rather than seeking to understand individuals.


5. Given the above, the proposed ‘behaviour management’ policies seem particularly inappropriate

Children and young people want their behaviour understood, rather than managed, and their needs met with support rather than punishment. They do not feel that enough school staff currently have the training or time to make judgements about pupil behaviour and to offer appropriate responses, so it would be particularly damaging to encourage schools to extend or develop their use of ‘removal rooms’ and in-school behavioural units - especially when complementary or alternative responses via SEND support, counselling or other pastoral options are so thinly rationed. 

The discrimination children and young people perceive in their schools’ behaviour policies is striking, and should be a warning that any increase in the use of seclusion, exclusion and other punitive measures will likely affect some pupils more than others. Throughout our Young Leaders’ research, a link seemed to emerge between judgmental or hierarchical approaches from school staff and exclusionary or bullying behaviour by pupils to those perceived to be different. Children and young people want their teachers to lead inclusion by example.

The type of education you get depends on where you’re from, if you can speak English, if your behaviour is disruptive, or if you have more money.

There’s a lot of labelling in schools, you might have a behavioural disorder like ADHD, you’re immediately told that you’re the ‘bad kid’. Schools need to approach them differently, it might be that they’re not getting enough attention at home, or suffering from something that they’re not opening up about. We should talk to those people, try to understand them. Everyone behaves differently for a reason and it’s not just because they necessarily want to ‘act-out’ but that’s just what they’re turning to as a coping mechanism.

My brother had to leave school due to bullying from students (and teacher) and the school didn't adjust to his needs, knowing he was autistic.

6. Other parts of the education system are exacerbating, rather than helping, pupils learn and thrive

Two other factors were mentioned by young respondents as contributing to their schools’ failure to support good mental wellbeing and therefore readiness to learn.

Education is stressful, they should make it less stressful.

The narrow curriculum and focus on academic subjects, with the corresponding emphasis on exams, was widely reported to be affecting children and young people’s wellbeing - both for those perceived to be ‘academic’ and therefore expected to achieve good grades in exams and for those who felt that they weren’t good at academic subjects.

Achievement anxiety is a massive problem in today’s society so we really need to reduce the need to be productive all the time and over-obsessing about achieving and getting onto the next stage of your life and just focus on the stage you’re at now and just enjoying it.

Education needs to have less pressure and more creativity as I feel this contributes to the Mental health of teens.

Schools are underfunded and there is a lack of creativity and freedom in the curriculum.

Whilst a narrow focus on exams and the subjects that lend themselves well to examination is putting children and young people’s mental health under unnecessary pressure, the measurement of schools themselves, by exam results and Ofsted gradings, is also driving schools to behave like machines rather than places of learning and development:

A young person from a disadvantaged background said:

Ofsted came to assess the school and it didn’t feel like they’d really asked the children about their experience. There were silly things like if you weren’t wearing certain parts of your school uniform, or you didn’t have the right equipment you’d be expected to go home and buy it. It felt like a business at times rather than an educational institute.

School teaches you to be a worker, the system is creating robots… it’s not helping us grow as people.

In addition to hoping for more direct support for their mental health and wellbeing, many respondents described a wish for more expressive subjects, more active learning and more time out of the classroom. This would benefit everyone, they felt - not only the pupils who were especially good at sport, art or music for example.

Young people feel that school puts them into a competitive race that doesn’t recognise the pace they need to develop at, and that any extra challenge in their personal lives could mean they fall behind and, without good support, drop out of that race. They would value a way of measuring schools based on how happy pupils are, and how successful by their own definition of success.

In [the] older generation’s eyes, success means you’re making loads of money, but for me it's how happy you are.

7. Pupils have examples of supportive behaviour policies - some real and some imagined

Where they had positive experiences of their school’s policies, young people were quick to highlight them, including:

  • “We have a wellbeing room for people who are struggling with their mental health. They get a ‘time out pass’ so they can go to the room and talk to someone. There are also multiple people throughout the school who can help you. All the teachers listen and are willing to help you. A ‘time out pass’ is for the student to give the teacher and be excused. If you talk to someone and explain what’s going on, they give you a time out pass. I think all students should be given this option.”
  • “I’m dyslexic and autistic, so in my school now like the one I’ve been at since year 7 I’m 100% supported with everything, I could literally go in and say I needed this and by tomorrow they’d have it, like they just support you, you know really quick.”
  • “In my school we have a lot of autistic people, we have a whole centre for them and instead of them having to sit with everyone else at lunchtime they can go in there, they can watch TV and they’ve got a fish tank you know stuff like that so they have things to do and they can sit on the phones in there and take a time out.”
  • “We had a form group made up of years 7-11. They mixed us up which was so useful because the older kids taught us about the teachers, how things worked.”


Some respondents described the support they wished was available:

  • “One example would be rotating school counsellors around different schools who have expertise in different areas of mental health. More activity groups, supporting sports clubs like football and incorporating support into these activities. That way, people don’t have to admit they need help because there is a lot of shame. We need a secret service, like 007 but for mental health. Confidentiality is key.
  • “Advice for schools: Just be there, don’t tell me you’re too busy. If a child comes to you and expresses anything to do with mental health, be there, it doesn’t take long to listen.”
  • “There needs to be somewhere in school where people can just go and be on their own, like a room or something.”
  • “The school playground is sort of where you have your first experience with ‘real’ people, so right now that would be [my] priority to tell young people it’s alright if they’re different, to tell young people it’s alright if they’re shy; and that it’s okay.”
  • “I wish in the future that people were less judgy at school, people can bring a negative vibe towards other people. People should be more accepting of each other and especially those with mental health issues.”

Whilst young people would like to be involved in designing behaviour policies and support at their school, there are some common themes all schools can aspire to embed in their culture: supporting pupils’ self-expression and giving them the autonomy to take ‘time out’ when they’re distressed; enabling good, equal relationships between pupils and between staff and pupils; supporting and resourcing staff to model inclusive behaviour.


For any further information about Children England or the ChildFair State Inquiry, please contact:

Chloë Darlington, Policy and Communications Manager, Children England

[email protected]