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School behaviour management approaches do not take into account children’s mental health

Current responses to behaviour in school do not take into account young people and children's mental health problems, according to a survey.

Children's mental health in schools - childing writing in a book

Parents and children surveyed by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition strongly agreed that behaviour is linked to young people’s mental health, but that current responses to behaviour in school do not reflect this and are not working.

Sir Norman Lamb, Chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, said: “We must not forget that children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing is more important than ever. Our preliminary findings suggest that whilst young people are aware that behaviour is often linked to their mental health, they do not believe that current behaviour policies are effective.”

As part of an inquiry into behaviour and mental health in schools, the Coalition asked young people, parents and professionals their views on current approaches to behaviour management and mental health in schools, and how they can be improved.

The survey found:

  • 79% of young people who responded to the call for evidence and 87% of parents and carers agreed that a young person’s behaviour is linked to their mental health.
  • Only 21% of young people and 7% of parents felt that schools are responsive to young people’s mental health needs when dealing with behavioural issues.
  • Over half of young people (59%) who responded said that behaviour management techniques used in schools were not effective in improving behaviour.
  • 80% of parents and carers and 56% of professionals also stated that behaviour management techniques used by schools are not effective.

Professionals including teachers, headteachers, mental health practitioners and representatives from the Voluntary and Community Sector had more mixed views. While 32% of professionals responding said that schools are responsive to young people’s mental health needs when dealing with behavioural issues, 46% disagreed.

The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition’s inquiry is exploring the links between mental health and behaviour, how current school policies on behaviour affect young people and their families, and what schools can do to improve both behaviour and mental health.

It comes following concern about the increased use of punitive approaches such as the use of exclusion and removal rooms to improve behaviour in schools.

At the same time, there is an increasing mental health need among children and young people, with one in six children and young people aged 6 to 16 experiencing a mental health problem in 2021 compared to one in nine in 2017.

WillisPalmer’s, Head of Services Dave Wareham, said: “The rise in mental health problems in children and young people has been significant, particularly following the COVID pandemic and lockdowns and as we are amidst the cost-of-living crisis.”

“Some children are struggling to even get into school currently due to anxiety or other mental health problems or challenges. Young people with mental health problems attending school should not be penalised for being mentally unwell.”

“Mental ill health presents in many ways While some children become withdrawn, others may present with problematic behaviour in the classroom. This does need to be managed by teaching staff for the benefit of the whole class, but children should not be facing punitive measures such as exclusion for experiencing mental ill health. Instead, they need support, understanding and perhaps counselling to help address their actual emotional needs.”

“That it why it is imperative that teaching staff are trained in mental health awareness and know what to look out for and have access to mental health professionals or social workers to help them support their pupils in the ways they need as we do in our School Social Work Service,” concluded Dave.

Dave Wareham, Head of Services
Working Together For Children

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