As some of you will be aware, this week the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition released their Behaviour and Mental Health in Schools Report after their year-long inquiry.
This inquiry included input from their Steering Group, Advisory Groups and interviews with key people from all sides of the conversation.
Today, I am writing to share my review of this report with you:
This report is a compelling piece that sheds light on the intricate relationship between school environments, behaviour management techniques and the mental health and wellbeing of students.
“The inquiry aimed to explore the links between behaviour and mental health, how school behaviour policies and practices impact the mental health of children and their families, and to understand what can be done to help schools to better support behaviour, mental health, and wellbeing.”
The 107 page document contains an abundance of insights, drawn from a wide range of perspectives – these include those of school leaders, teachers, parents and most importantly, students themselves.
The report is a stark reminder that our actions in the classroom can have profound impacts on the mental wellbeing of our students.
One of the key points that resonated with me was the report’s exploration of how ‘behaviour management techniques’ can sometimes inadvertently exacerbate mental health issues among students. I have been leading conversations about this with professionals for some time now, helping them to rethink and transform their approach.
The report shares numerous first-hand accounts from students who felt that punishments often led to feelings of isolation, embarrassment, unfairness and exclusion. These feelings, in turn, could lead to students presenting with resentment, anxiety and even more behaviours of concern. It also points out the potential negative effects of labelling students as ‘naughty’ or ‘disruptive’.
Punishing or excluding a student for behaviour that is outside of their control can have detrimental effects on their mental health, wellbeing and self-esteem, and is not effective at creating long-term, meaningful or sustainable change.
The report also highlights the impact of behaviour management techniques specifically on students with special educational needs and disabilities, it empathises the need for a deeper understanding of these students’ unique challenges.
Furthermore, doesn’t shy away from the more severe consequences either – it shares heartbreaking accounts of students who felt so isolated and misunderstood that they contemplated self-harm or suicide.
These stories underscore the urgent need for change in how we manage behaviour in our schools. This is an important reminder that we need to shift our approach to discipline, making it as diverse as our student community.
What I appreciate most about this report is that it doesn’t just highlight the problems in schools, but it also points towards solutions.
The report offers a number of insightful recommendations that I believe can transform the way we approach mental health in schools. It emphasises the importance of understanding the root causes of disruptive behaviour and issues that lead to such behaviours. This could include social and emotional needs, mental health needs or special educational and disability needs. This is a more supportive approach, that could involve providing students with the help they need to manage their behaviour, rather than simply punishing them for it. This approach would be restorative and relational.
By addressing these root causes, we can help students improve their behaviour in a more sustainable and compassionate way.
The report recommends treating each student as an individual and recognising that their behaviour may be a symptom of underlying issues that need to be addressed.
The importance of early intervention is also highlighted by the report.
It outlines that, by identifying and addressing mental health issues early on, we can help prevent these issues from escalating and leading to more serious problems down the line.
The report makes a number of recommendations, to the government, to integrated care systems and to schools.
The key recommendations from for schools fall under the following headings:
- Putting relationships at the centre of the school culture
- Moving from a one size fits all approach
- The role of school governors and academy trustees
- Improved mental health knowledge and awareness in schools
- Listening to children and young people
- Working with families
The report offers a powerful call to action for all of us in the education sector.
It’s a call to shift our focus from managing behaviour to supporting the needs of our students.
It’s a call to treat each student as an individual and to recognise that their behaviour may be a symptom of underlying issues that need to be addressed.
And it’s a call to prioritise early intervention, to help prevent mental health issues from escalating and leading to more serious problems.
It’s a reminder that our role isn’t just ‘to teach’ – it’s to understand, to empathise and to support.
It’s a reminder that every student in our care is a unique individual, with their own set of strengths, challenges and life experiences.
And it’s a reminder that our actions can profoundly impact their mental health and wellbeing.
I wholeheartedly support these recommendations and I believe that by implementing them, we can create a more supportive, understanding and mentally healthy school environment for all our students.
I urge all professionals and leaders working in and with schools to take these recommendations on board and to work together to make them a reality.
About The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition
Vision: For all babies, children and young people to grow up in a society that prioritises, invests, listens and attends to their mental health and wellbeing. We listen to, and learn from members, supporters, children and young people and families, using this knowledge to influence and shape policy, systems and practice.
For more information: www.cypmhc.org.uk
Follow on Twitter: @CYPMentalHealth