Draft New Student Behaviour Strategy
Submission – Feedback on:
- A new Student Behaviour Strategy
Lifting educational outcomes through early intervention and targeted support.
The following is a submission regarding the proposed new strategy to deal with student behaviour in public schools.
This current proposal is one of successive attempts to deal with severely disruptive student behaviour in schools. Historically all have failed and, despite the best intentions nothing in this new proposal indicates that this undertaking will be any different. The impediment to success has always been the failure to deal with children at the severe end of the behaviour spectrum. Within all previous and projected behaviour strategies there is an implied but mistaken belief that these children have the ability to self-regulate their behaviour. Until it is accepted that these children are as physically and psychologically disabled as those born with or acquired an impairment from an injury, they will not receive the attention they deserve.
These children suffer from a range of mental health and social issues that are beyond the capacity of a teacher to manage. A significant number have diagnosed illness including autism but the vast majority of those who ‘act out’ in class will attract the finding of conduct disorder or oppositional defiance; which is the consequence of early childhood abuse and/or neglect. The impact of these physical insults on the structural development of their brain is well documented with significant reductions in neurologic size in crucial areas. These include the cerebellum, amygdala, hippocampus and frontal lobes. This interferes with their ability to modulate their moods and make calm decisions.
The following features should be considered:
- It is estimated that between 1% and 11% of the population will suffer PTSD resulting from childhood trauma and in some areas, the proportion can be up to 26%.
- Students suffering other mental illnesses have behaviours that contribute significantly to this problem.
- The distribution of the students who present the associated behaviours is irregular but closely related to socioeconomic conditions in the community.
- Interventions based on cognitive approaches are marginally successful. A more appropriate approach is the provision of highly structured environments with an elevated level of personal support (healthy relationships).
- Consequences do not need to be severe but they do need to be consistent and persistent to allow the students to regain a sense of personal control.
- Successful interventions to assist students who exhibit these severe behaviours are never short term. Change is difficult and time consuming but it can be achieved.
The community, represented by the department should understand that these behaviours are a result of abuse and/or neglect that has been inflicted on them when they were defenceless. There is a moral and ethical imperative to really address this problem.
At the heart of this policy is the desire to provide equity for all students in the schools. It has been identified by leading educator Professor John Hattie that the absence of students with severe behaviours and the climate of the classroom are the second and third leading cause of improved learning outcomes; the first the student’s ability to self-evaluate. This means that the presence of these students put all other students at a disadvantage and this must also be considered a failure to provide equity. That is, students in a class where one or more of these students attend are at a disadvantage to those who are in classes without such students.
Research conducted on the impact distractions can have on intellectual performance ranges from 13 – 14 IQ points based on the Raven’s Scale. This research considered economic scarcity nonetheless the distraction caused by the presence of threatening classmates would in all probability increase this loss. The impact of such an intellectual performance deficit would take a student with a superior IQ to perform at an average level and those with an average level to achieve at a borderline deficit level. This finding explains Hattie’s conclusions.
The statement “Under the new policy framework, teachers and school staff will be required to consider the impact of a student’s disability and uphold the student’s right to access and participate in education on the same basis as other students” covers the equity considerations of the disabled child. However, and this is an area the department could find themselves vulnerable to litigation, any child who is in a classroom where there is a child with severe behaviours is, based on Hattie’s work and common understanding not able to get the same educational opportunity as students who are in classrooms without behaviour problems. Equity is for every student.
This does not mean the focus is off these disruptive students, as stated above they have a real disability and should be provided with the same support as is provided for all disabilities. A student who has a profound physical disability is provided with all the support they need. This allocation of support should be commensurate for students with severe behaviours.
The emphasis on the use of suspension as a method to manage severe behaviour is also predictable and destined to only exacerbate the problem for schools unless there are some real changes to the training and resources available to implement an alternate negative consequence for severe behaviours.
Schools do not suspend as a first and only resort. In a previous submission made, on behalf of the Secondary Principals Association it was concluded that it takes on average 3.2 hours to complete the suspension cycle. It was also determined that actual suspensions only made 14% of all behaviour management work carried out by a senior executive in a secondary school. Based on suspension details from one district, the then Western District would require 124.7 hours per week just to deal with student welfare issues. This equates to more than three executives doing a 40-hour week just addressing this problem. With the acknowledged substantial increase in the workload in recent years it is clear no school can provide adequate support for behaviour issues and suspension is the only alternative.
Any attempt to reduce the availability of what is effectively the only consequence schools can deliver for physical and psychologically dangerous behaviours will be met with resentment by schools and teaching staff who are already working in an environment consistently described as fulfilling unmanageable demands.
There is no doubt that this process is undertaken will ethical and compassionate intentions and it is in the last two targets real change to the management of student behaviour could be achieved.
2. ‘Building capacity across the workforce through embedded and continuing professional
There needs to be a thorough review of training for behaviour management of teachers. The current reliance on ‘professional programs’ such as those based on the positive behaviour movement who, by their own admission does not deal with these severe behaviours is destined to fail. Also, the emergence of ‘trauma-informed’ approaches that are appearing in the literature are also inadequate. This is a welcome development however; any examination of these programs reveals not much that can be applied by the classroom teacher but is more relevant to improving therapeutic interventions by mental health professionals. Any ‘intervention’ must be one that a teacher can employ and if unable the disabled child should be given specialist support that allows them to function and their class mates continue their learning un-interrupted.
Schools including their teachers need training in how to manipulate the learning environment to minimise conditions that trigger out of control behaviour by these vulnerable students. This requires an understanding of providing structure and expectations in a setting built on professional, supportive student-teacher- school relationships. This is appropriate work for teachers; any intervention above this level moves into the domain of health professionals and teaching staff have no business in this area.
3. ‘Commissioning behaviour services to deliver improved outcomes’
From the statements made for proposed future directions it would seem that there is a push to outsource solutions to the problem of severe behaviour management. There are two issues about this approach:
- There is a history of investigations into this problem both in NSW, throughout the country and across the world. Another expert enquiry would do little more than delay the inevitability of having to do something about this problem.
- The idea schools can use the services of other government agencies has been advocated since the early 1990’s when terms like ‘seamless integration’ were used. This approach has never worked not the least because all public services do not have the flexibility to facilitate such an integration.
The use of ‘private providers’ is fraught with danger; invariably marketed behaviour management programs have a ‘one size fits all’ approach and to expect the same service to be successful across the vast diversity that is NSW schools is senseless. based on the lack of success in other privatised organisations this approach is not an option if real change is to be made.
The school, and by extension the department owns the problem and is obliged to provide the solution. The real remedy is to prioritise the problem at the school level by providing the training, resources and support that is demanded by their disability. These could/should include:
- Advanced training in classroom management and the design of appropriate learning environments
- Specialist staff to provide ‘in school time out’ on a case-by case basis
- Access to mental health providers
- Acknowledgement of the special skill set within the quality teacher’s standards
- Special settings for students whose behaviour is extreme and where staff receive advanced training and professional mental health support to deal with these students
There is no doubt that the problems created by students with severe behaviours is amongst the greatest impediments to learning outcomes and there is no disputing that public schools have a disproportionate number of these students and they are not equally distributed across socio-economic regions. Therefore, it is accepted that public schools have to deal with the problem caused by these students and that is the loss of learning both their own and their classmates not to mention the psychological and sometimes physical abuse of other students and staff members.
Dealing with this problem is not only a health and safety issue it is a profound ethical issue that the members of this enquiry must face. It should not a problem that is ‘glossed over’ again.
John R Frew
Frew Consultants Group