Revised behaviour guidance and exclusions guidance released by government

On Wednesday 13th July 2020, the government released their revised Behaviour in Schools Guidance and Suspension and Permanent Exclusion Guidance after consultation earlier in the year. This guidance will come into force in September this year.

Image of classroom

Response to the consultation 

New Behaviour in Schools Guidance

New Suspension and Permanent Exclusion Guidance

Earlier in the year the government released this revised guidance for consultation. We responded to the consultation. You can see our response at the bottom of this page. 

Why does this relate to bullying? 

There exists a significant amount of available research about the impact of bullying on poor behaviour and exclusions:

  • Children who bully are more likely to be excluded: Children who engage in bullying are more likely to be involved in crime and be excluded from school[1].
  • Children who have been bullied are more likely to be excluded: Research on behalf of the Department for Education[2] finds that children who say they are bullied every day are three times as likely, as children not being bullied, to be excluded.
    • “Not one child suffered an exclusion for a physical assault but my son did when he assaulted another child after much provocation. They said it was a two-way thing.” – Parent
    • “I just got so angry I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I just hit them” – Young person
  • Not all children report their experiences of being bullied:  Ditch the Label research[3] shows that 37% of pupils who have been bullied never tell anybody about it. Of them 23% don’t tell anyone because they are worried that it will make things worse. Through our work with young people, and especially disabled young people and those with SEN, we hear time and again of children experiencing covert bullying that goes under the radar of school staff. Sometimes these children will not be confident that reporting the bullying to school will help, they may be scared of the repercussions of reporting bullying or be worried about school or parent reactions to bullying. In these cases, we know that children can lose control of their own behaviour and retaliate, be it to those perpetrating the bullying or others in their peer group.
  • Children who experience bullying do not always display behaviours that show ‘typical’ signs of sadness or worry: They often ‘act out’ and can display similar behaviours to that of children who bully, may go on to bully others and can display poor behaviour. Researchers often refer to these young people as ‘bully-victims’.
  • Children who bully others are just as likely to have poor wellbeing as those that experience bullying[4].
  • Bullying is often more nuanced than straightforward binary oppositions of ‘bully’ and ‘victim’[5]: Bullying is multi-faceted, regularly involving groups; often impacted by the wider peer, school and social culture, and too often involving vulnerable children who both bully and are bullied.
  • There is evidence that a focus on restorative approaches rather than a punitive response can help reduce bullying: These methods include where the focus on restoring good relationships rather than punishment. Actions of this kind have been found to be effective in some 70-80% of cases[6] [7].

The revised guidance 

Behaviour in Schools Guidance

It is important to remember that children may be labelled as having behavioural difficulties when in fact the issue lies further back in the system’s failure to meet their needs. Emphasis should always be placed on looking at the underlying causes of behaviour, including whether there are unmet special educational needs or social or emotional difficulties.

Previous guidance on behaviour in schools included very little on the links between bullying and poor behaviour, simply stating school’s responsibilities to outline bullying prevention methods in their policies. We believe this has been improved in this version of the guidance and should be welcomed.

The revised guidance acknowledges that behaviour should be a top priority of schools and recognises that when behaviour is poor, bullying can take place. It notes that behaviour policies should include measures to prevent all forms of bullying and that schools should expect the same standard of behaviour of pupils online as they do in school, which we welcome.

We welcome the outlining of Ofsted’s national minimum expectations of behaviour. This includes all members of the school and notes how a sense of community can create an environment in which bullying is not tolerated, everyone is treated respectfully and all such incidents are dealt with quickly and effectively.

We asked in our consultation response that the guidance have a more proactive and positive approach to behaviour, allowing for a stronger focus on how school staff can understand and identify the underlying causes behind pupils’ behaviour. We also asked to see the guidance be further strengthened to ensure it is clear that schools must explore and act appropriately to respond to any bullying experienced by children displaying poor behaviour. 

Suspension and Permanent Exclusion Guidance

We are very disappointed to see that the updated exclusions guidance has removed reminders to schools to explore whether children that are at risk of being excluded are experiencing bullying. Due to the evidence outlined above, we asked during the consultation to see the guidance explicitly state:

  • that schools should consider whether or not a child has experienced bullying before they are at risk of being excluded or have been excluded, and take this into consideration before exclusions are issued.
  • that bullying should never be seen in isolation and wider factors, as well as group dynamics, should always be considered before exclusions are issued.

[1] Ofsted, 2003; Monks et al., 2009

[2] Sarah Lasher and Clare Baker (2015) Bullying: Evidence from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England  Wave  2,  Department for Education

[3] Ditch the Label (2017) Annual Anti-Bullying Survey

[4] Interim evaluation report on bullying and wellbeing from the All Together Programme (2020) – Susanne Robinson, Robert Slonje, and Peter K. Smith.

[5] Salmivalli, C., Lagerspetz, K., Björkqvist, K., Österman, K. and Kaukiainen, A. (1996), Bullying as a group process: Participant roles and their relations to social status within the group. Aggr. Behav., 22: 1-15.

[6] Burssens, D. & Vettenburg, N. (2006). Restorative group conferencing at school: a constructive response to serious incidents. Journal of School Violence, 5, 5-17.

[7] Cremin, H. (2013). Critical perspectives on Restorative Justice / Restorative Approaches to educational settings. In E. Sellman, H. Cremin & G. McCluskey (eds.), Restorative approaches to conflict in schools: Interdisciplinary perspectives on whole school approaches to managing relationships. London: Routledge.