In December 2017 the Green Paper regarding young people’s Mental Health was released by the government with positive and forward thinking ideas for improving mental health. A designated lead was identified as being required within schools as well as mental health support teams working more closely with schools. Whilst it is definitely a step in the right direction, it is also clear there is a gap for a local, informed approach to training, supervising and maintaining these roles.
As schools move to increasingly budget constricted academic focused agenda, attitudes to pastoral work within school follows a similar pattern. Heads of Year become Progress Leader and teaching Progress Leaders become non-teaching Progress Leaders. Whether by the name change or the reduced classroom experience of non-teaching PLs, the nurturing side of the school is becoming marginalised in many settings. Whilst I am sure there are many excellent non-teaching pastoral teams, the principle concept of this
type of role is to save costs, thereby attracting a different skillset to that of a classroom teacher. Again the pastoral skillset is different to that of the classroom teacher, but with such poor pay and conditions given to non-teaching staff already, those with a high skill set in this area will be in demand for better paid roles elsewhere. It is also important to support a class teacher as a PL or HoY so knowledge of the classroom is quite important. To add to this movement away from pastoral work, teachers under pressure prioritise the things that secure their jobs – teaching, results and intervention. Behaviour, attachment, relationships and extra-curricular activities take a back seat (please note I do not allocate any blame to teachers in safeguarding themselves and their futures – it makes sense). Delegating behaviour to a HoY, tactically ignoring those who appear to not want to progress in favour of the majority who do, avoiding following up with detentions due to limited time – these are increasing self-preservation techniques used by some teachers with ever increasing pressures put upon them. This is not all teachers, and not all of the time but it is a logical conclusion where the importance of performance management and results is at the forefront of thinking, responsibilities are increasing and time is decreasing. Add to this the use of non-specialist teachers uncomfortable in their teaching, reduced form time and gap filling supply teachers on short term contracts and the opportunity for relationships is ever decreasing.
Progress at all costs
All of the above creates a climate where, like the Titanic clattering through the iceberg, “progress” continues “at all costs”. The lack of nurturing and pastoral relationships, I believe, is a contributing factor towards poor behaviour and poor mental health within schools. Where student’s needs aren’t being met, poor behaviour occurs. If you are focusing on delivering increasingly content heavy specifications, possibly in a new subject or over fewer lessons, the need to plough on feels irresistible and understanding the functions of behaviour and the needs of students can take a back seat over meeting the educational needs of those already engaged.
Whilst non teaching pastoral teams could be seen as a push towards a more full time approach to pastoral work as they have the advantage of being “always available”(that is that they have no teaching commitment), their experience and qualifications will vary and being a non-teacher, it can make translating support for the pupil into teacher instruction difficult. The role of a HoY is conflicted in some ways, reprimanding poor behaviour whilst trying to navigate the circumstances that have meant the behaviour feels unavoidable to the student at times. Understanding of attachment, mental health, functions of behaviour, sensory needs, classroom management and nurture are all key.
The role of behaviour support teams
It is this that brings me (600 words in!) to the point of this article – the role of behaviour support within the Green Paper proposals.
The key divide between the old definition of BESD or SEBD and SEMH is the area of mental health. Mental health is primarily the remit of the health teams (it is in the name). But with a huge lack of child therapists, pressures on CAMHS, high thresholds and reduced budgets a lot of work is considered “sub clinical” meaning it does not fall within the remit of the mental health services. These issues still cause significant concern for the sufferer but due to thresholds maintained by services, no support is offered by that particular service. This can encourage the escalation of the issue in some students. All of this work is perfectly placed for intervention with the SEMH/behaviour teams remit. With knowledge of wellbeing and group interventions and appropriate training the team can support students to overcome transient emotional problems and low level low mood and worry issues. This essentially over the years has been the role of the teacher in structures where more time and personnel is allocated for form time activities. The children who fall within this work can show behaviours that put them at risk of exclusion but also do not. They show withdrawn behaviours that affect their progress. They sit and listen compliantly but do not learn due to preoccupations that need time to be processed with them. They may leave the room in tears, have poor attendance or not give 100% to their studies due to their emotional wellbeing. These are all behaviours that affect the quality of the child’s life and their future achievement but may not often get appropriate, relevant or prompt support.
With this in mind SEMH/behaviour teams working with this new sub clinical group can make a real difference to progress, achievement, attendance, behaviour and quality of life of the child. By understanding and advising on behaviour and mental health they can support a teacher to have a more positive experience within the classroom thereby improving teacher retention. They can equip the teacher to have the skills and confidence to lead on mental health within the school and give them the support structure to allow them to reflect on their practice and support their own mental health. This team have the capacity to look at the environment of the child inside and outside of the school, medical and SEND issues and Boxall, interpersonal and communication skill development. The team can take a lead on supporting the identification, prioritising and referring of students with mental health concerns whilst putting together plans for the behaviours associated with those concerns. Where it is confirmed it is not a mental health issue, the team has a wealth of strategies and routes to explore to improve the situation in the short, medium and long term. There is a wealth of pre-emptive work that can be done to lay the groundwork for good mental health such as consulting on behaviour policies, job descriptions and school improvement plans – a team like this is perfectly placed to do this.
In summary – we need to train, support and supervise the Designated Leads. We need to support the pastoral teams and the teachers. We also needs to consider those who fall within the non mental illness, low mental wellbeing end of the mental health continuum. Behaviour support/SEMH teams are equipped with the skills to support this – if any ministers are reading, please consider us, we are ready and willing to do the work!