It is a truth universally acknowledged in the world of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities ("SEND") that behaviour is communication. Regrettably, this truth does not seem to have reached those responsible for devising and implementing school behaviour policies. Recent years have seen enthusiastic adoption by many schools of a Zero Tolerance approach towards even minor deviations from what are frequently very strict behaviour rules; which run the gamut from bullying and violence to sporting the 'wrong' shoes or hairstyle. Such policies have been heralded by many as the answer to everything from attendance difficulties to exam results, and nowhere better exemplifies this approach than the Michaela school in North London, in which children may be seen but are very much not heard.
Yet the broken windows theory of policy on which this type of behaviour policy is clearly, if not explicitly, modelled is not only largely discredited, but wholly inappropriate in the context of educating children; particularly children with SEND. Further, the blanket application of such behaviour policies almost certainly breaches the Equality Act 2010 and specifically the duty on all schools to make reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils; which is likely to include the majority of SEND students. That this is so is clearly recognised in the guidance produced by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission ("EHRC"), which gives the following example:
"A school has a policy that if a pupil breaks the school rules on three occasions, he or she will automatically be given a detention. Some disabled pupils, such as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autistic spectrum disorders or learning difficulties, are much more likely to break the school rules than other pupils. Rigid application of this policy is likely to amount to indirect disability discrimination because, where a reasonable adjustment has not been made; a school will find it very difficult to justify the treatment as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim."
Such policies and how they are enforced also have a tendency to replicate and reinforce other structural inequalities such as race and poverty, further entrenching the disadvantages experienced by many students with SEND. And yet daily children continue to be disciplined for minor infractions which are a direct consequence of their SEND, such as forgetting to bring a pencil to a lesson or not making eye contact with a teacher when speaking to them. This then results in a variety of punitive sanctions such as the removal of break times or detentions, sometimes in isolation rooms. All too often this becomes a spiral of escalating punishments culminating in fixed term and sometimes even permanent exclusions. It should come as no surprise then that students with SEND are disproportinately over represented in the exclusion statistics.
Added to this, schools frequently show themselves hugely resistant to making even minimal reasonable adjustments, for example to uniform policy. This is often justifed on the grounds that it would be unfair, and ironically not inclusive, to treat SEND students differently from other students; when in truth this differential treatment is exactly what the Equality Act requires and complying with it is not at the discretion of the school.
If your child is struggling with school behaviour policies, SEND Advocacy can provide advice and support including helping you to secure an Education Health and Care Needs Assessment or pursue a Disability Discrimination claim. If you need someone in your corner to help you secure the education your child or young person deserves, contact us today.