Tackling problem behaviour


Outlining a model for managing challenging behaviour and removing barriers to engagement in education.

Being able to identify, monitor and manage behavioural risks in young people with behavioural difficulties is a key focus of education and clinical teams in breaking down the barriers to education. Introducing a specific monitoring scale, and applying it in practice, can be an important strategy in reducing behavioural barriers to learning amongst pupils with statements of SEN.

One model that I use is a simple observational ratings scale – behaviour monitoring scales. Behaviours are mapped against five domains – D1 disruption, D2 verbal and physical aggression, D3 engagement, D4 attention and concentration and D5 sexualised behaviours.

Assessment, monitoring and measuring

There are five stages in applying the scales in practice: initial assessment, monitoring, measuring, reporting and self-evaluation. By looking at a specific student, we can see how these stages are applied in practice.

Initial assessment using the scales can pinpoint how an individual’s learning can be affected by behaviour. Brian has a statement of SEN which includes severe social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, which, alongside previous negative experiences, contributed to a significant barrier to learning.

During the previous 12 months, Brian was not in education and had received a final warning from the police after an escalation in aggressive behaviour, and an array of continuous placement breakdowns. Using the scales, initial assessment indicated that Brian’s capacity to learn was primarily affected by behaviour within D2 (verbal and physical aggression) and D3 (failure or refusal to engage).

Brian would routinely miss lessons after aggression towards care staff, while in the lessons he did attend he would often become verbally and physically aggressive, swearing, banging tables, arguing with peers and even eating written work.

Following his initial assessment, an individual education plan (IEP) was drawn up with targets for Brian that directly related to these areas, specifically to avoid physical aggression towards peers, staff and school property and to increase attendance.

Once formal assessment is complete, stage two involves the continual monitoring of an individual’s progress. The behaviour monitoring scales can be used to monitor behaviour on a weekly basis, with teachers collaboratively rating behaviour on a scale of 0 to 5 against each of the five dimensions.

Individuals can be involved in managing their own behaviour.An individual’s targets are then reviewed as a minimum every quarter (or more frequently, if necessary, depending on progress) and subsequently amended in response to any changes in behaviour. In Brian’s case, staff identified and consistently deployed personal intervention strategies, including rewards systems, positive reinforcement incentives and therapeutic crisis intervention which allowed Brian to modify his behaviour.

By the end of his first term using the scales, the level and occurrence of behaviours which affected his engagement in learning had reduced (from completely impairing his ability to engage, to a manageable level with only occasional incidents and a lesser level of aggression).

Informed by observational changes, new targets were implemented, remaining focused on D3 (engagement in class), which were subsequently met at the end of the next term.

By measuring (stage three) data collected through the tracking and informing process, school staff can effectively plan for an individual across all aspects of their care programme. The monitoring data provided, and joint intervention planning enables, a holistic representation of quantitative data analysis. A qualitative interpretation of the results from multi-professional perspectives helps inform the construction of individual intervention packages, catering specifically for the young person’s needs.

Reporting and self-evaluation

Stage four in the process involves reporting, with comprehensive behaviour monitoring highlighting the progress an individual has made. In Brian’s case, reporting showed that he successfully met all IEP targets over the whole year, relating to D2 and D3 and, through engaging in intervention programmes, those behaviours that were barriers to his engagement in education showed a steady reduction to manageable levels.

The reporting showed that the level of behaviours in both of these dimensions reduced from scores of 4 and 3 (indicating high occurrence/severity and significant impairment to learning) to scores of mostly 0 and 1, which indicated no occurrence or very limited occurrence and minimal disruption to learning.

The next development phase involves self-evaluation from the individual (stage five). The individual is engaged in managing his/her own behaviour through the implementation of a behaviour contract, where s/he will self-evaluate personalised targets on a daily basis. This enables the pupil to not only recognise behaviours, but also to deploy skills developed in the previous year in order to develop an internal focus of control that s/he can sustain, maximising future development.

Assessment cycle

The introduction of the behaviour monitoring scales helps to track progress of behavioural targets and inform practice through a cyclical process. Initial assessment or review helps assess learning needs, which in turn feeds into an integrated care plan that establishes targets and strategies to meet learning needs. This helps form IEPs, which are critical in developing and implementing strategies to achieve the targets of reducing challenging behaviour. Behaviour monitoring and data collection by staff then helps to measure and record the outcomes of targets; progress is then tracked through data analysis and evaluating the progress of targets.

Changing needs and behaviours may mean that learning needs have to be reviewed, and the process started again, to implement new targets and strategies to ensure that all barriers to education are broken down.

In Brian’s case, the scales put into practice were successfully used by the teaching team to identify the behavioural problems which were barriers to his learning. By monitoring and measuring his patterns of behaviour, strategies could be developed to help Brian access his IEP more effectively.

Furthermore, due to the success of the programme, and the successful reduction in challenging behaviours which were barriers to learning, Brian has since been able to move on to access a college programme as well as continuing with his studies at school.

By introducing behaviour monitoring scales, and using them in daily practice, challenging behaviours can be reduced greatly. The assessment cycle helps professionals identify and put in place the correct personal intervention strategies, therapy and care in order to meet the needs of each young person. Furthermore, outcomes can be easily measured and tracked, with comprehensive data produced for each individual allowing for easy assessment and review.

Further information

Nicky Mosson-Jones is the Clinical Director at Oracle Care, which provides education and therapy to young people with challenging behaviours:

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