Jo Price and Jane Johnson on techniques for building inclusion with Positive Behaviour Support.
Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is a nationally recognised, best practice framework for understanding why behaviours happen – what message a student’s behaviour could be telling us – as well as proactive steps we can take to ensure that going forward, the child or young person’s needs are better met reducing reliance on such behaviours. Students who display perceived behaviours of concern can be one of the most stressful and complex areas of practice in special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Recent developments in the field of PBS have focused on improving quality of life for children, young people and adults with learning disabilities, and include a new definition of what best practice looks like today. The 2022 refreshed definition of PBS brings with it the inclusion of a tiered model with an emphasis on improving quality of life by creating capable environments with a continued rejection of aversive, restrictive and abusive practices.
There will always be an underlying reason for any behaviour and distressed behaviour does not occur without reason. A pupil may be struggling with lessons because they are not feeling well; perhaps they have not eaten, or have had a disturbed night’s sleep. Equally, a pupil may be struggling as a result of adverse childhood experiences from the past or more recent experience of trauma or distress.
Children’s failed relationships with their peers and teachers, with restrictions implemented into their school day, can also contribute to poor quality of life and in turn leads to further distress. In the past, behaviour policies have tended to focus on consequences and sanctions to address behaviours of concern, however for distressed behaviours, this only leads to further distress and fuels a negative cycle of events. A few years ago, a number of mainstream schools adopted “Zero Tolerance” approaches – to the detriment of children and young people with SEND – contributing to an increase in exclusions.
With the current movement and more insight into Trauma Informed Schools, there is a huge benefit to improving relationships between teachers and students, something which is difficult to achieve when using aversive methods such as sanctions, restrictions, isolation or coercive compliance.
The power of co-production
Experts believe that PBS, and other approaches – such as trauma-informed approaches that seek to fully understand people’s past and present situations and actively avoid re-traumatisation by avoiding the use of restraint, as an example, must be inclusive. However, they can only be truly person-centred if professionals, learners, and families, share the power to plan and deliver support together.
Co-produced person-centred plans will ensure pupils’ voices are heard and that their environment is consistent, predictable and includes meaningful activities which are important to them.
By encouraging positive social interactions, ensuring pupils can fully communicate their wishes, choices and concerns, and that their views are seen to be fundamental to the decision making defining their educational journey, can be hugely beneficial.
The power of training
Unfortunately, some staff only ever receive behaviour management training that includes punishment and use of restrictive practices. It is vital that this changes with all staff receiving training in preventative approaches.
Through adopting approaches including PBS, trauma informed care, and training certified as complying with Restraint Reduction Network (RRN) Training Standards, schools have been able to reduce reliance on restrictive practices and develop more positive cultures. Developing teachers’ and SENCO’s skills around prevention, de-escalation and recovery are key areas. PBS can, and should, be a vital part of the teacher and SENCO’s toolkit when supporting pupils with SEND. As an education workforce, we are responsible for the daily experience of some of society’s most vulnerable children, and as such have a unique role to play, as detailed in the national SEND Code of Practice. Today, perhaps now more than ever, part of this role lies in supporting school communities through co-production.