Supporting behaviour and mental health: Is it time for a re-think?

Supporting behaviour and mental health picture cover

This month, the Children’s and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC) published the results of their year-long inquiry into behaviour and mental health in schools. 

The report aimed to explore the links between behaviour and mental health, look at the impact of school behaviour policies on mental health and address what can be done to improve the current approach. 

The results make for essential reading for anyone working in or with schools. 

Key findings of the Behaviour and Mental Health in Schools Report

One of the key findings of the report points to widespread dissatisfaction amongst teachers, parents and students in the way that behaviour and mental health is currently approached in schools. 

Over a third (34%) of teachers believe that current school approaches to behaviour in schools is having a negative impact on student mental health with 59% of teachers indicating that they are only having a slight or little impact on supporting positive mental health. Similarly, just under two-thirds (65%) of students felt that their school is not responsive to their mental health needs when dealing with behaviour.

Whilst it is currently up to individual schools to decide upon their behavioural approach, the government sets out guidance to schools on the behaviour management techniques deemed appropriate. The following approaches were concluded in the report to be particularly harmful to students experiencing mental ill health. 

  • Use of removal rooms 
  • Exclusions and suspensions
  • Penalties for lateness and non attendance
  • Whole class punishments 
 

Whilst it is a well established principle amongst professionals who work with children that all behaviour is communication, many of the behaviour management techniques currently used in UK schools are not grounded in these relational principles. Whilst many schools have taken steps to prioritise and embed relational and restorative approaches in order to improve their approach to both behaviour and mental health, many haven’t reviewed or taken action to change their current practices for many years. 

Whilst whole school approaches have been recognised as an integral factor in protecting and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing in schools, it seems that alignment with whole school behaviour policy is lagging behind. Many of the case studies that the CYPMHC report showcases as success stories have done just that; taken a holistic, whole school approach that aligns behaviour and mental health. 

Whilst whole school approaches have been recognised as an integral factor in protecting and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing in schools, it seems that alignment with whole school behaviour policy is lagging behind. Many of the case studies that the CYPMHC report showcases as success stories have done just that; taken a holistic, whole school approach that aligns behaviour and mental health.

The report makes a number of key recommendations:

  • A co-ordinated, national review to behavioural approaches in schools. 
  • A renewed focus and investment in staff development, training and wellbeing support. 
  • Putting relationships at the heart of school behavioural approaches to ensure a nurturing and inclusive environment. 
  • Building systems of support around families and young people. 
 
 

Clearly, the above recommendations are going to require investment, strategic prioritisation and a political will from the government. 

Picture of Author: Kate Greaves
Author: Kate Greaves

Learning and Development Specialist Coach,
Minds Ahead