Covid: Behaviour management approaches that are here to stay

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

While schools are deciding which Covid behaviour innovations they plan to keep and develop this term, education secretary Gavin Williamson's obsession with banning mobile phones remains ‘mystifying’ to many working in schools

Emergency measures used during the pandemic have had a clear impact on preventing poor behaviour and many look set to be kept by schools in the coming months.

From how we use space and travel around the school to classroom organisation and the structure of the school day, these strategies have been set out by the Association of School and College Leaders in its response (ASCL, 2021) to the Department for Education’s consultation on behaviour management in schools (DfE, 2021).

However, at the same time, ASCL has lambasted education secretary Gavin Williamson for his “mystifying” obsession with banning mobile phones in schools – an issue which is simply not an issue for many schools.

The consultation is intended to inform forthcoming revisions to two crucial pieces of DfE guidance: the non-statutory guidance on behaviour and discipline in schools (DfE, 2016) and the statutory guidance on suspensions and permanent exclusions (DfE, 2017).


During the pandemic, schools have overhauled many of their practices in order to meet Covid safety requirements with a number of these approaches having a positive knock-on effect on behaviour.

In its consultation response, ASCL points to things like staggering the end of the school day, roles for older pupils as wellbeing champions, and buddies and mentors to support younger pupils.

Pastoral systems: These have been changed to become more proactive rather than reactive, ASCL reports, with “more specific, purposeful roles” for pastoral leaders. Meanwhile, keeping pupil bubbles together has allowed year groups to form “more of a community” and has made it easier for schools to focus on their needs.

Structure of the school day: Staggering the end of the school day has led to “calmer and more orderly” ends to the day, particular in urban schools and to fewer complaints of anti-social behaviour. One-way systems have also become popular in maintaining calmer corridors around school.

Relationship-building (pupils): Lockdown schooling saw fewer children in school and thus allowed for more of a focus on supporting the behaviour of vulnerable pupils. The importance of supporting staff wellbeing has also been recognised. Some schools found benefits in identifying roles for older pupils as wellbeing champions, buddies and mentors to support younger pupils or peers.

Relationship-building (families): “More frequent updates for parents and families to cite positive achievements helped to strengthen relationships with families,” ASCL says. Setting up administrative support to ensure a greater capacity for home-school communication also boosted relationships. ASCL’s response adds: “Liaison with early help, food banks and local charities also impacted on relationships between families and schools. Where parent trust and support for the school is high, this is likely to impact on the behaviour of children within the family.”

Classroom organisation: The ASCL response states: “Fewer children and fewer moves suited many children whose behaviours are a result of their own anxiety.”

Use of school space: Several schools have set up new covered areas outdoors to allow outdoor teaching. Schools have enjoyed benefits to behaviour that come from children spending more time outdoors.

Mobile ‘fixation’

Meanwhile, ASCL has called on the DfE to scrap plans to ban mobile phones in schools and instead allow school leaders to manage the issue.
In April, writing in the Daily Telegraph, Gavin Williamson argued that mobile phones should be banned from schools.

He wrote: “The use of mobile phones distracts from healthy exercise and good old-fashioned play. Worse, it acts as a breeding ground for cyber-bullying, and the inappropriate use of social media sites.

“While it is for every school to make its own policy, I firmly believe that mobile phones should not be used or seen during the school day, and will be backing headteachers who implement such policies.”

The DfE’s consultation asked: “What challenges would or do you face in banning mobile phones from the school day and do you have any concerns about banning phones from the school day?”

In its response to the consultation, ASCL has blasted Mr Williamson’s “fixation” with a blanket ban, saying that school leaders already have phones “well under control”.

Julie McCulloch, director of policy at ASCL, said the idea was “outdated and out of touch” with the reality in schools: “School and college leaders are slightly mystified about the education secretary’s fixation with banning mobile phones in classrooms because they have been dealing with the practicalities of this issue for many years now.

“Many already ask students to keep phones in their bags during the academic day and others have positive policies in place that allow young people to make limited use of their phones to aid their learning or capture important information.

“For other learners, a mobile phone is an essential safety measure, especially children in the care system, and for young carers a mobile phone might be needed to provide essential support to parents.”

ASCL also points out that secondary schools must educate pupils about the safe use of mobile phones, particularly social media, and in recognising and reporting online harms – which seems at odds with a ban.

‘Removal Rooms’

The DfE consultation also asked about “removal rooms and spaces”, referring to the areas pupils go when they are temporarily removed from classes or on a “time-out”.

School leaders rejected the use of “removal room” as a “unhelpful and stigmatising” term, but did say that “quiet spaces” within school can prove crucial in supporting pupils.

ASCL’s response states: “Many members identified the need for a space in which pupils can be supported to re-engage constructively and quickly with their class. Quiet rooms with low stimulus, where a child can be supported to use strategies to self-regulate their mood can work effectively.”

However, ASCL would like to see more research on the use of “internal exclusion”. It said that effective use of additional school spaces to support the re-engagement of pupils with lessons often include the following factors:

  • The time spent there shouldn’t be fixed, pupils stay until they are ready to return to class.
  • Students feel safe in the space but do not view it as a reward.
  • Qualified staff must be present to support pupils to continue working through the curriculum or to re-regulate their behaviours.
  • Opportunities to learn must remain a priority.
  • Children and staff benefit from the opportunity to separately debrief on what could have worked better once they are out of the cycle of heightened behaviour and able to reflect.

ASCL also warns that the use of “removal rooms” for students with SEND should be avoided: “The use of ‘removal’, isolation or seclusion rooms can be particularly inappropriate for children with SEND. However, there is a place for spaces that can respond to the need for a short respite from the classroom. The constructive use of any such spaces should form part of a school’s behaviour policy.”

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