The punitive approach to addressing behaviour that challenges us has been at the forefront of conduct management in schools for many years. However, findings from exciting new research reveal that even temporary exclusions can lead to long-term mental ill health and emotional distress (Ford et al, 2017).
Interestingly, mental health difficulties have been found to be a risk factor for the disruptive behaviours which often lead to school exclusion (Lewinsohn et al, 1993).
As such, rather than being provided with targeted psychological interventions, young people are effectively being punished for experiencing poor mental health.
Further isolating the marginalised
Ethnic minorities, boys, low achievers and young people with special educational needs are disproportionately punished with exclusion from school (Noguera, 2003; Atkinson, 2013).
Removing individuals with the greatest social, economic, academic and emotional needs from their learning, and isolating them from their peers does little to combat disruptive behaviours. In fact, it tends to reinforce feelings of separation from the school community, creating a cycle of disengagement. This results in challenging behaviour which too often leads right back to school exclusions (Howarth, 2006).
Furthermore, young people who have been excluded from school are more likely to experience low GCSE attainment (DCFS, 2008), economic poverty (Sutherland & Eisner, 2014) and engage in illegal activity as adults (Christlel, Jovilett & Nelson, 2005).
Thus, the criminalisation of negative behaviour clearly has a devastating effect on the trajectory of the lives of young people who unfortunately are already frequently marginalised by society.
Increasing empathy in the classroom may reduce school exclusions
Moving away from the punitive model of behaviour management towards a more therapeutic and empathetic one is an approach we at Innovating Minds have been promoting to educational professionals across the country.
The work we do within the education sector has a strong evidence basis, as demonstrated by contemporary research from leading university Stanford (Okonofua, Paunesku & Walton, 2016), which reveals school exclusion decreased by as much as 50 percent when teachers adopted a more empathetic mind-set towards their students’ behaviour.
Very few teachers enter the profession to send students home for misbehaving in class. However, empathy can become lost in a school system which promotes punitive attitudes.
Where staff show a more compassionate approach and try to look at what is happening in the classroom from a young person’s point of view, researchers report that pupils have higher levels of respect for their teachers, are increasingly connected to school and have lower rates of disaffection and subsequent exclusions (Okonofua et al, 2016).
Early psychological intervention in schools is a must
Ultimately, the literature which identifies links between mental ill health, student behaviour, school exclusions and projected life outcomes supports the suggestion that increasing the accessibility of psychological interventions within schools is imperative.
Not only can it improve the emotional wellbeing of young people by reducing challenging behaviour and school exclusions but also, it may provide school staff with a more constructive learning environment, increased job gratification and reduced burnout.
By Princess Rose, Assistant Psychologist, Innovating Minds.
* Atkinson, M. (2013). ‘Always someone else’s problem: Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s report on illegal exclusions.
* Christle, C. A., Jolivette, K., & Nelson, C. M. (2005). Breaking the school to prison pipeline: Identifying school risk and protective factors for youth delinquency. Exceptionality, 13(2), 69-88.
* Department for Children, Schools & Families. (2008). Back on Track: A Strategy for Modernising Alternative Provision for Young People (Vol. 7410). The Stationery Office
* Ford, T., Parker, C., Salim, J., Goodman, R., Logan, S., & Henley, W. (2017). The relationship between exclusion from school and mental health: a secondary analysis of the British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Surveys 2004 and 2007. Psychological Medicine, 1-13.
* Howarth, C. (2006). School exclusion: when pupils do not feel part of the school community. Journal of School Leadership.
* Lewinsohn, P. M., Hops, H., Roberts, R. E., Seeley, J. R., & Andrews, J. A. (1993). Adolescent psychopathology: I. Prevalence and incidence of depression and other DSM-III—R disorders in high school students. Journal of abnormal psychology, 102(1), 133.
* Noguera, P. A. (2003). Schools, prisons, and social implications of punishment: Rethinking disciplinary practices. Theory into Practice, 42(4), 341-350.
* Okonofua, J. A., Paunesku, D., & Walton, G. M. (2016). Brief intervention to encourage empathic discipline cuts suspension rates in half among adolescents. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(19), 5221-5226
* Sutherland, A., & Eisner, M. (2014). The treatment effect of school exclusion on unemployment.