20 October 2021
A new NIHR ARC West project has kicked off, working with young people to understand the mental health and wellbeing impacts of school discipline on pupils. The project will use creative methods to understand pupils’ experience of school discipline and how they think poor behaviour could better be addressed in schools.
In England, a variety of approaches are used in schools to manage pupils’ behaviour. These include preventing poor behaviour by creating a positive learning environment, working with parents and carers to ensure consistent messaging, welcoming pupils to class and offering free school breakfasts. They also include ways to stop poor behaviour when it happens, like speaking with pupils, isolation, detentions or temporary or permanent exclusions.
Approaches to prevent poor behaviour are usually based on evidence, especially those which aim to understand why poor behaviour happens. If the evidence shows they prevent poor behaviour and low-level disruption, and improve academic results, they are judged to be successful. They are rarely judged on the effect they have on the mental health and wellbeing of pupils.
This project will look at how ways of reducing poor behaviour affect pupils’ mental health and wellbeing. The first part of the project includes a systematic review to explore the link between behaviour management strategies and pupil mental health and wellbeing. In the second part, researchers will work with young people to understand how school discipline affects them, their experience of school, and their life outside school. This will inform the third and final part of the project, which will be developed with young people. It might include seeing if new ways of improving behaviour being used Bristol schools are working, or finding new ways of improving behaviour by working with young people.
Dr James Nobles, Research Fellow at NIHR ARC West, is leading the project. He said:
“This project has come about by talking to young people. We’ve spoken to young people in our Young People’s Advisory Group about mental health and wellbeing in schools. One of the things they said affected their mental health and wellbeing was the kind of discipline given, like being told off in class in front of their friends, behaviour reporting and monitoring, isolation, detention and exclusions.
“We discussed these issues further in a creative workshop with young people from Off the Record, with help from artists ZU-UK. In the workshop young people said things like isolation made them feel ‘embarrassed… neglected… rejected… ashamed… humiliated… stupid…’. They also felt that teachers may discipline young people because ‘they don’t understand… they don’t have enough support to support students… they are overwhelmed’. They thought that school staff should know more about ‘mental health, child psychology and behaviour, what causes bad behaviour, and how people deal with trauma’.
“It was these conversations and workshops that have led to this project, and we will involve young people through innovative, creative research approaches during the project.”
NIHR ARC West is working with Bristol City Council on this project. Rachael Pryor, Head of Service, Inclusive City and Virtual School Head at Bristol City Council said:
“This is a really important project that will help schools, settings and local authorities support pupils’ wellbeing and mental health. Schools have a lot of responsibilities around promoting good behaviour and wellbeing. I welcome this opportunity to add to the evidence-base to help make informed decisions and further develop policy and practice.”