5 common concerns about Behaviour Schools (guest post)

Graham Chatterley

Graham Chatterley is an assistant head at a school in Warrington for pupils with a range of SEMH needs. He has 4 children, the youngest 2 of which have varying ASD needs. One being very high functioning with some social and understanding difficulties, however managing well in Mainstream Primary. The other having significant ASD, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder needs requiring an SLD setting. This has put Graham in an unusual position of experiencing both sides of Special Education Needs which has aided his understandings of both. He has kindly provided this guest post for the Axcis blog.

5 common concerns about Behaviour Schools

Firstly ‘Behaviour Schools’, ‘Naughty boys/girls Schools’ or ‘Schools for Delinquents’ don’t exist. There are too many acronyms in the world but SEMH really does describe what we do. We support children socially. This has been the barrier to them fitting in at their previous School. For some children this is a difficulty they have because of upbringing and is a skill that can be learned, for others it is something they find impossible because of a learning need and it is something they will never master but can get better at and cope in society.


We support children emotionally. It is how a child feels that causes them to behave in a certain way. Sometimes this is aggressively which gets them excluded but doesn’t make them bad. By helping ourselves and the children to understand how they feel we can reduce and prevent the behaviours. Emotional literacy is a key that unlocks so many doors to helping a child’s wellbeing and behaviour.


We support the child’s mental health. So much damage can be done in the early years of a child’s life and we are just starting to understand all aspects of healthy child brain development and how its evolution can be irreparably changed by things like trauma and neglect. By understanding and building relationships we can hopefully halt and even reverse some of this damage.


We are not a ‘Behaviour School’ and we are not like a prison. Yes we deal with behaviour, yes we deal with aggression, but behaviour is the secondary symptom and too much focus goes on it. If somebody has an infection which causes a temperature you have to treat the infection or the temperature won’t go away. By all means keep applying a cold compress and giving paracetamol but the temperature will keep coming back. All too often this is where schools go wrong, they have excellent staff who apply the cold compress and dish out the paracetamol but don’t have the time or staffing  to treat the infection. They can calm down an angry child quite effectively but can’t teach them to control their anger. That is what we try to do.


Three children could experience the same thing and feel the same way about it. One cries, one is verbally abusive and one throws a chair at the head teacher. Even

though they have the same experience and the same negative feelings because of the behaviour they will be treated differently. One will be excluded and be referred to me, one will receive a punishment in school and one will receive pastoral support and be wrapped around. They should all be wrapped around and receive the pastoral support. They are being punished for losing an emotional lottery of how their body reacts to negative feelings.

If a child is angry and knocks over a chair, quite often they will be told to pick up the chair. If a colleague at work comes into the staffroom and knocks over a chair we ask them what’s wrong. Why is it different?

If a child is angry and knocks over a chair, quite often they will be told to pick up the chair. If a colleague at work comes into the staffroom and knocks over a chair we ask them what’s wrong. Why is it different?


Saying that the decision to send a child to a specialist setting is a big one. I went through it with my youngest and even though we knew with his extreme needs he could never go to mainstream, choosing the right provision was difficult and so important. So for any parent trying to find a setting for their child who is statemented for behaviour related needs I want to challenge a few of the perfectly natural and common concerns;

Concern 1 – Stigma

‘Because my child is in a special school people are going to look down on me and think I’m a bad parent’!

This statement might be true; on occasion people will see “special school” and cast an opinion. However I can guarantee that not doing what is best for your child because of fear of what other people think is letting a child down. If they have learning, physical, developmental, social or emotional difficulties they should be in the best place to meet those needs. I have children at school who have excellent supportive parents whose children’s difficulties are completely out of their control. I have a son with severe autism and Sensory Processing Disorder who requires an SLD setting.


Do people talk behind my back? Probably. Does he get the care he requires? Absolutely. Am I remotely bothered what people think? No chance.


A setting like mine seems different though, there are still so many misconceptions around ADHD or ODD or High functioning autism. People don’t fully understand that a chemical imbalance in the brain is no fault of the parent but human beings make snap judgements; have wrong opinions and unfortunately love to criticise others. I do have my share of parents who have played a role in their children’s difficulties I cannot deny this, and I have many children who come to my school because of their early life experiences but I also have plenty of parents who do there absolute best to support their child through their difficulties. What pains me greatly is parents who refuse to even come and look at our school and what it could offer their child because ‘my child’s not going to a special school!’.

Concern 2 – They will learn naughty behaviours

Again, this is possible. For a number of reasons some of our children will use bad language, show verbal and physical aggression and many other negative behaviours at times. Therefore it is possible a new child may see these and may pick up some learned behaviours. However these will still be deemed unacceptable and be challenged and are more than likely no worse than what they see on TV and in computer games. It would be a real shame to deny all the positive opportunities we could offer because they might pick up a new swear word.


In reality, the behaviour of our children is not that different to those in mainstream. I am not naïve enough to believe that my own two teenagers don’t swear, haven’t seen kids fighting and have mates who smoke. The difference is that those children, who are successful in mainstream know when and where to do it and are able to show self-control.

Concern 3 – Getting bullied

Now this is one concern I can absolutely debunk. There is a far higher chance of a child being bullied in a mainstream school than in special and there are two main reasons for this; the first reason is that there are less children and the staff are more vigilant. Again that is not a dig against mainstream. Especially in secondary schools, the staff to pupil ratios are far higher and it is inevitable that children will have more opportunity to bully. Don’t get me wrong, we get altercations and aggression towards each other but what he have is much more spur of the moment and reactive. It is very unusual we have something that builds over time like bullying often does.


However, the main reason we don’t have it is because nearly all our children didn’t fit where they were and now they do. This means that they are incredibly accepting of each other’s differences. We vertically stream so that the children are in classes with likeminded children and learn tolerance towards each other. They still drive each other nuts at times and they still find each other annoying but they understand that it’s not necessarily deliberate or that child’s fault. They look at themselves, how they were when they started and give each other time to work on it.


I have a number of really vulnerable children, very unique in their own ways who have struggled all their lives to fit in and make friends. These children are interacting, working and playing together and the knock on benefit to their mood, self-esteem and behaviour is something that couldn’t be achieved isolating a child and teaching 1 to 1.

Concern 4 – They won’t achieve the academic qualifications they would in mainstream

Again, there is a small element of truth in this in that the same amount of GCSE subjects won’t be on offer. Other than that I would argue that the results children leave my school with are far better than they would have achieved at mainstream. This is because the chances are that to have come to special they either weren’t attending or weren’t achieving and those 2 things will not get GCSE grades. All our teachers were secondary teachers and have taught children through to A* level. The knowledge is therefore no different to secondary. The difference is they have every teaching style imaginable to get the best out of and engage children who hate the classroom, are petrified of writing and have huge emotional difficulties or a range of learning needs. It doesn’t work for all, some will never achieve good GCSEs. This does not mean they shouldn’t do them but what are they good at? We will find out and use it to gain other qualifications like vocational, life skills etc which all count and give that child the opportunity to get to college.


The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter how many GCSEs a child has if they aren’t equipped to deal with adult life and so our focus and the focus of special education is to give that child as many skills and coping strategies to go on and have the most successful life they can. Give them the social tools to have relationships, teach the self-control, to hold down a job and to raise their self-esteem so that they attempt these two things in the first place.

Concern 5 – It didn’t work at the last school, why will this be any different?

It is different for all the reasons previously stated. It is based on relationships and knowing a child inside and out. It’s about understanding the causes of the difficulties rather than focussing on the negatives. It’s about meeting all the needs of the child not just academic or health or emotional literacy. Most importantly it’s about making a child believe they can change and when they want to change giving them the tools to do so.


These are the conversations I regularly have with concerned parents who walk through the door. They are conversations I love to have because just like when I see a child buy in to what we are trying to achieve it is fantastic, to see a parents opinions change when they see hope for their child after facing so many barriers is just as amazing.


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Huge thanks to Graham for this fantastic submission. If you’re interested in working with SEND students, either in a teaching or support capacity, why not register with Axcis or check out our jobs pages today?

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