Tuesday 2 March 2021

Back to School: Behaviour is Communication

For some time I've been feeling overwhelmed with everything I need to get on top of. This morning I'd decided that I should finally get on with all this 'work' I've been putting off - plenty of emails chasing for information, tying up loose ends, putting new plans in place. More than the usual home admin, these are going to take a while to get through. The biggest task is concentrating on ensuring that our younger daughter's EHCP (Education Health and Care Plan) accurately reflects who she is, what stage in life she is at and what provision is necessary to help her succeed. 

We are onto our 8th EHCP (and had a Statement before that) so I am not new to this game, but not one EHCP over the years has been perfect. Seeing the number of grammar and spelling mistakes build up over the years in a document which I am not allowed to physically alter myself might seem minor but is extremely frustrating... and then there's the content.
coloured pencils of all different lengths on left of image with text Back to school: behaviour is communication on the right
Today's post is not about EHCPs, although it is about needs in general. Before I opened up that document to make a start, I had a quick glance at Twitter, and I'll admit I was so incensed by what I read that I was driven to write this post. Yesterday (1st March 2021) the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, made a speech to the FED (Foundation for Education Development) National Education Summit.

I'm guessing Mr.Williamson doesn't know anything about Pathological Demand Avoidance. He certainly hasn't met my daughter. I wonder how many non-mainstream schools he has visited or how many children who are 'not fine in school' he has spoken with. The whole speech can be read at this link: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/education-secretary-speech-to-fed-national-education-summit

I'm not sure I liked any of the speech if I'm honest, but the words which jumped out at me were the paragraphs below which I've reproduced as they are on that site:

'As schools prepare to reopen fully, one of the most important elements of doing so successfully will be discipline and behaviour. Improving and maintaining good discipline in schools is absolutely vital at any time but even more so now that many children will have fallen behind in their education.

This is often not children’s fault. We have all been through a tremendously disruptive time and none more so than children. Even with the very best support from parents, children will need to get used once more to sitting in class, working together, the routine of the school day. And of course for many children, who have less support, the challenges will be much greater.

That is why the Government will be backing teachers in ensuring children return to a disciplined, safe and orderly environment. We know much more now about what works best: evidence-backed, traditional teacher-led lessons with children seated facing the expert at the front of the class are powerful tools for enabling a structured learning environment where everyone flourishes.

But whatever method a school uses, consistency is the foundation of everything. All children must know that the standards will be maintained, fairly, and consistently. Teachers are responsible for maintaining good behaviour and discipline; and leaders must be responsible for making sure teachers can, and do.

We need to stop thinking that good behaviour is something that ‘just happens’. Some children are lucky to have supportive backgrounds where they learn good habits and social skills. Some are not. That’s not their fault. But only the school can do something about it, so schools must – working in conjunction with parents. Behaviour isn’t always something that can be changed by just telling children what to do; it must often be taught. Patiently, explicitly, consistently, over time.

Now, more than ever, we need schools to create an environment which makes it easy to behave and hard not to. If they get it wrong, teachers must constantly teach and challenge them to do better. Children learn from each other: the culture must be universal, and everyone should be taught to participate. The school needs to show students if they do their best to behave well, then anything is possible for them, but if they choose not to do so, then they need to be held to account where appropriate for their actions.

As we said in our manifesto, we will be unceasing in our support for teachers to maintain discipline and behaviour in our schools. The teacher is the authority in the classroom, and students must learn that the expectation is they will follow reasonable adult instructions the first time – without dispute. From, that everything else can follow.'

Now I'll admit I'm not the best with words and I'm sure there are others who can do a better job than me, but I had a go at rewriting this speech for Gavin. Wouldn't it be great if he actually got to see my version?! 

'We need to stop thinking that good behaviour can be taught to all children. We need to stop thinking that behaviour is good or bad, and something to be controlled. Some children are lucky to have supportive backgrounds where their parents and siblings model good habits and social skills. But the brains of these children work in a way which means that repetitive teaching does not make them neurotypical. Punishment for failure achieves nothing other than compounding the original problems. So many of these children are not ‘fine’ in school and only the good school staff appreciate how important it is to work in conjunction with parents. Behaviour is a reaction to the underlying issues and missing skills, and sometimes no matter how patient, explicit or consistent you are with the teaching, the child is not able to learn how you would like them to behave.

Now, more than ever, we need schools to create an environment which is understanding of differences and open to new ways of learning. If they get it wrong, all those in education must challenge themselves to learn more and do better. Children learn from each other and adults never stop learning; the culture must be inclusive and everyone should be welcomed and encouraged to be a part of it. The school needs to show students that they care and that anything is possible and everyone should be valued for who they are.'

Let me know what you think. I've typed this in a flash, burning inside, so I'm happy to revise and make edits based on other people's thoughts. Surely our children deserve better than this, especially after all they've been through this year?

For more information about PDA, please read the book shown below: 
* this is an affiliate link and I may receive a small commission if you click and go on to buy anything. It won't cost you any extra.
Book cover for Understanding pathological demand avoidance syndrome in children, by Phil christie, margaret duncan, zara healy and ruth fidler
(Other PDA books can be found in my 

To find out more about our experiences, please check out our 'About Us' page or the summary of our experience in Our PDA Story Week 35. If you are looking for more online reading about Pathological Demand Avoidance, the posts below may help.

What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?

Ten things you need to know about Pathological Demand Avoidance

Does my child have Pathological Demand Avoidance?

The difference between PDA and ODD

Strategies for PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)

Pathological Demand Avoidance: Strategies for Schools

Challenging Behaviour and PDA

Is Pathological Demand Avoidance real?

Autism with demand avoidance or Pathological Demand Avoidance?

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