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Challenging behaviour in schools, why a robust solution is needed

Challenging behaviour in schools, why a robust solution is needed

Speak to any teacher and they will tell you that a trend of challenging behaviour has taken root in schools across the UK and that staff are faced with disruptive and often disrespectful behaviour in the classroom on a daily basis.

Challenging behaviour often stems from wider social and emotional issues that children face, many of which are beyond the school gates.  Addressing it requires tackling the fundamental lack of self-confidence and emotional management skills that children today are struggling with.

Evidence suggests that a PSHE curriculum that helps children understand their thoughts and feelings, in the context of the world around them, is a valuable foundational tool that can have far reaching positive impact on the roots of poor behaviour and, in turn, positively impact children’s learning.   

Emotional education

Understanding that poor behaviour often stems from a child’s inability to communicate their thoughts and feelings explains why emotional education is a necessary addition to the classroom.  Isolation, lack of structure and disrupted education during the pandemic, coupled with the socio-economic pressures that the cost-of-living crisis puts families under, have had a negative impact on children’s ability to manage their emotions and overall wellbeing. 

Adopting a whole child approach to PSHE education that looks at the social, emotional, spiritual and cultural makeup of each child and builds their emotional wellbeing and self-confidence is an important step towards managing behaviour. With the right tools at their disposal, children are able to understand their thoughts and feelings, building a foundation for them to be able to regulate them during and after their school careers. 

A whole school approach

When tackling challenging behaviour in schools, hyper focusing on specific children who are classed as “persistent” agitators, can be counter intuitive in achieving an improvement in overall behaviour in schools. Children’s emotional outlooks on life are heavily shaped by their peers, meaning that the positive changes practiced consistently throughout the school community, in every classroom and setting can have a significant impact on the individuals and the whole school community by reducing low level disruption. Schools can approach this in different ways, one example, could be to set a time each week to focus on emotional learning, reflection and communication around behaviours and expectations. Key learning can be further embedded through weekly assemblies. This consistency helps to reinforce for children the expectations in the school environment around behaviour, which may be very different to their home environment, and serves to focus the mind on remembering what appropriate responses are to challenging situations. By doing this early in the week, collectively throughout the school, creates a clear gateway between “at home” expectations and “at school” expectations around behaviour and helps students to manage the transition, as active positive instructions are much easier to follow than negative ones.

Having the support and involvement of teaching staff is also crucial to a successful whole school approach. Teachers need to have a collective understanding about what it means to challenge behaviour and the appropriate tools needed to regulate emotional outbursts. Consistency should also be expanded across the timetable to embed the regulatory mechanisms into children’s behaviour, the language, actions and lessons need to be taught across the timetable.

For example, English and History lessons present fantastic opportunities to bring in key themes around relationships and power dynamics particularly when studying works of fiction. With the involvement of all teaching staff, the whole school approach really begins to take shape and children benefit from the constant exposure to positive PSHE learning which both help to enhance their understanding of the world around them and the subjects they are being taught.

Primary and secondary approach

While the subject matter may vary between age groups, the core themes and lessons taught in a robust PSHE curriculum remain very much the same. For primary years pupils, building foundational understanding of emotional intelligence from an early age is crucial in developing and maintaining good behaviour. PSHE education is all about nurturing a child’s curiosity and desire to learn, in an effort to develop their emotional intelligence, which is crucial when they get older. In this way, an effective early years PSHE programme builds the foundations in the defence against challenging behaviour in the future.

The move into secondary school is a challenging time for most youngsters, who are suddenly surrounded by many older children in school and increasingly faced with adult topics and materials in their personal lives outside of school. This, in turn, impacts their education and can lead to behavioural outbursts.

PSHE in a secondary school setting must address this, alongside a whole range of topics related to identity, cultural differences, religious nuance, all while encouraging young people to continue to explore their individual selves. Young people still learn to develop the same emotional intelligence skills in secondary school but their maturity allows for the lessons to be taught with more specific examples of  real world situations.

The value that a robust PSHE curriculum can bring in regulating challenging behaviour is growing in recognition particularly in the context of the current economic and social challenges society faces. Schools that have successfully implemented Jigsaw’s “whole child whole school” approach to PSHE have seen upwards of an 80 percent reduction in behavioural incidents recorded in just a year.

So, while improving the socio-economic conditions for children across the country would see the biggest improvement in behavioural incidents, high quality PSHE education can definitely help the next generation to get to grips with the modern world and schools the ability to tackle it with confidence.  


By Sanjeev Baga, CEO at Jigsaw Education Group

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