Behaviour management using traits 

Emergency Services have a systematic approach when searching for missing people linked to behaviour studies. It struck me that there are parallels in how a school system could work when analysing behaviour. 

The Search and Rescue initial assessment of a missing person is vital. What follows is consistent with patterns of similar traits in a particular category of people. A ‘misper’ with Alzheimers for instance, means the search party will go in a straight line from the last point that person was seen. The behaviour traits of this type of disappearance means that a person with Alzheimer’s is likely to follow a path and once presented with a gate or hedge will go no further and just stop. It’s especially important in this instance to find out where they were last seen. This is in direct contrast to a person reported missing who is suicidal; here the search team will go to the nearest risk points; infamous cliff points of previous incidents, bridges and so on. A teenager who has not come home is most likely to be on a friend’s sofa so contact with close friends and family will be the first port of call. 

In the classroom, awareness of the traits students who have a learning difference or a social and emotional mental health issue may be planned for to minimise incidents. Teachers might argue that their job is to teach, that they are not social workers. I agree, but it stands to reason, a scientific approach to behaviour management and learning for students with SEND or SEMH would be useful.

Attachment issues has recently caused some controversy on Twitter and teachers questioned why they should know about such a seemingly complex mental health problem. I have sympathy with this view but think an awareness of traits with minimal training is useful. Actually for students with attachment difficulties, teachers may be relieved to hear that a firm and consistent approach is recommended. There are traits to be aware of however such as the possibility they may sabotage a seemingly positive relationship or can be prone to manipulating situations and not telling the truth. This is quite different to a student with ASD who tends to be more rule bound despite displaying similar characteristics in other areas of behaviour. Teachers don’t need to judge these students nor necessarily tolerate unwanted actions but an awareness of common behaviour patterns may help deal with a classroom issue.

An over generalisation of the individual based on diagnosis can be problematic and ‘treating the need not the label’ is advisable. We can however, using common patterns in a similar way to a Search and Rescue system, inform behaviour management.

Furthermore, an ability to recognise traits may also help schools to analyse progress and behaviour data. Is there is a rise in LAC students receiving behaviour points for example and would whole school attachment training be useful? Does the behaviour of a student with ASD get worse with cover teachers? This is quite common, but with such knowledge, the school can make reasonable adjustments, perhaps even have a policy for students with ASD and supply teachers to pre-empt any incidents.

Naturally, treating children as individuals is important and there is a danger of treating ‘all’ children with a difference in the same way but this issue is similar to missing people for the emergency services. Knowledge of common behaviour traits in certain groups is a useful tool if used as a starting point.


No Excuses

When I watch those videos from the No Excuses schools in the US, I am scanning the room for the type of children I teach. The ones who have sensory difficulties; that really isn’t an excuse.  In fact it’s probably one of the most research heavy areas in SEND.

I see the ones who look slightly bewildered; that’s not an excuse either. The pace of some of the teachers chorusing would not be helping those with slow processing  or developmental language disorder.

And I see the eye tracking.  Eye contact is very difficult for some students with autism (also not an excuse) and I often ask teachers who say a child is never listening whether they’ve checked by asking them. Some students (often with ADHD in my experience) might be concentrating when they are not looking at the teacher. Others are really listening while playing with Lego or fiddling with play doh. In fact,sometimes I think that when you ask a child to look at the teacher it might be when she is listening the least: have they noticed the mole on an eyebrow? Are they looking at the detail of a patterned shirt?

And then I see the students who are not following the words to the songs, and the chants and the recitals because they can’t remember the words; they are pretending by moving their mouths but they’re out of sync with the rest. These are the ones that are just about coping. I wonder however about the ones who have walked out, sworn at the teachers, won’t sit still, won’t keep quiet, I wonder about them – where are they? They exist, I know they do.  

What makes it better for children who struggle is a differentiated curriculum, an understanding of their needs, strategies to recognise why they blow and places to go when they do. Reasonable adjustments are not excuses.  

Exam Access Arrangements – GCSEs, A’levels and Functional Skills

Exam Access Arrangements are designed to level the playing field for any students who have a persistent and significant need.

So, someone who takes longer to process information, will require extra time – someone with illegible handwriting should be allowed to type and someone whose reading is in the ‘below average’ range (a standardised score of 84 or below) will need a reader and/or text-to-speech.


Bell Curve showing 84 or below – the standardised score required to be eligible for certain Exam Access Arrangements.

There are many different exam arrangements but here is a list of the most common:

Ones which do not require applying for online but schools should have evidence in student’s file that it is his or her usual way of working and why.

  • Word Processing
  • Rest Breaks
  • Prompt
  • Small environment or separate room
  • Exam scanner pen (this reads individual words but does not have a dictionary attached)
  • Modified paper (enlarged for example)
  • Coloured overlay
  • Read Aloud
  • Assistant for practical elements of test

Ones which require evidence from a standardised test performed by a specialist with a practising certificate or by an Educational Psychologist (alongside a history of need for the student).

  • Reader/Text-to-Speech (including TTS in the reading section of the English paper as no human reader is allowed) – this may be for comprehension even if decoding ability appears good
  • Scribe or speech recognition
  • 25% extra time

There is also more than 25% extra time and an Oral Language Modifier (OLM) – these require a standardised score of less than 69 for extra time in processing or a documented complex need and under 77 in comprehension or a documented complex need for an OLM.  A student who has severely slow processing skills may require this – the SENDCo should decide on this however – how resilient is the student to concentrate in exam for this amount of time? Would it be better to provide rest breaks?

An Oral Language Modifier (OLM – I will blog in more detail about this) can change the carrier language of an exam paper – they are not allowed to rephrase subject specific words or words from an article, in the English paper, for example.  David Didau recently blogged about how the word ‘futility’ put many students off from choosing what was otherwise an excellent question in an English Literature paper.  An OLM would have been allowed to change this word.

The Joint Council of Qualifications (JCQ) are the ones who decide which reasonable adjustments can be made for examinations; they are also responsible for ‘quality checking’ this within schools and visit exam centres every year.  There is some talk of inspectors visiting classrooms next year to ensure Exam Access Arrangements are the candidate’s ‘usual way of working’.

Some signs to look for in your students:

  • Poor spellings – I am still struggling to decide whether really poor spellers should forgo SPAG marks and have a spell checker on – some students use a narrow vocabulary due to their spelling difficulty and word processing with spell checker on would really benefit them – enough to lose SPAG marks though? I don’t know.
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Often asks for help
  • Use Teaching Assistant regularly for help
  • Difference between written and verbal language
  • Poor organisation of thought
  • Poor memory
  • Poor reading ability
  • Comprehension – struggles to understand text despite being able to decode
  • Often struggles to finish work on time
  • Struggles to understand instructions
  • Often a delay when answering questions

I believe that EAA will go one of two ways in the future:

1. Become much easier to come by – let anyone have whatever they need – I have never seen a good reader benefit from text-to-speech and speech recognition is difficult to master, so unless it really helps I doubt a student would persevere.  If ‘futility’ could have been explained to a student – would it really have been a problem? They weren’t being tested on that word were they?  Extra time is an issue – would a student go on forever?  I don’t know but I feel sure most come to a natural end eventually.

If this became usual, it would not only benefit students but also a school’s budget.  There are now companies selling these expensive exam pens, companies running courses for anyone (don’t need a degree) to pass a specialist certificate so they can use and report scores from standardised tests, companies running yearly update courses and companies creating standardised tests which cost a fortune.  Schools are paying a heavy price for Exam Arrangements.  Yes, EAA levels the playing field but it is just about allowing students to show what they know without being hampered by time restrictions, the inability to access text or the inability to record answers.  Unless students needed such adjustments, they really wouldn’t bother with them.


2. Michael Gove will return to the DFE if the Conservatives win the next election and ban all EAA.

(although he would need to get past the Equalities Act 2010 to do this – and me)

Future blogs on this – Which assistive technologies should schools invest in for EAA and What is an OLM?

Any questions please let me know.

Let’s get vis-u-al


Drawing an incident for a student with social communication difficulties is a revealing way to find out how the situation had been interpreted by them, and what might have triggered an unwanted behaviour.

Before the iPad I just used paper but now my app of choice is Paper53; designed for architects so I imagine my match stick people are virtual heresy.

It comes from Carol Gray’s Comic Strip conversations (author of Social Stories). Rather than using them to explain social situations before an event however I often use them to unpick an incident.

The more forensic the investigation, the more successful the analysis becomes and the more the student begins to link behaviours to triggers (making the connection is often difficult for a child on the Autistic Spectrum).

*I have changed parts of these stories to protect individuals but I hope they still reflect the usefulness of this approach*



This student had a melt down during registration and began running round then hiding under a table, refusing to come out.

The picture was interesting as we used colour to show feelings. The student was still red under the table – not feeling calm (blue) until we were chatting in another area. I had assumed under the table was a safe haven but anxiety levels were still high.

The main benefit of these pictures for the student was linking his anxiety and subsequent behaviour with the disappointment of not receiving the prize.


This student was in trouble for hitting another student.

She told me this had happened:


During our comic strip conversation it transpired that while she was going to her lesson some older students had thrown something at her.  She had not told anyone about this incident – to her they were unrelated.


During our session she asked me ‘do you think I might have hit him because my neck was still hurting?’.  Of course there is still no excuse for what she did but it is a significant piece of the social jigsaw which needed to be made explicit.

We talked about what choice she could have made:


The student thought that as her neck was still hurting (red dot), she could have gone to a member of staff to tell them what had happened.

Further Education


This student found drawing comic strips really useful and we would do one every time I saw him.  I probably learned as much as he did during these tutorials.

Here he explained how he’d got upset as he hadn’t understood the instructions during a practical work based session.  Many thought bubbles were linked to too much information, too much happening around him and the perception that everyone else knew what they were doing except for him.

We came up with targets such as asking staff to give instructions one at a time or asking a peer for help.

Comic Strips are not useful to reprimand a student but are great to explore triggers for a behaviour.

And you don’t need to be good at drawing as I demonstrate perfectly.