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Behaviour and a ‘recovery curriculum’: returning back to school

4th March 2021

Child writing with pencil

By David Anthony, Head of Research and Learning

Our learners still need a recovery curriculum to tackle the loss of routines, structure, friendship, opportunity, and freedom.

Back in May 2020, two months after England and parts of the UK went into a national lockdown, I wrote about the challenges our learners, families and educators might face returning to the classroom – with attention needed on the whole learner, health and wellbeing. I advocated at the time for a ‘recovery curriculum’, in line with the ideas shared by Prof. Barry Carpenter CBE and Matthew Carpenter, the Principal of Baxter College, UK. Back then, no-one was aware we would still be in lockdown discussing the reopening of schools 10 months later.

Earlier this week, Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education, shared his appointment of Sir Kevan Collins as the Education Recovery Commissioner. Mr Williamson stated ‘one of the most important elements of doing so (returning to school) successfully will be discipline and behaviour’. He goes on to acknowledge that it ‘is often not children’s fault’, when behaviour expectations are not met. I would argue, it is not about finding ‘fault’, rather identifying the need that is not being met.

When considering the five areas of loss – routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom – it has never been more important to look at behaviour differently within our education settings. When you remove blame, or stop looking for ‘fault’, and begin focusing on why the behaviour is occurring, the correct response can be provided. As an organisation of behaviour analysis, we know behaviour has a function. Understanding this will be crucial in offering the right support and response. When behaviour that challenges is being used as a form of communication, it is vital to provide that learner with the correct means and opportunity to communicate.

It is now a year since the first national lockdown. We have all developed our own coping strategies, and learnt new behaviours in response to our needs. When learners return to classrooms, it will be vital not to fall back into implementing sanctions and looking for fault; instead attempting to find the root cause and function of the behaviour change and considering its link to possible incidents such as the loss of routine, structure, friendship, opportunities and freedom.

The last year has reshaped many of our families. Whether it be the loss of a loved one, parents faced with job losses, or the breakdown of the family unit due to the stresses of lockdown. Every learner will have experienced a different ‘lockdown’. Some children of key workers or those with SEN having been in the physical classroom. Some learners will have relished the opportunity for home learning, while others will have shared one device between several siblings. And some will have had no device whatsoever. When we consider a ‘recovery curriculum’, we need to be thinking of the whole child and their experiences of the last 12 months, and not just the assessments and deficits in subject knowledge.


Head over to our resources page where you can find free downloads of a range of resources from transitioning back to school, to person-centred planning tools.

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