A former minister will lead an inquiry to examine whether exclusions and isolation rooms affect pupil mental health.
The Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, which is led by Sir Norman Lamb, has announced an inquiry into behaviour and mental health in schools.
The inquiry will “explore the links between mental health and behaviour”, and look at how current school policies on behaviour “affect young people and their families”.
Announcing the inquiry, the coalition claimed there were “widespread concerns about the increased use of punitive approaches such as exclusion and removal rooms to improve behaviour in schools”.
Lamb, a former Liberal Democrat politician who served as a health minister in the coalition government, said his organisation was “concerned that too often children are punished for behaviour that is linked to their mental health, and that such punishments can cause further harm”.
“It is vital that we understand and address the drivers of poor behaviour. Many people are concerned that too often we punish children for the difficulties they face.”
It comes amid concerns about rising mental health issues among young people, which leaders fear have been exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
An NHS study in 2020 found that one in six children aged five to 16 had a probable mental health problem, up from one in nine three years before.
Lamb was instrumental in securing funding for the prevalence study, which represented the first national data in 14 years when it was first published in 2017.
‘Unmet needs’ can drive challenging behaviour
The inquiry also pointed to the “particular emphasis on behaviour and discipline as children returned to school following the Covid-19 pandemic”.
The government has announced it is updating behaviour and exclusion guidance, and recently expanded its behaviour hubs programme.
The coalition said challenging behaviours “can often be the result of underlying conditions, unmet emotional needs, difficulties at home, at school or in the community, and exposure to trauma”.
“The inquiry will seek to understand how addressing the drivers of behaviour can be a critical component of a school’s response.”
The views of professionals is being sought through a call for evidence, and the inquiry said it also wanted to hear from young people and parents.
The findings will inform a final report outlining the inquiry’s findings, due to be published at the end of the year.
Government research found more than half of secondary schools and a minority of primaries used “internal inclusion units” as a behaviour strategy – but not many schools had evidence that such strategies actually work.
Permanent exclusions dropped by more than a third to their lowest level since 2013 last year, amid unprecedented disruption to schooling from Covid.
However government data showed exclusions had originally risen in the autumn term of 2019-20, before schools were closed for lockdown.
A previous study found poor mental health may be both the “cause and effect” of school exclusions.