Punitive behaviour management policies and practices in secondary schools: A systematic review of children and young people’s perceptions and experiences (2023)

Authors: Rebecca Jones, Jana Kreppner, Fiona Marsh and Brettany Hartwell
Published: 2023
Publication: Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties

Traditional in-school approaches focus on using consequences for managing pupil behaviour. Within published literature, concerns have been raised about the effectiveness and negative impact of punitive approaches. This systematic synthesis explores the perspectives of children and young people (CYP) in secondary schools on in-school punitive behaviour management policies and practices. Papers are evaluated using an adapted version of the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (2019) and study findings are analysed using thematic synthesis. The findings highlight CYP’s thoughts on the fairness and consistency of punitive consequences, the impact of these on academic development and emotional wellbeing, and the limited long-term effectiveness of such approaches. CYP explain their need to feel listened to, understood and supported with their behaviour and emotions. Implications of these views for school staff, educational professionals and education policy makers are outlined.

Jones, R., Kreppner, J., Marsh, F. & Hartwell, B. (2023) Punitive behaviour management policies and practices in secondary schools: A systematic review of children and young people’s perceptions and experiences, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 28:2-3, 182-197, DOI: 10.1080/13632752.2023.2255403

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University of Southampton Psychology Post Graduate Research Conference – presentations

The Southampton PGR conference recently concluded – the ninth psychology conference but the very first to be carried out online. We were delighted by (and very proud of) the contributions of the Ed Psych Trainees to the conference, which included Year 2 research posters, Year 3 thesis presentations and two members of the Year 2 cohort – Sophie Smith and Amber Newell – sitting on the four person conference planning committee (and what an incredible job they did under these exceptional circumstances).

Please find below two great examples of the Ed Psych thesis presentations, presented by Caroline Bird, Jesvir Dhillon, and Annie McGowan:

Caroline Bird: Attributions of Challenging Behaviour from Looked After Children

Jesvir Dhillon A qualitative exploration of facilitators and adolescents experiences of a school-based iCBT

Annie McGowan: Exploration of the Views and Experiences of Transgender Youth in Secondary Education

The role of emotion recognition and externalising behaviour for educational outcomes

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Nicola Samos
Submitted: June 2018


The first chapter of this theses outlines a systematic literature review investigating the relationship between emotion recognition skills and academic outcomes of school age children. Four databases were systematically searched applying clear inclusion criteria. Six articles were identified and critically appraised to assess the existing literature. The review highlights a positive relationship between emotion recognition skills and academic outcomes. This was identified across a range of countries/cultures, however the utilisation and impact of these skills may differ between genders and be moderated by other factors including cognitive ability, motivation and achievement goals. Although this review supported the hypothesis that strengths in emotion recognition skills are associated with increased academic achievement, a gap in the research was identified surrounding the improvement of emotion recognition skills and impact on outcomes for school age children. The review also highlighted to professionals working within education the importance of the development of these skills for school success.

The second chapter reports on research conducted investigating emotion recognition and behavioural outcomes. Previous research highlights challenges experienced by all children during education can be exacerbated for those with challenging behaviour and redirection of this is crucial for development and academic progress. Further findings consistently document associations between deficits in emotion recognition and conduct difficlties (in addition to psychopathology in general). As a result, emotion recognition training has been developed for use with both antisocial and clinical samples. Previous research has suggested that the Training of Affect Recognition intervention programme (Frommann, Streit, & Wölwer, 2003) is effective in improving emotion recognition, executive function skills and may be suitable for those experincing conduct difficulties. The current research aimed to investigate whether brief delivery of the TAR intervention programme could enhance emotion recognition skills in an adolescent experiencing conduct difficulties compared to a matched wait control pariticipant and attempted to explore potential transfer effects on behaviour. Visual analysis highlighted difficulties in specific areas of emotion recognition consistent with previous research for both participants. Results for the intervention participant showed brief significant improvements in accuracy post intervention,specifically for fear, disgust and surprise. The wait control participant was shown to experience no significant improvement in accuracy throughout the duration of the study. A reduction in school reported negative behaviours for the participant who took part in the intervention during and immediately after its implementation were also reported. Strengths, limitations and implications for Educational Psychologists are also discussed.

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The impact of attributions on the understanding and management of challenging behaviour in schools

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Emma Fitz-Gerald
Submitted: June 2017


Although attribution theory has been well documented within the literature and applied to teaching, learning, and behaviour in the classroom, there has yet to be a systematic review of the literature pertaining to teacher attributions of challenging behaviour. This literature review set out to combine the evidence based in a systematic and critical way in order to answer the following questions: What attributions are teaching making around challenging behaviour in the classroom? In what way do these attributions impact on their management of behaviour in the classroom? Seventeen studies were included which explored causal attribution alongside controllability, types of behaviour, teacher factors, interventions, and referrals. Results indicate that teachers mainly make causal attributions which are external to themselves, which are mediated by perceptions of control, responsibility, and self-efficacy. In particular behaviour was seen as most difficult to manage when teachers attributed it to pupil or home factors, pupils were perceived to be in control of their behaviour, and the behaviour was thought to be stable over time. Limited links between attributions and referral decisions were found. Implications for EPs were discussed, in particular supporting teacher self-efficacy for classroom management.

Pupils displaying challenging behaviour are the population included in mainstream schools with the least success, with their behaviour regularly leading to fixed-term exclusions or placement in alternative provisions. Research has found the attributions teachers make about the causality of pupil behaviour can impact on subsequent behaviour management strategies in the classroom. However, attempts to understand the complexity of attribution processes has yet to be explored in a satisfactory way. In addition, the beliefs and attributions of the pupils themselves have remained largely unexplored. This study examined the perceptions of 10 secondary school staff teachers and five pupils, through semi-structured interviews. Thematic analysis yielded six major themes within the data corpus relating to behaviour, behaviour management and the use of fixed-term exclusion. Results revealed four clear causal attributions for challenging behaviour in the classroom, which alongside mediating factors, such as self-efficacy, time and effort needed, and, remorsefulness, were related to either a helpless or hopeful discourse. Within the staff data set, conflict between static and flexible systems for managing behaviour was also seen. Implications for EPs are discussed in relation to building the resilience of teachers and schools in order to maintain the support for these pupils within mainstream settings.

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Supporting children with insecure attachment in school: the teacher-child relationship as a protective factor against the development of behavioural difficulties in middle childhood

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Beth Turner
Submitted: June 2016


Internalising and externalising difficulties in childhood have been linked with negative outcomes in later life including criminal behaviour and mental health difficulties. Individuals who have insecure attachments to caregivers are at a heightened risk of developing such behaviours. A systematic literature search was conducted to investigate whether the teacher-child relationship could protect children with insecure attachments from developing into behaviour difficulties. A total of eleven studies were reviewed and nine indicate that the teacher-child relationship can protect students if they are at risk due to negative caregiving experiences or insecure attachments to caregivers. The methodological difficulties of multi-informant reports and low risk samples were explored. Evidence for a protective effect in early childhood was found in two studies however future research should explore whether this impact persists into middle childhood and adolescence and obtain the child’s perception of relationship quality. Thus the current empirical study investigated whether this protection continues into middle childhood. Participants included 163children (aged 7-12) and their teachers (N=41). Children completed measures of attachment security with a primary caregiver and relationship quality with their teacher. Teachers also reported on relationship quality and rated the children’s internalising and externalising behaviours in school. Results indicate that there is a significant correlation between attachment security and externalising behaviours but not internalising. There is also a significant correlation between teacher-child relationship quality and attachment security. Teacher perception of conflict is the biggest predictor of behavioural difficulties. There was no evidence that the teacher-child relationship moderates the relationship between attachment security and behaviour difficulties in middle childhood. Implications for educational psychology and future research are discussed.

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Social Information Processing: A Useful Framework for Educational Psychology (2017)

Author: Tim Cooke
Published: 2017
Publication: Educational Psychology Research and Practice

The Social Information Processing (SIP) model (Crick & Dodge, 1994; Dodge, 1986; Lemerise & Arsenio, 2000) offers a detailed framework for understanding the way that a child makes sense of and acts in social situations. When applied in the context of a wider biopsychosocial conceptualisation (Dodge & Pettit, 2003), it offers a comprehensive model that is in accordance with current ways of thinking about human behaviour. This article reviews the history of the SIP model and considers the evidence for each step of the SIP model. In the light of these findings, the article considers possible reasons for the relative oversight of this model by the educational psychology profession. After presenting some reasons why it is still of contemporary relevance, this article sets out the ways that an SIP-informed approach offers a range of questions for assessment and intervention.

Cooke, C. (2017). Social Information Processing: A Useful Framework for Educational Psychology. Educational Psychology Research and Practice, 3(1), 50–69. Available at https://www.uel.ac.uk/schools/psychology/research/educational-psychology-research-and-practice/volume-3-no-1-2017

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The Relationship Between Emotional Regulation, Language Skills, and Internalising and Externalising Difficulties in Adolescence

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Jessica Butcher
Submitted: June 2015


Internalising and externalising difficulties are associated with negative outcomes for young people, such as school refusal, school exclusion, educational underachievement, and mental health problems in adulthood. It is therefore important to find ways to support young people with such difficulties. Difficulties in emotional regulation (ER) and language difficulties are reported to be associated with internalising and externalising difficulties in children and young people. However, there has only been a limited amount of research in this area and previous studies were subject to methodological limitations. This thesis had two aims: firstly, to explore the associations between ER strategies and adolescent mental health problems. This issue was examined in a systematic literature review which found that ER strategies were related to internalising and externalising difficulties in adolescents. However, the review highlighted the lack of research in this area, particularly in relation to externalising difficulties. Secondly, the empirical study described in this thesis explored the role of ER strategies and expressive language skills in young people and their associations with internalising and externalising difficulties. Fifty-five participants completed a range of measures exploring their expressive language abilities, use of ER strategies, and an experimental frustration task examining emotional reactivity, recovery and intensity. It was found that the language measures were not associated with internalising or externalising difficulties. However, there was a tentative suggestion that functional language skills may increase adaptive ER strategies and reduce non-adaptive ER strategies. Internalising difficulties were strongly associated with non-adaptive cognitive ER strategies following stress, whereas externalising difficulties were strongly associated with fewer adaptive ER strategies. Emotional intensity during frustration was related to both internalising and externalising difficulties. Conclusions and implications for educational practice are discussed.

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Maintaining an interactionist perspective of undesirable behaviour: What is the role of the Educational Psychologist? (2016)

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Larissa Cunningham
Submitted: May 2015

Special Educational Needs (SEN) legislation has recently undergone the largest reform in over a decade. Whilst several key changes have been widely discussed, the shift in terminology to describe children’s behavioural difficulties has received less attention. A greater emphasis has been placed on encouraging school staff and professionals to see beyond the observable behaviour and to give consideration to possible underpinning factors. However, the explicit focus on identifying undiagnosed learning difficulties, speech and language difficulties or mental health issues may serve to encourage a paradigm shift towards a more ‘within-child’ rather than interactionist perspective of undesirable behaviour. This paper will discuss this possibility, and with specific reference to speech and language difficulties, it will consider how through their five core functions educational psychologists can seek to maintain an interactionist perspective of undesirable behaviour.

This assignment has been revised and published as an open access (free to download for all) article:

Cunningham, L. (2016). Maintaining an interactionist perspective of undesirable behaviour: What is the role of the Educational Psychologist? Educational Psychology Research and Practice, 2(1), 49–58.

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What is the Role of Schools and Colleges in Supporting Adolescents who Self-Harm?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Leanne Pickering
Submitted: May 2015

Self-harm is a widespread issue amongst adolescents, which is often kept hidden from adults. When a young person is identified as self-harming, education professionals often refer them to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services for an assessment. This may be due to the prevailing perception of self-harm as a mental health problem that requires clinical treatment and management. However, as the majority of self-harm behaviour is kept hidden, this essay will argue that a reactive response is unlikely to be adequate in supporting adolescents who self-harm. Instead, it will be argued that self-harm may be better perceived as an emotional and behavioural difficulty that can be effectively supported by education professionals working in schools and colleges. Rather than perceiving self-harm as a mental health problem, and the responsibility of clinicians, self-harm needs to be understood as an adaptive strategy that enables adolescents to regulate their emotions and cope with the stress of everyday life. This essay will demonstrate that adolescents who self-harm have fewer functional coping strategies and engage in self-harm as a way to alleviate negative emotions. It will be argued that education professionals are better placed to support children’s development through the implementation of whole school approaches designed to develop young people’s emotional intelligence and problem solving skills. By providing young people with culturally acceptable coping strategies, we may be able to help reduce the occurrence of self-harm behaviour.

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What should schools do to promote the successful inclusion of pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties?

Assignment type: Essay
Author: Emma Fitzgerald
Submitted: May 2015

Inclusion policy and practice to date has been driven by the view that wherever possible, children with special educational needs (SEN) should have access to mainstream schooling and the opportunities it provides to participate in wider society (Frederickson & Cline, 2009). This is particularly pertinent for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties (SEBD) as they have been identified as being the most difficult to include within mainstream settings. Over the past forty years there has been a shift in the discourse surrounding inclusion, however the shift in terminology has not necessarily been reflected in changes in practice. Research into successful inclusion to date has been driven by attempts to change the ethos of schools, however practical strategies have been found wanting. There is an argument that rather than systemic changes, schools should be focussing on teacher level changes as they are the biggest source of influence on a child’s outcomes (Reynolds, 2010). This essay explores research into teacher attitudes and beliefs, relationships with pupils and self-efficacy and the impact this can have on the outcomes of pupils with SEBD. It appears that Educational Psychologists (EPs) are ideally placed to support changes at this level through consultation, promoting pupil voice and training. While teachers have a huge impact on the inclusion of pupils with SEBD the research into parental or pupil attitudes is sadly lacking in this area.

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