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Challenging behaviour in primary schools: How is the problem constructed by professionals in North West England?

Hallworth, Deborah Jane (2021) Challenging behaviour in primary schools: How is the problem constructed by professionals in North West England? Doctoral thesis (EdD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

The management of ‘challenging’ behaviour plays a central role in primary schools. However, there are no consistent answers to why behaviour is perceived to be a problem across time and place. The aim of this study was to explore challenging behaviour and how it is constructed as a problem by professionals in mainstream primary schools in North West England. Three research questions shaped the study: 1. What actions are applied, by professionals to pupils defined as having challenging behaviour? 2. How is professional knowledge and discourse mobilised to justify these actions? 3. How is challenging behaviour constructed, by professionals , as a problem in the case study primary schools? The research was designed as a qualitative single case study that included three embedded sub-units of analysis. I analysed the perspectives of 10 staff from two mainstream schools and three staff from the local authority. The works of Michel Foucault and his commentators formed the basis of the theoretical framework. The study found competing perspectives amongst practitioners regarding the problem of challenging behaviour. Pupils deviating from behavioural expectations were often identified based on their lack of self-regulation or productivity. A small proportion of pupils were categorised by schools as unmanageable and needing alternative educational provision. Implementation of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice (DfE,2015) was found to be problematic and the interpretation of this code raises the risk of pupils becoming wrongly medicalised. The problem of challenging behaviour was constructed by schools as a lack of resources and support from the local authority. The local authority locates the problem and solutions with schools’ behaviour management strategies and their utilisation of resources. Deconstructing different representations of challenging behaviours provides an opportunity to improve joint working, policy implementation and, most importantly, to resisting a focus on solutions in order to better understand how the construction of the problem shapes educational experience.

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