A Q&A with behaviour specialist, Adele Bates.

As a Communication and Interaction Leader with over 20 years’ experience, I have worked with many pupils aged from 2 to 19-years-old, all with very different needs, various communication difficulties and many with challenging behaviours. I’ve worked with special schools, mainstream pre-schools and nursery settings.

A few years ago, I reflected on what the most important things are that a child needs to be able to learn and thrive, and I concluded that the best way forward is by ‘finding your way in.’ I have experienced how nurturing children’s creativity and self-expression can help them to learn and grow, with even the most withdrawn children being able to spread their wings and flourish.

Can you please introduce yourself?

I’m Adele Bates, a Behaviour and Education Specialist, International Keynote Speaker and Author of ‘”Miss, I don’t give a sh*t”: Engaging with challenging behaviour in schools.’

Nowadays, I work with schools to empower us around behaviour. Since the pandemic, it has become even more prevalent that young people with behaviour needs in our schools are facing a lot of barriers to their learning. What I’ve discovered over the years is teachers really want to help with behaviour needs but don’t have the training and support. I work with young people with social emotional and mental health issues (SEMH) across Alternative Provision (AP)/Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) and in mainstream schools, as well as being an expert on Radio 4 for ‘Teenagers and Behaviour.’ I also do international research.

I have taught in various settings for over 20 years now. I do two things: building bridges between the great practice happening in AP and PRUs and sharing it in mainstream schools to show how we can prevent exclusions; and the other thing, as my mum so eloquently explains, ‘You are always banging your drum.’

I’m often ‘banging my drum’ about these young people with behaviour needs, whose needs, I believe, particularly in the British education system, are just not being met.

Can you give us an overview of your book and why you decided to write it?

A few years ago, I worked in a special school for pupils with SEMH – all the pupils there had been excluded. In fact, one of the pupils had been excluded six times from mainstream school. Now if that doesn’t tell me there is something wrong with the education system, I don’t know what does! I was in the staffroom one day reading a SecEd magazine article by Peter Henshaw, who wrote at the time that 35 pupils a day were being excluded in Britain. Post-Covid, we’re looking closer to 40 a day. I just sat there with that statistic and thought, “We’re getting something wrong”.

At this point, I had spent a lot of time working in PRUs and AP, as well as mainstream schools, and what I had always found there was this great divide in pedagogy and practice. In APs, if you don’t engage and build a relationship with a student, they’re on the roof – that’s no exaggeration – so your practice and approach to differentiation is different. If you don’t get it right, things are being set alight, the fire extinguishers are out, they are hiding under a desk for two days. Often, in a mainstream school (and this a sweeping generalisation), you can get away with not differentiating for everything, not building a relationship with every pupil because those kids are able to comply. But what my brilliant NQT mentor Steve Roberts taught me is, “Don’t ever mistake compliance for learning.” When we talk about ‘silent corridors’ and ‘zero tolerance,’ yes, sometimes silence is important for concentration, but does it mean they are learning or are there 32 penises drawn on books?

The divide between AP and mainstream makes no sense to me because they are the same kids. The statistics for when a kid gets excluded and what it does to their life chances are scary. They’re more likely to go to prison or become homeless, less likely to get those five ‘old money A-C GCSEs’, and their chances of going into higher education are lower. It occurred to me that if teachers, teaching assistants and other staff in mainstream knew more about practices for supporting behaviour needs, maybe we could prevent some exclusions – and in that moment I thought, ‘I need to write a book’.

There’s no one way to ‘do behaviour’ but can you share some of your tried and tested approaches?

Well, I think the same way every teacher does: go and teach. I find out when pupils listen to me and engage and learn – and when they tell me where to go! I’ve read a lot around behaviour, different theories and approaches, and I’ve tried a lot of things. People sometimes assume because I am so passionate about this area that I’m against any rote learning opportunities or discipline etc. Chapter 2 of the book is ‘Safety first, learning second.’ That’s because when we don’t have routines or structure, we don’t feel safe. As adults, we know this too. Our usual routines, environments and relationships disappeared in lockdown; it made us feel anxious and unsafe. When working with kids with behaviour needs, those boundaries are more important than ever.

When you speak to young people with extreme behaviour needs, they often talk about how they feel the need to be in control. This is often a sign they are scared and they need to know what’s going on. They need to have that framework.

There’s no one way to ‘do behaviour’ but can you share some of your tried and tested approaches?

What I really advocate, is that we build our toolbox, because what worked for Year 11 in the summer of 2018 is very different in 2022. When I train with schools, I’ll show things that have been useful for me and say, ‘Pick out what is useful for you.’ If we are going to be sustainable, our behaviour approaches must work for us.

Listen to the full interview with Adele to hear about:

  • Why Adele is passionate about working with the most vulnerable pupils
  • Common misconceptions about behaviour
  • Why pastoral care can often be side-lined and what changes are needed
  • How teachers can be supported to become more confident in engaging with challenging behaviour
  • And much more!


  • Adele Bates

    Adele is a Behaviour and Education Expert with over 20 years of teaching experience, who empowers school staff to support pupils with behavioural needs and SEMH. She’s an International Keynote Speaker, a featured Expert on ‘Teenagers and Behaviour’ for BBC Radio 4, and the Author of ‘“Miss, I don’t Give A Sh*t”: Engaging with Challenging Behaviour in Schools.’
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