Gill Hedworth: A better understanding of behaviour

Gill Hedworth, who sits on the Prospect Education and Children’s Services Group Executive Council, talks to Boc Ly about how she came to specialise on behaviour in schools, her belief in unions and why she so strongly believes that every child should have a chance in life.

Gill Hedworth

At the announcement of the new trainers and mentors for the government’s £10m Behaviour Hubs programme earlier this month, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, said:

“Behaviour and discipline are the cornerstone to so much of what defines this country’s most successful schools… That is why I will always support schools taking a firm approach, for example taking action to tackle the scourge of ever-present mobile phones, because I know the positive impact it will have on students’ wellbeing and attainment.”

Gill Hedworth will have seen this news with great interest.

She works as a consultant on behaviour and wellbeing for local authorities across north east England, as well as being, for three days a week, an assistant head teacher of an alternative provision on North Tyneside for young people who have either behavioural or mental health problems.

How would she respond to Gavin Williamson and his attempts to tackle behaviour in schools?

“The first thing would be understanding the language that they use, which is very negative. It’s all ‘poor discipline’ or ‘feckless families’ and that’s not the case,” says Gill.

“The second thing is that the beating up of teachers is not going to help either. They’ve got this early career framework for teachers, which this government calls extra training. Yes, it’s extra training but it’s also extra work for teachers who already have too much work.”

One area in particular where Gill thinks the UK should be doing much better is an understanding of the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on children and their behaviours.

“Every school has got children with Adverse Childhood Experiences and there’s no point in just thinking they’re going to come into school and do the same as all the other children, because they’re not. They need a lot of extra care and love,” says Gill.

“Then you must put strategies in place in school to help and support them alongside Educational psychologists, community mental health team, and school nurses. Once you do that, they flourish, they thrive, they become more resilient, then they go on to learn, get good jobs and have a good life.”

Gill points out that a lot of work has been done on ACEs in American schools and it’s starting to have a really positive impact, whereas in the UK, “we know about it, but we just don’t seem to be doing much about it. We’re still calling it poor behaviour and discipline.”

Career history

Gill’s career in education started when she trained to be a technology teacher in 1995.

“I love that part of my career but found that I had a real interest in behaviour and behaviour management, and children who were struggling.”

She started leading on behaviour at her school, before working at a pupil referral unit and then was the lead behaviour manager at another school in Newcastle. Through her experiences she realised that behaviour and mental health were inextricably linked and that has remained one of her guiding principles ever since.

She says: “Every behaviour is for a reason. Nobody does it for nothing.”

In 2005, she won a Teaching Award for Healthy Schools and soon after she started working as an advisor for a local authority on health and wellbeing.

Gill has also had a couple of stints teaching in New Zealand (with another trip planned for September!) and, when back in the UK, now focuses on her consultant role on behaviour, attendance and wellbeing, in addition to being an assistant head teacher.

Prospect GEC

Another key focus in recent years for Gill has been a bigger role at Prospect.

“I come from a really strong socialist background and I have a real thing about fairness and inequality. I’m a big union girl. My dad was a union man. He was a train driver and was the union rep for ASLEF all his life. So, we’re union through and through.”

Around 2009, the local authority where Gill worked at the time was going through a series of restructures, and Prospect was a big help.

“The Prospect rep was Davey Hall at the time,” remembers Gill.

“He was amazing, he was so kind and supportive. People are losing their jobs and there was so much going on, but he supported everyone so well.”

It was on the third restructure process that Gill became a Prospect rep herself. Then, a couple of years ago, she responded positively to an email asking for volunteers to join the Group Executive Council.

“I thought: Prospect have been so good to me, surely I can give something back to Prospect?”

Gill now leads the GEC’s school improvement group, although she adds that much of her lobbying and campaigning work is ably aided by Steve Thomas, Prospect national secretary.

“I gather evidence from people in my area who are also local authority advisors and consultants. I ask them what issues they have, and then feed it back into the GEC. So, I have the knowledge of the issues, but Steve’s union expertise that helps us get heard.”

Gill stresses the ‘collective voice’ of the GEC and is proud of the difference that they make for members. There’s also no doubt that Gill has made a big difference to a lot of children through her work.

“I feel so strongly that everybody should be given a fair opportunity. Everything I’ve done through my whole career is to try and get young people who wouldn’t normally have a good chance in life to have a better chance.”

“I’m still in touch with some students, where they might not have achieved very much but now, they’re deputy heads of schools, nurses, or solicitors. It’s amazing what these children have gone on to do.”

Education and children’s services

Prospect represents nearly 3,000 professionals in education, children’s services, early years, commissioning and children’s social care.
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