A week in the life of a Behaviour Practitioner - Hurstpierpoint College

A week in the life of a Behaviour Practitioner

Simon Hilliard, explains his role as a Behaviour Practitioner, or Pastoral Intervention Practitioner as it’s officially titled at Hurst College.

I describe myself as a Behaviour Practitioner, and I hold the Professional Certificate in Effective Practice (PCEP). The reason I am a practitioner, rather than a therapist, is that I can serve more effectively as an intermediary between pupils and their parents, teachers, and peers. I can share information with pupils’ permission if I feel it would help resolve a situation. If I was a therapist, then I would not be able to pass on information.

For the past 20 years, I have gained a wealth of experience working with young people and children with a wide range of needs. I have worked with the youth service, youth offending team, as a county participation coordinator and have sat on education panels. Then I set up my own business and started working with Hurst on a part-time basis about two years ago. Initially, I was called in for a couple of days a week when pupils expressed the need to talk with someone. More recently, I have been working full-time supporting pupils from the Prep and Pre-Prep all the way through to Sixth Formers.

Young people need support

Working from a philosophy that young people need support with their behaviour rather than chastisement, this approach has led to some remarkable life-long transformations. As a practitioner, I support pupils in many ways – from revision practice and healthy eating to problems communicating with teachers and falling out with friends. Pupils can self-refer or be referred by teachers or parents. Depending on the issue and the support required, some pupils I will see once or twice, others weekly.

Various issues

During a typical week, I will see 35 pupils for various issues. For those with anger management (in school or at home) we talk through ways to control their temper and what triggers their feelings of anger. With pupils who self-harm, my priority is to keep them safe, involve the parents and, if necessary, refer and prepare them for therapy. Some children have had panic attacks about returning to school and others about managing the workload. Anxiety and a feeling of being overloaded plague students who do not complete holiday work and must catch up whilst managing their new workload.

I also see pupils whose parents are divorcing and feel unsettled about the situation, including the prospect of living in two homes. Staff children can also struggle with having a parent who works at the same school. I also help pupils with the bereavement process if they lose a parent or grandparent. There are pupils who are accused of bullying, who often don’t see it that way – in fact, they can feel as though it is them who are being bullied. Others who think they have no friends. Then there are the more insular pupils who have thrived during lockdown and have found the return to school difficult. Or children – and often their parents – who can’t deal with failure.

A unique point in working at Hurst College is that my role has been adapted and developed to work with children and their issues before they become a problem. It is led by the pupils and what they need. All pupils and parents know that I am available to help as and when required.

Required skills

Excellent communication skills are an obvious pre-requisite for the role of a behaviour practitioner, but I believe that to give of one’s best, you also need to have outside interests and maintain a good work/life balance. I love what I do, but to continue to bring the best version of myself to school each day, I need to leave my work at work. The most important part of my job is trust – to demonstrate to the pupils that they can trust in me, no matter what their worry. Some pupils will tell me straight away why they need to talk with me, others can take a few weeks.

Secret weapon

My secret weapon in helping children to communicate is my in-training therapy dog Loki. Named after the mischievous one in The Avengers, Loki is an Irish Doodle – a Poodle and Red Setter mix – bred to by hypoallergenic. At home with my family, he behaves like a normal pet dog, but when he’s in school he is very calm and relaxed and has been trained to react in different ways for different types of children. He will not approach or interact with children unless they approach him first. But he is happy to be cuddled, stroked, and handled when required. Loki is often seen in the playground looking after the children, providing emotive support.

In September, I will be taking on the role a new role as Director of Safeguarding, and I am currently helping to recruit my replacement as Pastoral Intervention Practitioner.


Please follow the links below for further information about Hurst College, an independent, co-educational, day and flexi/weekly boarding school for pupils aged 4–18, located just to the north of the village of Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex.

Prep & Pre-Prep
Senior School
Sixth Form
College Campus

Hurst College’s inspection reports and reviews:

ISC Inspection reports
Good Schools Guide