Inclusion: We’ve got to be practical Part 2

In my first post I wrote about general strategies for initially supporting schools with behaviour ie through the school behaviour policy, whole school training and then channelled down to individual pupils via an analysis of BOXALL profiles. I now wish to share a few strategies that may benefit schools who are faced with challenges from ‘difficult’ pupils.

When I initially observe a child I look at their environment, both in and out of class. I don’t stand/sit with a notepad…I like to be interactive where possible and model strategies. If you can’t do it don’t tell it is my advice!! I recently observed a reception child, with a range of difficulties, who would play outside but not come back inside. She loved it when staff were chasing her around the playground and got quite adept at dodging the adults!! I spoke to her and the other children in class saying I was looking for good walking in the line and modelled it, then went out and mingled ;  when it was time to come in, I saw the ‘chase me, chase me’ routine! She responded well to me saying ‘right it’s time to come in show me some good walking…well done Ebony! Good girl!’ Gave her a sticker right away and praised the others….such a simple thing but had an immediate effect and continued to work! Behaviour management is not rocket science but a busy class teacher can overlook the basics and become bogged down and demoralised. It is also a case of trial and error! There is no magic wand!!

I observed another reception boy who was very angry and if he didn’t get his own way would trash the classroom. I observed him having a meltdown and watched what his support assistant did. Commendably she was trying tactical ignoring in a confined part of the room away from others; however the boy wasn’t calming but was getting more and more frustrated and angry. I went and spoke to him calmly, which he ignored, but gradually I distracted him by talking about a favourite subject and he came right down, tidied up with my help, and was able to join the rest of the class. He stayed calm and so I was able to advise re avoiding the flashpoints: he really couldn’t cope with ‘no’ and negative language but thrived with positives. The teacher asked for hands up in a discussion and I encouraged him to put his hand up ; however she didn’t choose him and he started to get cross again….I said to her..don’t choose him straight away as he will think he is in charge but if he is doing as asked maybe choose him next time; again this strategy worked. The children then lined up for play and , with my encouragement, he lined up properly without pushing and shoving. He just needed those very positive comments to behave appropriately  and feedback later from the headteacher said he was doing well! It sounds easy but when you are at the end of your tether it is anything but!!

I have also recently supported an ex pupil in a new school who is diagnosed ASD, has a fab 1/1 but had started targeting other children and hurting them. He is an avid Manchester City supporter. I made him a social story linking the behaviour of his favourite stars on the field to his good behaviour in school, giving positive strategies. His support TA printed and laminated pictures of these players and we all went through the social story together; when he is feeling anxious he can sort his football cards- in our pru this activity had a calming effect. Again this has worked and he is doing well!

After the anecdotal comes the checklist…a few ideas that might help! Here are my top 5!

1. Check where the child is sitting…and who he/she is with. One school sat a
difficult pupil near another he couldn’t cope with…of course there were problems! If the child needs a safe space organise one…and if he needs to leave class to access it, sit him near the door!!
2. Safe spaces can be in or out of class and the child may need a simple way of leaving class; maybe a card would be a good way of signalling to the staff so that angry discussions don’t ensue!
3. Unstructured times are often problematic. If a child is struggling at play/lunchtimes consider putting a member of staff to support or have activities in school which the child can safely access.
4. Look at learning and SEN….has the child got an spld or undiagnosed need? We have children who have been diagnosed with dyslexia, ASD, ADHD since coming to us and are responding well to appropriate strategies. In mainstream these can be problematic but if the child needs an EHC Plan they need recognising so the child’s needs can be met appropriately….they may eventually need specialist provision!
5. Appoint a mentor for the child; good relationships are key and the child will respond to a trusted adult in times of difficulty….many of our children at the pru have fraught home lives which impact massively on school; they need to know who to believe in and who has their back.

Dealing with behaviour is not an easy task in any setting, mainstream or specialist,  but we need to remember that our most vulnerable children can often struggle in this area. If teachers are really struggling they need the support of the school and SMT via the school behaviour policy and practical interventions. Schools should be proactive in gaining help in the form of experienced professional help via the local pru, if possible, or at least an experienced consultant.

Those of you who read my blogs will know I am going it alone next year…so there may be an element of self interest ….but I strongly feel I would rather schools became self- sufficient! (As some of ours have through training).
However I would be interested to know if anyone would utilise an on-line advice service with possible Skype in areas where help is in short supply? I passionately believe that we are short-changing our most vulnerable children by excluding them so any support I can offer would be very rewarding if we avoided this. Please comment on my blog. Thanks! :)))

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Inclusion: we’ve got to be practical Part 1

I have just finished reading some great blogs on inclusion….QT may have ruffled some feathers but the response has been fantastic; in my opinion we cannot have enough debate on this topic, because SEND is not going away!

In some ways I can sympathise with the notion of having quiet, studious classes where all children want to learn….but these already exist in private provision and some academies and free schools. Of course, being teachers, we all want to teach….I hear that mantra regularly, both from staff of excluding schools and staff in the PRU, usually when we have a particularly challenging child with complex needs or behaviour! This is usually followed by comments on not wanting to be a social worker, pmld teacher, autism specialist etc etc. I have (shame) made those comments myself in the far past….teaching SEND is jolly hard work when you have a range of complex needs…but I have also given myself a shake and gone on to do the best I can for the children. All my career I have had to fight to give both parents and vulnerable children a voice and make sure they get their educational needs met and it is even more so of a challenge in the current climate; there is  a distinct lack of both funding and will with very itchy fingers on the exclude button, but we cannot give up. Giving up is not an option but is an abdication of professional and personal responsibility.

So to practicalities. A large part of my role is giving help and support to teachers and schools on both SEND and behaviour, and often the two are linked. These are the responsibility of the governors and Head Teacher…if a ‘lone class teacher’ is being left to manage on their own without support, then that is the fault of the school. I can remember in a previous job an NQT being told by the Head not to go running to him for help….I’d like to think those days are gone …aren’t they? I usually ask to look at the behaviour policy if it’s a whole school issue; often problems occur when teachers are operating outside of this. Behaviour systems need to be consistent and fair and easily understood and implemented. Often with some tweaking and staff INSET snags can be ironed out. Also training of key individuals such as behaviour and learning mentors can pay dividends; one school who constantly referred pupils to us rarely does so any more because they have taken more control of their own systems after a lot of input from our staff. As they are a town school with an extremely challenging catchment this is also very cost effective.
In individual cases of challenging pupils I usually ask for a BOXALL to be completed and analyse the gaps. For those of you who don’t know this, go to the Nurture Group Network at http://nurturegroups.org  BOXALL is a brilliant tool, particularly for children with attachment issues, and Beyond the Boxall is a great (and cheap at £25) resource with activities to build resilience and close the gaps; it also saves hours of planning! Next I check that all possible underlying medical conditions have been explored via the family doctor referring to a paediatrician. It’s amazing how many schools haven’t already gone down this route, even in the face of suspected ASD/ ADHD. It needs doing anyway to support any possible EHC Plan but diagnosis and the right meds/ strategies can have an instant effect on behaviour and learning. One boy who came to us on placement and is awaiting a fresh start at a new school has altered dramatically now he is on ADHD meds….literally this is life changing as previously he could not keep a limb still, was oppositional, and these were barriers to learning, good behaviour and making friends.
I then do an observation of the child in structured and unstructured times ready to draw up an action plan.

In Part 2 I will go on to give some practical ideas for managing behaviour and SEND. I am not in favour of producing flowery reports with fancy phrases such as ‘ nurturing his inner sensitivity ‘ ( seen in a report from a consultant just prior to the child’s permanent exclusion)! A busy class teacher needs practical help, preferably modelled by the adviser, not words on a page….as QT says, they have enough to do in a class of 30+  As I have said in previous blogs I am going alone as a consultant next academic year so I need to give value for money! And be actually useful!! Schools have asked me to liaise with parents and carers who are understandably nervous about their children and SEND and this communication is vital in moving things forward. (I’m actually rather good at this)

In conclusion, SEND is here to stay and we need practical solutions that actually work! Yes it maybe that a child will need specialist provision via an EHCP but that needs time and effort putting in!

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We had to say goodbye

I appear to be developing a habit of writing early morning blogs but, on this first day of a new year, I feel the need to dwell on some endings that are keeping me from sleep.

On the last day of term, before this Christmas break, a number of children passed through our doors for the final time as they were returning to their mainstream schools. They had been with us on respite since September and it was time for them to leave. Now you may be wondering why they stayed for such a short time….what miracles had we wrought to change their behaviour so quickly? Sadly, the answer was, we hadn’t! The reason for them going can be summed up in two words….permanent exclusions.

Our statutory duty lies with perm exes and they keep on coming….we had a flurry of four in one week! We had agreed in the summer term to take a number of dual rolled children via our admissions panel who presented with some challenging behaviours; these were children we were working with out in school who we felt needed placement. In some cases the schools could have opted for exclusion but they didn’t ….they hoped that in time the children would be able to return to them. However the understanding was if we got more permanent exclusions then the places would have to go. And that is exactly what happened.

I cannot adequately describe the frustration of knowing you are setting up children to fail. There were lots of tears on that last day. One little boy, very quirky and very special in all senses of the word, had really thrived in our small setting, but was now expected to go back to a large class in a school which had let him down over the years; he desperately needs an EHC Plan as he may well be destined for specialist provision. We could see, amidst the hurly burly of our Christmas production and fair, his old behaviours, linked to undiagnosed autism, starting to show and we fear for him. Three boys, very anxious, with linked anger issues, are returning more or less the same as they came to us. Two little girls, one who will hopefully manage as she is now on ADHD meds, are also going back to large cohorts which they will be lucky to survive in. They need to stay with us but the system dictates otherwise…..it is so, so wrong.

We have managed to hang on to a couple but only for now…..one boy who is now on meds needs a new school and the other needs to stay with us; out of all of them his case is the most dire. One little boy with complex needs now has a special school place so hopefully will move on soon to where he needs to be. It truly is scandalous that this child ever had to come to a PRU but we live in a world where such scandals are becoming commonplace.

So what of the future for these poor children? I hope they can survive back out there, but I suspect some are heading for permanent exclusion. Now comes the sting in the tail…..they won’t be returning to us as we are full! We have done our statutory duty and it will be someone else’s problem. The PRU closures of recent times will come back to haunt the authority but all the handwringing in the world will not compensate for the ruined lives and misery to come. Yes, a new mainstream school can be forced to take an excludee but how is that going to work? How many permanent exclusions will these children have on their records? Who will complete the work needed to sort out underlying SEN and get them the right help? Or support them with mental health needs? Fortunately for this group I have frantically worked with schools to get an EHC Plan up and running so at least they will have that safety net, but others in the future won’t be so lucky.

It is with a heavy heart that I conclude my first blog of the new year. On a personal level I feel elated and up for a new challenge this year but at the same time I am depressed by a broken system which lets down our little ‘outsiders’. And there are five words which are disturbing my dreams right now.

We had to say goodbye.

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