The Fear Factor

This week’s Secret Teacher highlighted the perceived problems of an MLD special school teacher who argued that children with challenging behaviour should not be sent to his/her school (I think her) because they severely affect the safety and well being of more vulnerable pupils with autism, Downs Syndrome et al.

Now on an initial reading I felt some sympathy with her viewpoint and that her setting was not right for children with SEMH….after all we do have specialist SEMH schools (or BESD as they were once known)! I tweeted as much and said it was as a result of cost cutting and money saving resulting in a reduced choice of provision…which it is! Then I read an excellent blog by @nancygedge ‘Clickbait’ which argued that articles like this add to public perceptions that some children are to be feared and some children need to be further segregated for their own safety and the safety of others  ( the italics are mine).

And this got me thinking. Which children do we *include* in this category? Children with autism, who have sensory issues and often lash out when they are *overloaded*? Children with Downs Syndrome who on occasion display challenging behaviour? Children with medical conditions such as ADHD who struggle with a chemical imbalance? Children with mental health issues? Children with severe Attachment who have often been removed from their parents by Children’s Social Care? Children who have PTSD after witnessing domestic violence in the home? Children who are/have been sexually abused? The list goes on!! And guess what?? Children in most of these categories are sitting in our PRU! Permanently excluded!

Now primary practitioners are usually inclusive and caring and many go the extra mile in striving to ensure the needs of their SEN pupils are met and that they get the help they need….but when it comes to challenging pupils the *fear factor* kicks in. Head teachers are under pressure as never before to deliver *results* and children with poor behaviour disrupt this process. Time after time heads come to me and say….we cannot allow this…we have to think of the other children…there is nothing more we can do….we have tried everything….and yet, when the child comes to us, we often find that nothing useful has been done! No paediatric check ups…no graduated response…no Ed Psych referrals….nada…zilch! Oh yes….a chronology of behaviour logs…incident after incident….that’s it!!

The Code of Practice was revised to encourage professionals to look for underlying needs rather than dismiss as *behaviour*….hence SEMH not BESD….but the message does not appear to be getting through! On exclusion, bad behaviour is flagged up every time! So why is my pru FULL of SEN??? We have one class where all the children are on the autistic spectrum! How can this be right? Yes their behaviour was difficult but due to unmet needs!! They are certainly not to be feared! I have children who have been diagnosed with ADHD and are now on meds….this could have been sorted in mainstream! Most of our children are going through (thanks to me) EHCP process and will go to specialist provision….and now we come to the tipping point. In my authority we are fortunate to have some SEMH provision so children displaying those difficulties will go to the right place; but this is filling up fast! Some children with EHCP are sitting in a PRU waiting for placement ( not mine thankfully! ) Yes we have schools for MLD and complex needs…but in the main our children do not go to them because they are not the right settings. And parents realise that. They don’t want their children pulling out tubes or turning off machines.They want a school and staff that can cater for their child’s needs. SEMH children need a setting where they can be effectively managed and moved on. MLD schools are not equipped for this. In my local SEMH school some children improve dramatically and return to mainstream. It’s not a case , as Secret Teacher said, that they need locked doors and padded rooms….security systems are in place to keep children safe…most mainstream schools have them! Yes we have calming down rooms and staff trained to handle but these are a prerequisite for managing our kids….every bit as much as wheelchairs and breathing machines for other pupils.

The difficulty comes, I feel, not in lumping all SEN children together (although it seems to be happening more and more) but in lumping all behaviourally challenging children together with that unspoken *naughty* or *dangerous* label. I can honestly say I am not afraid of any child in my PRU although in the future they may inspire fear in others…..we are not magicians! And yes some of our PRU kids may go on to populate secure units or prisons….but many more will not!! Once a child’s needs are met they calm down, they achieve academically, and I can sincerely say we are jolly proud of them! Some of the turnarounds are truly remarkable! It’s about building relationships and instilling values….just read some of my other blogs!!

To return to Secret Teacher… I actually feel that her problems are not down to kids but poor management. If the clientele are changing it is up to the Head and SLT to make suitable provision. My local SEMH special school now has children with MLD and complex needs but they have put systems in place to cope. They have brought more staff in and carefully look at classes to ensure that they avoid *clashes* like the ones experienced by ST! I’m sorry for ST but she has been let down by her school. A child with SEMH and an EHCP plan deserves the best a special school can offer….if changes are needed then so be it!! Staff should be being trained in Team Teach which includes de – escalation strategies and there need to be safe spaces where SEMH children in heightened states can go. They need strong behaviour management policies and procedures and then staff will feel more supported and secure. Children will feel more supported and secure

No one in education should ever be saying that some children are beyond the pale. We need to eliminate that fear factor.

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