An article in the Sunday Times caught my eye, written by their education correspondent, Sian Griffiths, under the headline, ‘Stressed heads exclude children as young as three.’ Sian subsequently tweeted, “I found this an upsetting story to write.”
In short, more children under the age of seven are being excluded according to figures quoted from the Office for National Statistics this month, indicating a rise in the number of exclusions involving primary-aged children. In her article, Sian also mentions a documentary that will be screened on Channel 4 on Tuesday 25th July – Excluded at Seven.
This doesn’t surprise me, but only further saddens me that children are excluded from school. Exclusion only adds to their trauma/anxiety and doesn’t help to give them the tools to self-regulate their behaviour and emotions. Imagine what it must feel like for these children’s self-esteem and self-worth to be excluded at such a young age?
Children who show behaviour that may be a cause for concern are doing so to communicate that something is not right. We need educators who are turned on and tuned in to children’s well-being, welfare and emotions. If an educator’s first default is to exclude, shame and punish children, what hope is there for them in their later years as children, young people and adults? This only contributes to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
On another note, we must also discuss the pressure on schools regarding targets, assessments and standards, which I believe has added to the level of exclusions and the mentality of only wanting ‘perfect’ children, who will fit in and conform. There may also be a possible impact on PISA on children’s learning and development, in the near future. Some environments are not suitable for children’s unique learning and development and we are still seeing a ‘too much too soon’ approach in some schools (although there are also some excellent examples of a child-centred approach), which does not mirror children’s natural development and they are expected to do too much in terms of learning and development before they are ready to do so. I have always said there is a reason why babies are not born walking! Indeed, if children are hurried and forced to reach their developmental outcomes this can have a negative impact on their behaviour. We need to keep on sharing with schools, and to reflect on child development and neuroscience.
Two years ago, I received a speculative email from a parent:
“Dear Laura, I came across your website whilst looking for information on behavioural specialists or groups. I have a four-year-old boy who just started school, but is finding it difficult, he’s anxious and responds by screaming and shouting, running around the classroom and he hit a TA. I was very distraught and if he continues he will be excluded at the age of four! I was wondering if you could help or at least point me in the right direction.”
I spoke to this parent, who was very emotional, and I recommended organisations that could help and also that she should speak to the school. Subsequently, due to pressure from the school, the parent removed her son before he was excluded. The school in question was an Ofsted outstanding as well as a faith school. My reflection on this was that it shows the pressure on schools to weed out children who do not fit into their idea of perfect and I wondered whether such actions went against the Christian ethos of a faith school. I know too, that parents feel concerned and are frustrated at not knowing who to go to for impartial and practical help.
I also reflected on my own son, who at 21 was finally diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. When he was in his Early Years/primary school his behaviour was a cause for concern and mirrored that of ADHD. However, as an expert in autism recently mentioned to me, he was more than likely reacting to the environment and his behaviour was that of “I can’t cope” and “this is a sensory overload”. I remember, at four, my son missing out on a number of break times because of his behaviour, which is one of the worst things one can do for any child, much less a child with SEND.
It made me think about four-year-olds and issues with transitions and what might be going on. I remember the SENCO asking me if my son’s behaviour was due to me working! That’s another point, we must stop blaming and shaming parents.
Another ongoing debate is the urgent need for a play-based approach, for children up to the age of seven.
We also know that when children who are traumatised display behaviour that may be a cause for concern, they are trying to tell the adults that something is not right and please can you help me.
To quote my colleague, Jane Evans, the internationally renowned trauma and parenting expert: “Children are attachment seekers, not attention seekers.”
It is only when we include trauma, child development, anxiety and neuroscience into initial qualifications and ongoing professional development that we will be able to fully respect and fully support children with their holistic needs. This needs to be appropriately funded by the Government and importantly must include Government understanding of why development-appropriate practice is so important within the Early Years.
I discuss this and more during my bespoke helping children to self-regulate their behaviour course, date of next course Saturday 24th February 2018. To book, please email: admin@LauraHenryConsultancy.Com
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