Part two; Exclusion, behaviour, mental health and happiness – a Nightingale moment for children?
Responding to Covid19
Recently I wrote about the distinctly different responses we could take to the changed practices and new thinking Covid19 is demanding in schools.
Option 1, routinely promoted by the DfE, is to put everything into the pre-pandemic box, with the routine use of punishment to control ‘bad’ behaviour, hitting children hard with exclusion as the weapon of choice if they go wrong. A new report outlined in last week’s Guardian reiterates the danger of exclusion-fronted approach which is creating a two-tier education system:
“black pupils (are) disproportionately being sent to pupil referral units (PRU) and alternative provision (AP).”
One school headteacher revealed to a colleague last week that their Fixed Term exclusion rate had rocketed as a result of following Option 1. The DfE is working on a basic assumption that a flat one-hit-and-you’re-out approach targets and regulates all young people equally, and is therefore a fair and proportionate way of managing Covid19 related behaviour. It does not take into account the effect and meaning of exclusion in a world where regular attendance in school has become provisional, not assumed.
As the PRU-to-prison-pipeline article reveals, this approach is discriminatory, targeting children and young people already most at risk. Young black Caribbean boys are nearly four times more likely to receive a permanent school exclusion and twice as likely to receive a fixed-period exclusion than the school population as a whole, making them the most excluded group apart from Gypsy and Traveller children.
The IRR report further notes that “89% of children in detention in 2017-18 reported having been excluded from school, according to the HM chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales.”
Option 2, proposed by Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, is for a “A ‘Nightingale moment”, providing increased funding, extra training for teachers, and counsellors in every school. As a medium term aim, its laudable but does not answer the immediate and pressing need for care, support and inclusion of children struggling with pre-C19 needs and related trauma and uncertainty which affect engagement and inclusion in mainstream and other schools. It also risks medicalising and educational issue and placing responsibility outside school, in other already overstretched or even non-existent services.
My proposal for Option 3 is to put to one side the use of the higher tiers of ramped-up punishments leading up to exclusion, to take on Longfield’s suggestion of training for teachers and pastoral staff and integrating this with her idea of improved capacity for mental health support in schools, but not with external counsellors coming in from the outside, were they available, and without the prerequisite huge funding of the Nightingale hospitals, were that to be available too.
Option 3: Solutions Focused Coaching as routine pastoral work in schools, increasing the capacity and capability of existing staff to provide Early Help for mental health, engagement and inclusion, strengthening wellbeing for students, teachers and ancillary staff.
Why? It’s a proven approach, using the pedagogy of inquiry to support students’ self-motivated learning, rooted in developmental evidence and its success in practice worldwide. It doesn’t require lengthy training on disorders and deficits because in the SF approach we search for existential solutions instead. Most importantly it’s widely applicable to all kinds of problems children and young people might experience. What’s the evidence? A secondary school in the North of England reports a current substantial reduction in exclusion by using their whole-school Solutions Focused Coaching approach to address their students’ actual needs, strengthening relationships which leads to higher levels of community compliance, rather than powering up punishments.
Having taken this approach to supporting children struggling in school for a host of different reasons for twenty years, you might say “You would say that”.
But you don’t need to take my word for it.
Watch this short video, where you can meet an experienced primary school headteacher immersed in the current world of school. I ran my Solutions Focused Coaching for Schools Development Programme in her school earlier this year in the time before the pandemic interrupted normal life. But despite this disruption, given online support and supervision, the Solutions Focused Coaching team have swung into action, making a real difference.
If what you hear catches your interest, please get in touch with me.
Together we can do it – Solutions Focused Coaching in Schools.