In writing this I feel I should be clear that these views are entirely my own. I have enormous respect for my colleagues both within my own school and within the wider profession. Now is a very challenging time to be a teacher and I have no desire to see the Behaviour Review become another stick with which to beat an already demoralised profession. I wear two hats in my life; I am both an adoptive parent to a child with complex needs for whom insecure attachment and trauma are at the core of their experience as well as a Special Needs teacher and SENCO who has taught in a wide range of settings and provisions.
In my role as a teacher I have in recent years taught children who have experienced such trauma that their emotional age was around that of a six month old baby. Throughout the day in my classroom and in the classrooms of others I have witnessed those children return to that emotional state in times of tiredness; excitement; insecurity and stress. I have taught children so hypervigilant that the entire classroom had to be paced at least five times before they could sit down to complete an activity.
I know that as a teacher coming into the profession I was not prepared for this, nor were my colleagues. I have attended excellent attachment training over the last five years but it is only through my journey as an adoptive parent that I have started to really understand what children who have insecure attachments and a history of trauma, be they in care or not, need from their classroom and their teacher.
It pains me to write this but unfortunately in many schools teachers are not in the position to meet these needs effectively, not through want of trying but because institutionally education is built on a behaviourist rather than therapeutic foundation. OFSTED criteria (by which we are all judged) focus upon learning made by the whole class within the lesson. It is very hard for a whole class to make progress when one child, or more in many classes is in such a state of hypervigilance and stress that they are unable to regulate themselves in relation to the task ahead or to the adult supporting them in the endeavour.
Attachment training for schools is often very good if schools seek to access it but the advisory services open to schools from Local Authorities is often minimal. Schools must therefore buy in training using their own budgets, which means such training must be viewed as a priority over other resources. Once the training has been delivered it falls to schools to re-evaluate their behaviour policies; lesson structures and classroom layouts.
For children with insecure attachments behaviour policies which involve sanctions based on encouraging guilt (which we must remember is a positive emotion that encourages us to make reparation) are unsuccessful because they bring out the deep seated shame that these children have within them. We know that for these children ‘time in’ with a key adult is far more effective than ‘time out’, a PACE approach is more effective than a strict one size fits all model. For a classroom to be able to apply this there needs to be a way for key adults to be made available to support children and calm spaces provided for children to access. This requires an entire change of focus and staff deployment.
If staff are working long term with children who require these approaches they require high level supervision and support themselves so that they can remain regulated whilst they support the children in learning to regulate themselves. I have had the privilege to work in a setting where this was provided by an educational psychologist and it was invaluable. Unfortunately such as service would not be considered to form part of the core work educational psychologists provide and would therefore be an additional expenditure for individual schools.
All of these steps are possible if the Behaviour Review finds that what schools need is time; training and money to be able to give children the nurturing environment that they require. All of the teachers I know want desperately to enable children to move forward to adulthood successfully by developing them as whole individuals. If the Behaviour Review listens to the profession and finds that the current climate of data driven, test based, narrow educational focus is disempowering teachers to provide the caring, stable environment that leads to positive behaviour for learning then it will be worth the effort.