Gill Bullock is the Director and one of the founders of Aspire Behaviour Management Ltd, which is based in Lancashire. Here, Gill talks to QA Education editor Victoria Galligan about working with children who are at risk of exclusion…
Can you describe what happens during the placements at Aspire, and during the transition period?
Children aged between three and nine can access placements at The Aspire Hub. All those children who come to us have exhibited Social and Emotional Mental Health and are at high risk of exclusion.
Prior to a child starting at The Hub we may have already been working with them in their school. A multiagency meeting is called so we can discuss the provision and the expectations of all parties working together to find the best outcome for all. If school feel that the child’s behaviour is too high risk to return from an exclusion school can use the Notices of Direction to Attend. School staff need to commit to see the child every week to continue or rebuild relationships, the child needs to wear their school uniform. Parents should attend stay and play and take part in the parenting support.
The day has a structured timetable giving children access to both structured times and free play. Children are taken out in identified small groups that targets their scores from the Beyond the Boxall. We believe that children are unable to progress with their learning if they have not been able to secure the foundation of life learning. Learning is recorded in the learning journey and progress is tracked using the Boxall profile.
The Hub has regard to the National Curriculum and the Early Learning Goals. We are aware that children in mainstream and other settings will cover more quantity of work than the children attending The Hub however, these children are currently unable to meet the developmental norms of the EYFS/NC. We believe that by revisiting early life experiences with the quality and intensity of provision help to build the foundations of secure learning.
We constantly review progress and every four weeks using a School Readiness Scale we can then consider if a child is ready to return to school. The readiness tool helps us to judge whether the transition is likely to be successful and helps us focus on the areas for further development. When appropriate the transition takes place, a timetable will be discussed with school and parents.
When a child returns we want this to be a fresh start, so the child will access the classroom on a phased return. School and Aspire will share strategies and identify appropriate provision and an action plan to ensure success. Aspire keyworker will escort and support the child back to school. As school staff and Aspire will have both worked with the child in The Hub setting this helps for a smooth transition. Over a period the Aspire keyworker will step back, and the school support will take over if and were appropriate.
What can mainstream schools do to help reduce exclusions?
There are actions schools can take to make exclusion far less likely, and there are some incredible examples of really effective practice.
The earlier behavioural challenges are identified, along with effective action being taken to minimise the impact of them, the better chance a child has of succeeding in school. Too often identification of the true cause of behavioural challenges are not discovered until the child’s behaviour has deteriorated to a state where exclusion is the only avenue school feel is left to them. Further, some challenges require specialist intervention which many mainstream schools cannot easily access.
One thing which can be done to reduce exclusions is for school staff to be trained to be able to identify behavioural challenges sooner, to know what to do to try and support children more effectively, and to know when to call for expert help. This does not require huge amounts of funding, simply a willingness for the education sector to develop a culture of “how will we never exclude” as a whole-school concept.
The culture of mainstream schools to both exclusions and pastoral support also plays a key role.
Creating a culture where the school seeks to understand the needs of each child, and has the skills to either support them, or to know where to go to do so, has been demonstrated to be incredibly successful.
Can you give an example of a successful case?
We supported a child, his family and school. from a local Primary school.
The child was at risk of permanent exclusion because of persistent disruptive behaviour, including incidents of throwing chairs, climbing on furniture and showing aggression towards staff and other pupils.
After receiving a short period of in-school support from Aspire, the child was given a placement for 11 weeks at The Hub.
When he arrived, using the information we had gathered from school and our time with the child, we then put a plan in place to ensure the child received the nurture intervention and support he needed to enable the successful transition to mainstream school. Adopting a nurturing approach and following our well-defined processes, we carefully put the building blocks in place which the child needed to establish appropriate relationships with other children, building resilience, and strategies to enable them to deal more effectively with the behavioural issues they faced.
At the same time we worked with his parents, building relationships and positive behaviour management strategies, as modelled by staff, through time spent with their child at The Hub. They also received support from our Family Liaison Officer and attended parenting groups hosted at the Hub. All this had the impact of helping the parents better understand the nature of their child’s challenges, and to give more effective support to them when required.
Whilst the child was with us at The Hub, a member of staff who worked with him at his mainstream school spent time with him, again to see the strategies and learning being modelled, and to receive coaching and support on how to best support the child when the time came for him to go back to mainstream school.
The child was with us for 11 weeks. We constantly assessed and reviewed progress, and at that stage our assessments showed he was “ready” to return to school and a transition plan was developed.
The transition took place over a few weeks and included some support from an Aspire keyworker working closely with the mainstream school.
This child is now settled at school. His behaviour has improved dramatically, he is learning well and is no longer at any risk of exclusion. The family are delighted with the progress. Not only do they feel their child has made progress to support their future, they feel more able to support him and the family unit has been strengthened as a result.
What happened at the Reducing Exclusions of Disadvantaged Pupils discussion at the House of Lords?
The discussion was hosted by the Earl of Listowel, Francis Hare, who takes a keen interest in education, families and communities. The event was held to launch the #AspireNotToExclude campaign by Nurture UK. The campaign seeks to promote the effectiveness to schools of adopting the six principles of nurture to help overcome behavioural challenges and thus prevent exclusions.
The event was attended by over 60 people representing policy makers, charities, the Alternative Provision and mainstream school communities, academics and treating consultants/practitioners.
One speaker was Drew Povey, Headteacher of Harrop Fold School in Little Hulton, and “star” (along with the children) of the Channel 4 documentary, Educating Great Manchester. Mr Povey recited the journey his school had been on since he took up the headship. At that stage it was “regarded” as the worst school in the country, in special measures, with a £3.5m budget deficit and in an area of serious deprivation. Change was needed! Under his leadership, the school effectively reinvented how to educate its children. Starting with the statement “we will not exclude”, empowering the whole staff team and creating a culture which ensured the needs of every child could be understood and acted up, it a remarkable achievement that not one child has been permanently excluded from Harrop Fold since Mr Povey became Head. A true inspiration, and a shining example of what can be achieved with some vision and highly effective leadership.
There followed a series of questions and comment from the audience, and the discussion was rounded off by a passionate call to arms from Kevin Kibble, CEO of NurtureUK who inspired everyone we spoke to give wholehearted support to the #AspireNotToExclude campaign.
What can policy makers do to ensure children receive the best care and education?
The obvious answer is to provide sufficient funding so those children and schools who need additional support and expertise can obtain access to it quickly.
However, that is not the only answer, welcome though it would be.
In recent times education policy appears to have been motivated by the challenge of improving the UK’s results in international league tables, and indeed to that extent policy has been successful. It is clear however that mental health and behavioural challenges for our children and young people are rapidly increasing. Both have a seriously detrimental effect on a child’s ability to learn, and on exclusion rates. A narrow curriculum, constant assessment and the increasing pressures from exam changes do nothing to alleviate those issues.
Changing the lens on how a school can be regarded as good will help. What will help us to achieve this, as well as measuring progress and attainment, a school should be judged on its’ exclusion rates, the quality of its’ pastoral support, the effectiveness of the ability of staff to identify and deal with SEMH challenges, and the quality of Alternative Provision it accesses when necessary? Would a good school not deal effectively with these things? Should a school actually be regarded as good if it is failing its’ pupils in these key areas? This needs to be in relation to the demographics of a school, a school in a more deprived area can not be judged by the same standards as a school in a more affluent catchment area.
There is a mantra of “what gets measured gets done”. If policy makers were to put more emphasis on these areas, rather than simply the relentless pursuit of purely academic results, we say more children would receive the best care and education.
There are signs of steps being taken in the right direction. The School Exclusions Review led by Edward Timpson; Ofsted suggesting they may start to take into account the quality of Alternative Provision schools access in their judgement of schools; the Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Green Paper, all COULD start a transformative process which ultimately could deliver better care and education. To deliver, policy makers must think holistically, be visionary and prepared to drive real change and commit the funds.